I took the Maryland bar exam in 2010, and I’ll be honest. It’s mostly a blur. I don’t remember the questions that were asked or the level of difficulty. I do remember certain people who were in the room, and how much easier it would have been for the rest of us if they weren’t.
If you haven’t studied enough for the bar exam, keep it to yourself! One person in my room had taken several years between law school and the bar exam. Totally understandable. Life intervenes, people move to new jurisdictions, or an employer wants to open up a new market. It can make the bar exam harder. This person sighed and groaned every five minutes. They shifted, muttered to themselves, and made sure that everyone in the room knew exactly what they were feeling. I don’t remember what anyone else in the room looked like, but I don’t think that person’s face will ever leave my memory. Please don’t do this to your fellow sufferers. Find a way to (silently!) cope with your test anxiety. And practice! Don’t just study the law. Find a way to practice what you’ve studied. When you come close to the end, do yourself a favor and try to surprise yourself with the subject matter of your questions. Even better, write the equivalent of a full-length exam using real exam questions under timed conditions. (Don’t know where to find them? Try our Brainy Bar Bank!)
Legs jiggling, pens clicking, fingers tapping. I’ll grant that I do all of these things. I’m fidgety by nature. But I curbed that impulse in the exam room. Some of my neighbors weren’t so considerate. My own noise and movements are comforting, however listening to those habits from other people is extremely distracting. If you truly think better with some level of fidgeting, do your fellow exam-takers a favor. Find something silent! A quick online search will net you dozens of options. They’re often geared toward children with sensory issues, but they have the benefit of being developed in such a way that they are quiet in the classroom. Given the restrictions on items to be brought into the exam room, you may want to consider something wearable, whether it is actually fidget jewelry or just jewelry that you can fidget with. Whatever you choose, remember two things. First, make sure that it’s silent. Go in a quiet room and test it out. Second, practice bar questions with it. We talk about it all the time, but you should be practicing your essays and multiple choice questions as much as possible. Part of this practice should be, as much as possible, to replicate exam conditions.
The Luddite in a Laptop Room
Remember that sigher up above? Well, guess what, they were unfamiliar with their laptop too. In addition to the groaning and sighing as they read through the questions, they were also banging on keys, fiddling with cords, and calling for the proctor to figure out a computer issue. So many whispers to deal with a totally avoidable issue. They even complained before we started about how when they were in law school, they always hand wrote everything, and didn’t even know how to write an exam on a computer. So why were they using a computer??? There are almost always options for people to hand write. There have to be. This person actually switched to exam booklets partway through the exam because of all of their problems. Again, I get it. The laptop is extraordinarily convenient when it comes to writing an exam. But it isn’t essential. If you don’t know how to deal with it, then don’t try. Sign up to hand write your exam! And if you are familiar with laptops generally but need a new one, make sure that you make that change well in advance. Get the exam software loaded ahead of time, and practice with it. Get those bugs worked out before you get to test day. It’s stressful enough without adding computer problems into the mix.
Some people like to go over an exam after they’re done. If that’s you, and that’s how you deal with your test anxiety, that’s fantastic. But don’t force other people to go along with you on this! The problem with bar questions is that there’s always something else you could have written. There’s always some issue that you missed. Your time is better spent preparing for the next section of the exam. If the exam is totally over, give yourself permission to relax and forget about it for awhile. It’s over! There’s nothing else you can do! If you absolutely must review the exam in order to get it out of your head, do one of two things. First, find someone like-minded in your exam room to talk with. Before you talk, ask first, and then find somewhere that you can talk without other innocent bar takers wandering in and hearing enough to make them panic. Second, if you can’t find someone who shares this need, call someone. A friend, a family member, anyone who is willing to let you rant for awhile about what you should or shouldn’t have written.
The bar exam is hard for everyone, but the curve isn’t so tight that distracting your fellow bar takers will help you very much. Do yourself a favor and focus on practice, stress management, and getting into the best possible position for doing well – without being inconsiderate to the people around you.