Thousands of law students launch their careers after successfully navigating the bar exam just once. Use these 12 tips, and you, too, can make it to the admission ceremony on time.

Applying to take the bar exam

1. Make a timely application for both the bar exam and, if you want to type, for using Examsoft. The timely-filing deadline has the lowest fee. If you are reading this in mid-May 2011, you have missed most timely and late deadlines for the July bar.

To get it right next time, check in with your Career Services Office and read the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements, known affectionately as “The Comp Guide.” It is updated annually, contains dates and deadlines, character and fitness information, fees, and more. Also check in with the Bar Examiners in your state for the most current rules and procedures and whether the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is required.

2. Amend your bar exam application when necessary. When bar examiners check records before signing off on your admission and find a mid-June DWI, you are in trouble. Most bar examiners require notification within ten days of the occurrence of any triggering (aka “really bad”) event, and “I forgot” is not an excuse. Bar admission can be delayed or denied.

3. Consider where to sleep the night before the bar exam. If you are coming from out of town, get a hotel room as close to the exam site as possible. “I missed the off-ramp” is not an excuse for being late and you will get no extra time. If you are taking two states’ exams, have both Plan A and Plan B that will get to you to the exam sites on time.

Studying for the bar exam

4. Stick to study habits that worked for you while you were in school. If your pattern was studying five hours a day, trying to work for 12-hour stretches may be counter-productive. Whether you take a bar review class or study on your own, take as many real-time practice essay tests as possible. Thousands of sample Multistate Bar exam questions are available. Whether your state drafts its own or uses the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions, find them all and practice, practice, practice.

5. Study groups are a gamble. Unless you are continuing with the group you have been in since Torts, finding an appropriate rhythm with strangers has the potential to detract from purposeful and productive studying.

6. Exercise and eat right. Meeting the pizza delivery guy does not count as exercise unless you climb down 30 flights of stairs to get it. Sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine are not food groups.

7. Do not talk to other test-takers for two weeks before the exam. Your friends will remember things that you have never heard of and they will confuse you with their notions of arcane issues of trust law. Don’t let yourself be distracted.

Taking the bar exam

8. Top tool: a wrist watch. You will not be able to use your cell phone’s clock, so beg, borrow, but do not steal a watch, and set it to 12 o’clock. Calculate the time allowed for each question, and write the time on your exam sheet. After one hour (1 o’clock) on a 60-minute question, you must move on. Whatever small number of points that you might earn for writing 30 minutes beyond that allotted time will not make up for missing a question entirely. You get no points for questions that you skip.

9. Read the questions. Read them again. Follow the instructions. If you are asked to write a memo to a client, do it. If you are hand-writing the exam and are instructed to write on every other line on every other page, do it. Whether writing or typing, know that a live person will read your answers. Make it as easy as possible for that person to give you points.

10. Using IRAQ, outline your answers, and do not start to write before you think carefully. The late Earle Kyle IV, who graded seven rounds of bar exams, often advised University of Minnesota Law School students that bar exam graders can tell if you write without a plan because relevant issues surface after you have dissected red herrings. You may get points for something on your outline. Can’t remember the law? He suggesting discussing the facts.

11. Telepathy is not a bar exam tool. Kyle advised students that their exams are graded against a grid. He noted that bar exam graders do not know what you know, and that test takers should write down everything. For a ConLaw question, write: “This is a Constitutional Law Question. [1 point] It involves state action [1 point].”

12. Do not risk your career on this exam. Bar Exam Graders are the last stop on your road to becoming a lawyer and inappropriate answers calling your fitness into question will be referred to the Board of Law Examiners. Nothing in your answers should be funny, snide, nasty or obscene.

Think clearly. Write eloquently. Good luck…