If you have read my other articles, you know I’m a little bit of a bar exam sitting expert – I had to take it twice. The first time around, including during bar prep, I was so hyper-focused on the terror of the exam, that I forgot to organize what I was going to pack and how I was going to attack the exam. The second time, though, after therapy, tutoring, and many bug out drills, I was completely prepared for the exams.
Below are the three things I think you need to remember for exam day.
1. Make a list
I did not do this on my first attempt until the night before. I was so strung out with anxiety that I could not even think about packing, or making a list of what I needed to do for exam day. I think during that entire bar prep, I was hoping the exam would disappear. It was like if I just didn’t think about those two days, I didn’t have to go. In fact, I only booked a hotel because two of my friends told me where they were staying. I didn’t look at reviews of the hotel, I just booked it. Which turned out to be a terrible plan. A lot of our classmates were staying there, so I kept running into people who were stressing me out talking about the test. It was one of the older hotels and had a pool on the inside of the building. The entire place smelled like chlorine and all the floors and walls felt humid. I’m pretty sure my migraine on day two was from mold exposure.
So make a list early on – even while you’re still in school and have your wits about you. Put on it everything you need to sleep well, recover well, eat well, and feel well. For instance, I lived in Florida on my second attempt and was travelling to Albany to sit for the exam. I sleep with a very loud fan, and I knew that hotel living was not for me without one. So I went up an entire day early to buy supplies at Target – including a very loud fan (that I returned after). Now, maybe you can’t take that time, but you can order things on Amazon and have the hotel stash them for a day before your arrival.
Making a list of everything you might want or need for those few days will help you feel better about sitting for the exam. It takes off a layer of stress you don’t know you have until you are walking on squishy chlorine carpet, dodging high strung classmates while eating hot dogs you brought from home.
For some reason, when I talk to bar preppers, this is the one thing that seems to slip their minds – and it totally slipped mine the first time too. I drove from Massachusetts to Albany, stayed in a hotel my friends had picked out, and then completely forgot to figure out where I could park for the exam. This led to being told by one friend that there was absolutely no parking in Albany for the exam, and that I would need to get to the test center at 6am to find something. I didn’t actually have to be there till 8:30am, I believe.
And I was so scared, that I did what he suggested. I left the hotel at 6am, and drove the 15 minute ride to downtown Albany. I couldn’t find the lot he’d described and ended up panicking. I was already panicking about the exam, but that made me want to throw up.
If you’re taking the exam in Albany, there are usually two locations – The Egg, and the Convention Center. The first year I was at the convention center, and there is a giant parking lot beside it. I mean, giant. I could have absolutely found parking at say 8:00am, if I had arrived then. I remember finding that lot at 6:30am and thinking, “I’m gonna kill this kid.” I was so tired, so strung out from barely sleeping, nauseous beyond relief, and I wanted to run home. The stress did not help my already compounding fight or flight response.
The following February, I took the exam in The Egg, which has a huge underground parking lot. I arrived to Albany the day before so I had time to map out my drive, found parking spaces, and knew exactly where to go. I cannot even begin to express how relieved I was to have that item checked off my list.
So, figure out early where you are staying for the exam. If you are from out of town and driving, find a hotel you are comfortable at, within a fifteen minute distance to the exam – believe me you do not want to fight traffic the morning of – and map out the driving route and parking situation. It will take so much less stress on exam days.
I know this one sounds simple, but I bet you haven’t taken a moment during bar prep to do so. We get trapped in our heads during the studying phase, and it’s almost like when exam day finally arrives, we are jolted out of our heads and don’t know what to do. The bubble has burst, and we can’t understand the world around us.
You have studied for weeks on end. You have taken countless practice exams, reviewed so many multiple choice tests; you’re ready.
The hardest part of the exam period is that if you are an anxious person, like me and most law students, there doesn’t seem to be down time for your brain. You will be thinking about the test until you sit down for it, worrying that your laptop battery will die until day 1 is over, scared to ask to use the restroom at all, and terrified the proctors will misunderstand an itchy nose for cheating. You have to remind yourself to breathe throughout the day. I actually had a plan, that worked fantastically for myself on the second try, where I made a mental note that at the top of every hour, I did a few box breaths (in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4, repeat) to recenter me. It really helped ground me into my seat, wherever I was sitting. And I was able to move through the two days with very little anxiety.
You can do this. This is the last hurdle to practicing law, and you have studied so hard. Don’t let small things sideline you or your performance on game day. Take a minute early on to come up with a list of everything you’d want with you during this trip, as exam week approaches, start hoarding those items and checking them off the list. Figure out how you are getting to the exam, where you are staying, and what the parking is like.
And remember to breathe. Whenever panic starts to rise, or you think of something else to worry about, take a minute to breathe. Imagine what it will feel like when time starts, what the keys to your keyboard feel like as you fly through the essay questions, how your pencil feels circling the correct MBE answers on your scantron, and how you will feel four months later seeing you’ve passed.