The Bar Exam: Tips for Exam Day Success

In all likelihood, you have been studying like a crazy person and maximizing the last few weeks of studying for the bar exam, and all that remains is to scour the internet for some last-minute bar exam tips.

Now that you are ready to rock, here are those tips to help reduce stress on exam day and put you in prime position to pass the bar exam.

Remember: You Don’t Need Bar Exam Tips! You’ve Done This Before

The good news is that the bar exam is just another exam. You had plenty of exams in law school, and if you are sitting for the bar exam, you must have done just fine. The bad news is that you probably never took an exam that lasted multiple days with hundreds of other nervous people. The stakes, of course, are also a wee bit higher on this exam.

The bottom line, however, is that you have done this before, and you have passed every single time. You might not have nerves of steel, but they should at least be plated in aluminum by now. Even better, you don’t have to get an “A” on the bar exam; you have to pass. If you had success in law school, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to pass the bar exam. Trust your instincts and remember that you’ve already conquered plenty of similar challenges to be in this position.

Make Your Morning Worry-Free

Whether you admit it or not, you’re going to experience some anxiety on exam day. The last thing you need to worry about it whether you have correctly placed your driver’s license in a plastic bag or can find a place to park near the test facility.

Take care of those things in advance. Pack your belongings before you go to bed. Drive over to the test facility a few days before and scope out the parking options. If you can swing it, have someone drop you off and pick you up on exam day. This is a great time for a Lyft, an Uber, or a cab.

And make sure you plan on arriving early. I walked into the testing facility only to realize I had somehow lost my driver’s license on the way to the facility. Fortunately, I had enough time to walk back to my car, where it was laying on the ground. I still made it back to the facility with plenty of time to take a deep breath and get ready to rock. (As a side note, I can attest they have a procedure in place if you lose your identification.)

Student using bar exam tips

Live in a bubble

This is probably the best bar exam tip I’ve got to give: live in a bubble on exam day. The people around you are going to do all sorts of weird, annoying, and possibly disgusting things. The person on your left might tap their fingers on the table for eight hours. The one on your right has a jaw that makes a clicking sound every time they chew, and they’ve got crateful of Juicy Fruit at the ready. Somebody around me let the anxiety get to their digestive tract, which made for a stinky start to the day.

Whatever is going on, don’t let it get to you. You can’t change seats or plug in your iPod. Whatever it takes for you to ignore your surroundings, do it. Shove some earplugs in your ears. And if you need to practice getting annoyed, try studying in an obnoxious place for a few hours to help you prepare. That was one of the best things I did in preparation for the actual exam.

Sorry, No Bonus Points for Finishing Early

I let out some audible laughs at the people who finished with over half the time remaining. Look, I get the whole “I’m confident in my answers” thing, but you can take some time to look things over. Especially in the essay section, there is every reason to use almost all of your allotted time. You can always work on clarity, punctuation, and sprucing up your headlines or sub-headlines.

The worst thing about the early finishers is that they freak out other exam takers. There’s an almost visible wave of “oh crap, they’re already done?” Oddly enough, this causes some people to hurry up and finish. Don’t be one of those people. Live in your bubble and finish at your own pace. Using that extra time can make the difference, at least stylistically, between your essay and the person who banged out their answer double-time.

Find a Quiet Corner and Eat Lunch by Yourself

The worst thing you can do is eat lunch with all your friends and do an exam post-mortem. Talking about the test will not make you feel better. It will make you feel worse. Even if you are operating at 99% confidence, some nervous nelly will show up and make you second guess everything. The easiest way to avoid that is to avoid the situation altogether.

I made my lunch, left it in my car in a cooler, and had lunch by myself on both days. I think I even called a non-lawyer friend to get my mind off the test. My friends who tried to socialize like normal later called me a genius. One of them said they ended up storming off from a group of people because of the stress factor.

It’s only two days. Have lunch by yourself. You will have plenty of time to hang out with your law school buddies the day after the test.

If You Panic, Remember Everyone Else Is Also Panicking

We were told, “there’s no way there will be a BA Corps question.” I didn’t take BA Corps and I spent approximately 30 minutes total studying it. So, of course, I got nailed with an essay question about LLCs. My answer consisted of “an LLC stands for limited liability corporation,” which is wrong, followed by two pages of nonsensical jibber-jabber.

I thought about just getting up and leaving. Instead, I got up and went to the bathroom, rubbed some water on my face, took a deep breath, and then made sure my two pages of jibber-jabber was grammatically correct, clear, and well-organized. I also remember looking around the room and realizing that everyone else looked like they had been broadsided by a runaway train.

Everyone is nervous for the bar exam and everyone freaks out to varying degrees. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are the only nervous one. If you really start to panic, splash some water on your face, think of a good joke, and get back to work. There are plenty of points available on the bar exam. You won’t get all of them. But you’ll probably get enough.

In all likelihood, you studied like crazy and you are more ready than you think. Have confidence in yourself, ignore everyone else, and you will do just fine.

Originally published 2012-07-17. Last updated on 2018-07-30.

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