This post has taken me a long time to write. I kind of wish I had written these things down when the experience was a lot more vivid in my mind. But I also know just how quick I can be to forget the difficult, not-so-pleasant things. So, for the sake of journaling, here’s what I remember about the bar exam.
Disclaimer: this is a looooong and perhaps not-so-interesting post. You have been warned.
My initial thought/memory: it was awful. I really never want to do that again. It feels sort of pathetic saying that when really, I know it could have been worse. After all, I had plenty of time and flexibility in my studying, and I was studying for one of the less-difficult bar exams, (the California bar exam is much more difficult) and I remembered a lot of it from law school, so I didn’t have to re-learn everything.
But at the same time, studying for the bar exam means studying 12 topics that will be crammed into a 2-day exam. Each topic is essentially a semester to year-long class, but you only have 2 months to study. You may have taken some of the topics in law school, but not all of them. And EVERYTHING about that topic is fair game on the exam. Just when you think you have something figured out, you realize you have more to learn. Good luck ever feeling prepared.
The bar exam part of my summer went like this: it started out really great, quite nice actually: begin studying with the online bar prep course in late May, take it slow and steady. I think I studied about 4-6 hours/day. Using an online prep course meant I could study at home or wherever I wanted, and I could hit pause to go for a walk or change the laundry. Pretty awesome.
At the end of June reality started to set in. It went something like this, “Oh. My. Gosh. I am taking the bar exam in 3/2/1 weeks and I don’t know ANYTHING. What am I going do?! And then commenced the 9+ hours/day of studying.
Especially during July, all the concepts and factoids I was learning seemed to be constantly swirling around in my mind, which seemed to have 3 memorable effects:(1) it corrupted everything I read/watched/heard. I would be driving and think about another driver doing something wrong to cause an accident and think, “oh well res ipsa lquitur there”; (2) I would mentally rehash some multiple choice question I did earlier that day, and think, “well what if this variable were changed?” and then think “OH MY GOSH…I DON’T KNOW. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO IF THAT SITUATION COMES UP ON THE EXAM?!” And panic until I started thinking about the next concept I knew nothing about; and (3) totally change my normal thinking processes, i.e., I have a distinct memory of turning off the bathroom light when I really meant to flush the toilet, or another time I remember being SO thankful upon finding a bag of baby carrots in my fridge because those carrots would be so much more delicious than any other carbohydrates I had eaten that day.
The bar exam was on a tuesday and wednesday, and the weekend before (so like 3-5 days before), Grant’s family had a reunion. In Utah. I remember that part of me was so grateful that I was forced to buckle down and focus and then force myself step away. Although there were some tears and anxious moments that weekend (Ex. Grant’s cousin: “oh, how great to meet you. I heard you have the bar exam in a few days. I can’t believe you’re here.” Me: “Great to meet you as well” while internally freaking out and wondering if I was going to fail because I was missing out on a few hours of studying) But I was so grateful for the reminder that weekend was. It reminded me that the bar is exam was just a test and not who I am. It also reminded me about the priorities that Grant and I set for ourselves as a family, and the bar exam was not and would not ever be the most important thing in the world.
The day of the bar exam arrived. In my mind I had it broken up into four parts: morning of day 1, afternoon of day 1, morning of day 2, and afternoon of day 2. I was most afraid of the afternoon part of day 1. I was certain that every essay question I would get, I would know absolutely nothing about.
In case you’re actually still reading this, and even more impressive, still interested, here’s the breakdown:
I drove to the Rivercentre in St. Paul on Tuesday morning. I left about an hour earlier than I needed to. After all, you really never know what traffic is going to be like on I-94. Fortunately, I got there in about 15 minutes. Crisis averted. The parking ramp across from the building had a giant sign “law exams” with an arrow on it. Great, I get to pay $10 more to take this stupid exam. I held off as long as I could before going in. I absolutely did not want to be around a bunch of anxious, panicked law students/bar exam takers any longer than necessary. (It’s just bad energy. Large groups of law students generally bring bad energy. Now you know.)
There were something like 800 people taking the exam, and we were all essentially in the SAME LINE to get into the giant auditorium where we would take the exam. I tried so hard not to listen to the conversations about practice tests and studying and so on. After passing through the metal detectors and proving that I had literally nothing besides my keys on me, (You couldn’t even bring chap stick in with you…) I entered the beautiful Roy Wilkins Auditorium: a giant, concrete concert hall that would be my prison for the greater part of the next two days. It was set up with rows and rows and rows of tables and chairs. Each space had its own number assigned to it, and we were assigned to a number. There were probably a hundred people with blue vests on that had “proctor” written on the back. There were giant digital count down clocks in the middle of the room. It kind of seemed like something out of a movie.
