The October online administration of the bar exam, bringer of heightened anxieties, first of its kind, was painful. That might have been the understatement of the century (see: woman goes into labor during the bar exam for more details). I wanted to do a quick debrief immediately after the exam. Given the state of the pandemic currently, it is possible we will have more online administrations in the future. I was one of the lucky ones: apart from a few pre-exam hiccups, I did not face technical difficulties like some of my fellow examinees. Here’s what it looked like for me.
Mock Exams & Creating a Process for Exam Day
I was in a jurisdiction that used Examsoft as its test administrator and Examplify as the software. In the weeks leading up to the exam, the technical preparation for the bar exam was as expected. Examinees had two mock exams to download and complete.
For the MPT and MEE portions, the mock exams gave me an opportunity to practice my process. When I was preparing for the in-person exam earlier in the summer, I never used physical scratch paper, but would heavily mark up the paper prompt with stars and shapes and underlines. When my jurisdiction moved to an online administration, I worried about how my process would translate into a virtual medium. The mock exam showed me that my MPT screen would be split into two halves of my screen: the left side (and substantial portion of my screen) was dedicated to the main answer window; the right pane included thumbnails of the MPT packet and then a separate “Notes” window. Examinees had the option to “pop-out” the MPT packet into a separate window and move/enlarge it as required. I took the mock exam four times before I figured out the process that worked for me.
On exam day, I chose to “pop-out” my MPT packet, enlarge it, and move the resized version over my left, main answer window. I typed up my main, structural outline (including the parties I would address in detail in each section) into the Notes window as I read through the packet, but I typed in direct quotations of the rule statements or facts I knew I would use from each case into the main answer window. This way, when the alarm alerted me to having only 5 minutes remaining on the exam, not having an overpopulated Notes window ensured that I could briefly include all the remaining points in my outline for my answer before the end of the exam. It helped me keep my head clear when I should have been panicking.
Other Helpful Tools on Exam Day
Speaking of alarms, the mock exams allowed me to simulate what the timer would look like on exam day. I had the option of setting multiple personal timers for myself: for example, a 45-minute timer for reading during the MPT and breaking up by MEE countdown into 30-minute increments. A silent, orange bar also went off automatically when there were only five minutes left in the exam. You had to personally click “dismiss alarm” for the bar to disappear. This was supremely helpful for me because it forced me to acknowledge the limited time remaining and streamline what substantial material I could squeeze into my final answer.
For the MPT and MEE portions, I was grateful for a full formatting toolbox that allowed me to bold, underline, italicize, and even use numbering/bullets to create headers. The automatic spell-check feature was also super helpful for my essay answers. A tool I did not expect to use, but most definitely did in my most panicked state, was the “Flag” and “Strike Through” options on the MBE portion. It helped me keep sane as I worked through and double-checked all of my multiple-choice answers.
A Few Struggle Buses
I had downloaded and completed the two mandatory mock exams a full month before exam day. But two weeks before the exam, I received an email for a mandatory Examplify software update. It was a hassle to have to download a new version in the last ten days of the exam, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to take an additional mock exam. The new upgrade was released to specifically address the issue of cutting and pasting from shared devices, likely via AirDrop on iOS devices, to prevent cheating. It was the first time I thought about how security during the online administration could be compromised. This did not help my anxiety.
Since I was quarantining with my family, finding a place that was quiet and isolated to take the exam proved nearly impossible. Too close to a door and you could hear voices, kids screaming, or the T.V. on somewhere. Too close to a window and you could hear police sirens, traffic, or lawn mowers. Since ear plugs were banned from the exam room, there was really no way around unwanted sound interruptions. Sometimes I had to plug my fingers into my ears and just keep reading until any distracting noises died down.
The passwords to unlock each exam section were also sent to our emails, but I did not receive them promptly each time. To be safe, I had to keep my jurisdiction’s state bar website open and refresh the page until the passwords were updated during the pre-exam window. When I checked my emails at the end of the day, I found that sometimes the password had come through literally a minute before the exam needed to begin. Having a back-up plan for acquiring the passwords saved me.
But overall, I’m happy to be on the other side of this exam. So, what now? I am focusing on rejuvenating my body through health and fitness. For thoughts on how I am doing this, check out: 5 Things to Do After Finishing the Bar Exam, Three Practical Things To Do After the Bar Exam, and Mental Health and the Bar.