As exams around the country continue to be pushed back (and even cancelled) due to the Coronavirus, most bar students are feeling some anxiety, nervousness, anger, frustration, or all of the above! The other day, one of my students described it as “trying to hit a moving target,” which I think sums up the feeling around this bar season pretty accurately.
What I want to talk about today is what to do if your exam date gets pushed back and why this might not be such a bad thing.
Take, for example, the situation in California. Instead of September, students will now be taking the exam in October instead. My bar students have been asking me what to do with this “extra month” of study time.
Here’s my advice.
One caveat: the exam-day particulars I mention in this blog post are based on the current guidelines released by the State Bar of California. The guidelines for your bar exam may differ, so it’s important you check those and plan accordingly.
1. First of all, try to see this as good news
What’s that you say? You wanted the bar exam to be over already? You don’t enjoy the idea of ruining your life for one more month as you wait for a precariously-scheduled and uncertain future exam date? I hear you. This whole situation is one big Charlie Foxtrot. However, if your exam date gets pushed later, the best thing you can do is look at this as a plus and take action.
Take stock of your essay and PT planning abilities and MBE practice scores as they stand now. Are you exam-day ready? Probably not. Most people aren’t two months before the test. That’s fine. But now is your chance to get there! Once you get your final exam dates, relax. Take a deep breath because some of the uncertainty is over. Then, use this time as productively as you can.
2. Take this as an opportunity to refine your skills and practice even more
By the time you go into the exam, you should feel confident that you have a short rule memorized verbatim for each topic that could be tested. Perhaps your main, highly-tested rules for Homicide are more comfortable for you than some less-frequently-tested rules about entrapment. That’s okay. The bottom line is that you need a strong base of black letter law, and you need to prioritize which rules matter more.
On top of that, you should be using about 50% of your available study time to practice. Haven’t been doing that? Well, now’s your chance! In the month leading up to your exam, get a clear routine for how you plan and write an essay or performance test. Make sure you have an MBE strategy squared away. And, most of all, practice this stuff so it becomes second-nature, and you can move quickly during the real exam.
Often, in the last days before the bar, students tell me they want to spend time “refreshing on the law.” That’s fine—to an extent. However, what you should really be doing is practice, practice, and more practice. And, as we always say, make sure you’re learning from all that hard work, not just cranking out more of it.
3. Don’t waste time on busy work
What, you might ask, is busy work? Imagine you don’t particularly like Con. Law, so instead of diving into the nuances of the First Amendment, you spend time reformatting the bullet point structure of your outline. That’s busy work.
Maybe you think to yourself:
“Con. Law depresses me because I’m bad at it, what I really need now, is a boost of confidence, so I’m going to go study Torts because I like it more!”
Bad idea. That’s busy work too. Making flash cards you’re not going to use? Busy work. You don’t have time for any of this.
Even though you might feel like you have some extra time now that your exam is later, that doesn’t mean you have any business doing activities that aren’t going to help you improve your skills. I tell my students that bar review should feel uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, you’re doing something wrong.
4. Make sure you understand exam-day particulars for your jurisdiction
In California, as in other states, the exam administrators have been issuing some new rules and regulations about in-person testing, online remote testing, and COVID-19 precautions. Some of these range from predictable to downright weird and anxiety-provoking.
Okay, so I need to do the test from home on my laptop? Fine.
Wait, robots (AI) are going to be watching me the whole time?
So, seriously, if my dog walks in and curls up at my feet, I could lose my chance at the exam?
No books allowed on my bookshelf?
No mid-essay bathroom breaks?
If my computer crashes, there’s no backup option to handwrite?
Like I said, it’s a lot.
What can you do? Know what’s expected of you for your exam. Each jurisdiction has different rules. If you foresee a problem, bring it up with the appropriate authorities now, as in today. If you need accommodations, ask for them early.
5. Put yourself into the real exam situation as many times as possible
For years, I’ve advised my bar students to “scratch paper outline,” and “find a home for each fact” from the fact pattern on essays by jotting down quick notes on paper. What if your exam doesn’t allow paper scratch paper? The exam in California doesn’t. At least not for the essays. Time to regroup and come up with new strategies that accomplish the same goals.
Does it make sense to print out a PT packet if, on exam day, you’re going to have to read it off your screen? Nope. Should you write 3 essays in 3 hours if your exam is going to give you each essay one at a time with breaks in between? Nope.
As tough as adjusting to your new exam format may be, it will be a lot tougher the longer you wait. There’s no reason not to just jump into using the new guidelines for your jurisdiction now.
Finally, I know this whole situation is pretty terrible. We over here at Bar Exam Toolbox have been standing by as each jurisdiction releases new statements and guidelines. We are riding the ups and downs of this bar exam Coronavirus roller coaster right along with you. And, with so much uncertainty, we can only imagine how much more difficult it is as an exam taker this season. We understand. Remember, with the bar exam (as in life) all you can ever do is your very best with the time and resources you have available. Stick with it, you can get there!