Day 1: The morning session was fine, two big essays based on a bunch of “file” information they give to you. I thought, I got this…No problem. Then the afternoon happened…ugh…not so good. Six essays, pulled from something like 12 broad topics that include hundreds of sub-topics. Let’s just say it wasn’t the greatest. I distinctly recall commending myself for being so creative in making up causes of action and intelligent-sounding elements to go with each. One of the essays, I literally had NO idea. Even if I had spent another week studying, I never would have come across that information. Awesome…only one more day of this…
Day 2: A full day of multiple choice. Driving there, I just wanted to get it over with. I played my BYU Vocal Point CD, which I LOVE . I wanted remind myself to be peaceful and remember what really matters. Apparently, I was still a basket of emotions though. I was in line of cars waiting to pay another $10 to park, and I burst into tears. They weren’t oh-my-gosh-this-is-awful-tears, they were thankful tears. I know, Seriously? Yes, I was sitting there and I started thinking about how lucky I was to be able to take the exam, to have gone to law school, and to be there in that moment. (I blame BYU Vocal Point.) I had stopped crying by the time I reached the parking attendant, but i’m sure my eyes were a bit tear-stained, and the attendant likely thought I was overreacting just a bit.
Well, the morning session was. AWFUL. Beyond awful. Like worse that I would have ever thought. I’m pretty sure it was question number 24 when I finally thought, “hey, I for sure know this one.” Twenty-four out of only one hundred questions. Those multiple choice questions were SO difficult. If a question had four answer choices, there would usually be two “yes” answers and two “no” answers with different legal reasons. On a lot of the questions I couldn’t even get it down to yes or no…It was so so so bad. I thought there was no way I got 50% correct. (which is usually about the passing score on the bar exam) I was NOT looking forward to the afternoon session except that it meant it would all be over, which I could not wait for. For some reason, I found the afternoon questions to be ten times easier than the morning questions. I practically ran out of the building when it was all over. Despite the fact that I felt like I had been punched in the gut, dragged through the mud, and otherwise pretty beat up, it was over, and I was so relieved. Although I only had to wait two months to find out if passed.
That evening Grant took me out to celebrate. We went to Lake Calhoun to try the restaurant there called the Tin Fish. I just wanted to do something relaxing and fun. We heard that they have the best Mahi Mahi fish tacos. I’d have to say, they certainly did not disappoint. We probably stood in line for 30-40 minutes, but it was so worth it. We also got some chips and guac and homemade lemonade, which were equally delicious. Also, it was just such a lovely e evening, and I didn’t have to think about studying anymore. As we were walking around the lake, Grant noticed that I wasn’t quite mentally all there yet though. I think he said something like, “it’s going to take you a while to fully recover, isn’t it?”
I literally had a 2+ month wait to find out if I passed the bar exam. Waiting had its ups and downs. While I sat in traffic as I drove home from the exam, I called my parents. All the horrible-ness of the exam was still pretty fresh in my mind. I felt that there was a very real chance that I didn’t pass, and I would be trying again in February. Those first 100 multiple choice questions were just SO HARD. Naturally though, my parents said, “i’m sure you passed. You did great. You always do.” And that’s how it went for the next two months..whenever anyone would ask, I would tell them, it was the hardest test i’ve ever taken, and I honestly won’t be surprised if I didn’t pass. I very honestly felt that way. But of course, everyone would reply, “oh i’m sure you did great.” Although I was (and still am) very grateful for the confidence that people seem to have in men, I kind of hated whenever it would come up in conversation for that reason. I just wanted to know, one way or the other, so I could stop feeling like I needed to prepare people for the possibility that I didn’t pass.
While I waited for results day to arrive, I busied myself with moving, planning a wedding, GETTING MARRIED, and a honeymoon. More on all that later…Let’s just say, it was an awesome two months while I waited.
And then, one week after I started working at my new lawyer job…results day happened. Our results were uploaded to our applicant portal online, and so we had to go in and open the letter. I had facebook open because I knew someone from law school would post when the results were uploaded. Sure enough…they did. I went in and opened my letter, and I PASSED!!! I just kept rereading the letter to be sure it said what I thought it did. Before I opened it, I said a prayer, and started shaking.
To say I was (and still am) relieved isn’t enough. I am so grateful I don’t have to do that again and that all the stress and studying and anxiety were worth it. I am so so so so so grateful for all the love and support and prayers and well wishes that I had through it all. To celebrate the results, I got myself a hot date (my handsome husband) and we went for a dark hot chocolate break during the work day. We celebrated at our favorite restaurant later that week.
If you just read this entire post: a.) you’re a champ; b.) you’re probably one of those who gave your love, support, or prayers to get me through it; c.) thank you.