Now that we know the California bar exam is going to be administered online in October, 2020, a lot of students have questions about how to prepare. Some of my advice will be the same as usual:
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Relax the day before and take the afternoon and evening off
- Plan your exam-day lunches
- Don’t cram or practice on the mornings of test days
The new exam format, though, is forcing everyone to make some adjustments. We’ve posted before about scheduling changes to make and how to modify your study habits. Today, let’s talk about logistics.
Here are six things you should do to make sure your exam days go smoothly:
1. Keep on top of exam condition changes
If you’re scheduled to take the California bar exam in October, 2020, you’ve probably already checked and re-checked the FAQs released by the State Bar. These guidelines have already undergone some changes here and there since they were first published.
I’ve heard buzzing from students that the last-edited date (in the upper left corner of the second page) sometimes gets updated, and sometimes it doesn’t. These seemingly covert updates have made a few of my bar students this season pretty uneasy. Understandable.
So, what should you do? Well, I’ll tell you what not to do: Do not read the pdf multiple times per day or week because you’re freaked out about it changing! No one has time for that.
Instead, check back about once per week. You can even set up an email reminder for yourself using a free tool like follow-up then. Try out a free online pdf compare site, like this one. What I like about this kind of pdf compare function is that it shows you in easy “track changes” what has been deleted (stricken text, red) and what has been added (underlined text, green). This way, you don’t have to waste time perusing the entire document.
Also, to be safe, instead of bookmarking that .pdf URL, you may want to go back to the calbar.org website and navigate from there back to the FAQ document every time in case they change the file path.
2. A room of one’s own
Another concern a few of my students have raised is the lack of a private testing room. Imagine the house, apartment, RV, trailer or tent (not advisable) where you plan to set up your laptop and take the bar.
Could someone open the door and walk in on your testing session?
Is there going to be a lot of background noise from passersby, pets, housemates or children?
If you answered yes to either of these, you may want to find a new place to take the test. Hotels, airbnbs, or a friend or family member’s empty spare room (with a door that locks) might be options.
Obviously, right now, Coronavirus restrictions are still in place in some places, so this might be hard to plan, but do your best. And, if you’re concerned about your home, put a contingency in place if you can.
Obviously, the world will not magically become silent for your exam days, so some noise is expected and understandable. But, if you don’t think you can find a quiet enough space, or that you will be too distracted, consider asking for accommodations.
3. Clear your space
Remember that part of the FAQs that mentioned not having “books or papers of any kind within view or reach of your desk”? (see§ 4). Well, they’re not joking.
Clear your bookshelf. Erase flow charts from your white board. Take down that giant “crazy wall” of black-and-white photos and maps connected by red string that you put up trying to solve UCC 2-207 like the rogue agent from a crime drama.
4. Lock out pets, spouses, children and roommates
I touched on this above, but, bottom line here: send Fido to doggy day-care, march the child-lings over to their favorite aunt’s house, put yourself on quarantine.
Want to know a good way to get a Chapter 6 notice on the bar? “Having others (including pets) in the exam room while you are testing.” Don’t take my word for it, it’s right there in the guidelines (see § 2).
5. Assess your internet connection and speed
This is a big one. I’ve had a couple of students particularly concerned about internet on exam days. First off, you need to check your wifi upload speed. You can do that using a free service like this one. The minimum of 2.5 Mbps is actually pretty low, so you’re probably fine, but test it out anyway.
And note: They’re talking about upload speed, not download speed. Upload speed is the smaller number of the two.
Download speed is about how fast you can connect to and get stuff from the internet (so, e.g. logging into the testing software). Upload speed, on the other hand, is about how fast you can send stuff to the internet (so, e.g. your essay and video files). So, both are important, and like I said, you’re probably fine, but check anyway.
What about continuous connectivity? Ask yourself:
Is my internet going to randomly drop me when I need it most?
Have I had problems with my wifi in the past?
If you’re at all concerned, consider getting a hard-wired internet connection instead of using wifi. Does your laptop even have an ethernet cable port? Mine doesn’t. I’m not saying you should go out and buy a new laptop or do anything extreme, just check what your options are and have a back-up in place if you can. If you’re worried, consider asking for accommodations.
6. Plan your meals
You get a one-hour lunch break both days. The good news is that you don’t have to scramble to some taco truck or restaurant and wait in line like you might during an in-person exam. The bad news is that this is not enough time to “cook” anything.
Yes, you could by all means make yourself a sandwich during the one-hour break. Should you, though? Sounds unnecessarily stressful and time-consuming to me. Plus, you might end up with an anxiety sandwich that has no condiments and burnt bread.
Do yourself a favor and get everything ready the night before. That way you can spend your lunch break zoning out, meditating, cramming attack plans (not advisable), or whatever else sounds more useful to you than sandwich making.