By the time you read this, I will have taken the exam, and possibly have gotten the results (depending upon when I publish this). This blog post was started on December 10, and it’s my intent to add to it often up until the time of the test, with pictures and thoughts.
I’m keeping an old school diary of the whole experience, so I’ll add a little information from the previous two months as well.
I’m using Kaplan Bar Review, for multiple reasons, but I think any upper tier bar review would provide the tools necessary for success. As much as it seems to be the opposite sometimes, there really is a finite amount of material, there are techniques to learn that will give you an advantage, and anyone is capable of the skills with enough practice.
Kaplan markets its Bar Review program as an 8-week intense, 7-day-a-week, 12-hour-day effort. I’m sure thousands of folks have had success doing it that way – I can’t imagine it. My brain is done and done after 8 hours in a day. I have known for a long time that I am a morning person, have high energy and go strong until about 2pm, when I start a long, slow slide into evening. Therefore, I took Kaplan’s 8-week program and turned it into a 16-week, 6-8 hour a day schedule. I’ve been totally happy with it.
My life circumstances are favorable for this study schedule. I’m not working, my kids are all grown and independent, I live alone, my honey lives in another state and comes and visits occasionally. I have a small hobby farm in middle Tennessee with cattle, donkeys, goats, chickens, which all require maintenance and care, but that’s minimal, and the balance is they are a delightful distraction and helps to ground me.
My study partner and co-student Liz is on the same schedule, and I don’t want to underestimate her contribution to my progress. It’s not that we study together that often – it’s more passing questions back and forth through instant messaging, and the solidarity and companionship of a fellow student. She and I have shared rants about everything from tedious lecturers to impatient family to poorly-written hypotheticals to stress management tricks. She has not only made it tolerable, but has been fun and funny and a huge academic help. (*6/5 edit: Liz was one of our co-valedictorians at graduation – how lucky am I?!)
My posse of friends have been beyond supportive. Last fall my honey put out the word that he was seeking help with a 100-days-of-encouragement calendar. The response was overwhelming, and opening each envelope in the morning before study begins is my favorite part of the day.
I’ve been eating Paleo for years. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds. I still loves me some onion rings now and again, and wine is a food group as far as I’m concerned.
I knew before I began bar review that I needed to be careful about medicating with food. I know the physiology of the sympathetic/parasympathetic systems, and that food elicits the relaxation response that I would desperately need undertaking this monster. I know I sleep better, concentrate better, everything better when I eat clean. The extended nature (4 months) of bar review could lead to a disaster of biblical proportions (pants-wise) if I entered the venture unprepared for the phenomena.
So why do I want macaroni and cheese, cornbread, apple crisp, hashbrown casserole, and snickerdoodles? I have never wanted comfort food as badly as I want it now. I’m sure it’s about the insecurity I’m feeling, the anxiety about the test, the need for everything associated with that food – the caretaking that went into that food, both when I was the consumer and the creator, the memories of the family environment that accompanied the meal, not to mention the actual food, with its taste and effect of excitotoxins that evolved in the grains to make me want to eat more to distribute the seeds for the immobile plant.
But in my effort to avoid emotional comfort eating, I’m undereating, and having a weird aversion to eating anything, for fear of medicating with food. So in this whole psycho Bar Review process, I’m having to revert to old-school, food-logging, calorie-counting, structured eating, because I’m not able to properly assess if I’m hungry, or stressed, or full, or whatever. Sheesh.
Gah. What an experience. I’m at the 5-weeks-out point, and I alternate between panic at how fast the time is passing to not being able to face one more day and can’t wait for the end of this intense academic challenge.
I’m doing between 8-10 hours per day now, and the schedule is strict and tight. I take one half-day off per week, which requires a whole other post to describe the significance of getting in my car and driving, seeing people, buying food. As of today, I have 37 days left to prepare for this undertaking. I cannot yet say that I’m confident I’ll pass. What I am confident of is that I am doing all I can to prepare to be ready. It is not hard for me to stick with the schedule. I’ve done an Ironman, and I know what discipline is. What is hard is doing it with a positive spirit.
No, the schedule is not the challenge. The challenge is the beatdown.
So here’s how it goes. I do 50 multiple choice questions every morning between 6 and 7:30am. I did well in law school, graduated with honors, passed what’s know as the Baby Bar on the first go (California’s First Year Law Students Exam, required when you attend a freaky-deaky online law school like mine). I consider myself a smart person. The detail and the volume of information one must know on these multiple choice questions is staggering. The bar review course I’ve chosen allows the option of practicing the MCQs in timed mode, or in what they call tutor mode, where you can reveal the answer after each question, absent the ticking clock, with the explanation of why the correct answer is the correct answer.
On tutor mode, the 1-2 paragraph question has 3 or 4 potential points of law, and of course the answers each address one of those potential issues. Sometimes there is more than one correct answer – you must choose the BEST answer. The Corrector answer, as Colbert might say. Before I select, I get my outline out, look at my rule statements, read and research each possible answer of the 4 choices, finally make a choice (this process may take 10-15 minutes). Choose. Check answer. Wrong. Review the answers – why correct is correct, why wrong is wrong. Notate outline/rule statement. Recite aloud what I didn’t know that made me choose the wrong answer, and what I now know about why the right answer is right. Move to next question. Repeat. Times fifty. Times every day.
All of that work for that one answer, memorizing the issue, correcting misinformation, adding minute detail to the already vast accumulation of knowledge from 4 years of law school and 3 months of bar review. Then, move to the next question, until cycling through to a similar question as the one I described first. Read the fact pattern – I know this! I just figured this out a few questions ago! Let me check to be sure I understand it … review all 4 answers, refer to outline, select, check…wrong.
And that is just the multiple choice portion of the test.
That’s what I mean by the beatdown. There are 8 subjects tested on the MCQ, 14 on the essays. That’s a helluva pile o’ facts to cram into one 6-pound brain.
6am-7:30 50 multiple choice questions
7:30-8:30 chat with honey, feed dogs, let the chickens out, make coffee, check email, troll FB
8:30-12:30 review 50 questions, review essay topic, write 1 essay, review, read/outline 2 essays
12:30-2:00 feed/water barn animals, laundry/housework, take dogs for walk while listening to lecture or chatting with one of the kids, have lunch
2:00-5:30 review essay topic, write essay, review, read/outline 2 essays
5:30-6:30 chat with honey, feed dogs, make supper, put chickens up in coop
6:30-8:00 another 10 questions, clean up anything unfinished, plan out next day
8:00-10:00 return phone calls, check email, watch MSNBC and try to care about something else, troll FB
10:00 turn on lecture and fall asleep, listening to the voices of my instructors, trying patiently to explain to me the difference between the Privilege and Immunity Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the Privileges and Immunity Clause of Article IV.
Law school essays.
The heart and soul of the California Bar Exam.
So here’s how it works. There are 14 subjects that can be tested on the essays. Unlike undergraduate essays, this is not about chatting on for an hour about everything you know relating to say, criminal law. Law school and bar exam essays are precise, highly structured, strictly-timed essays testing on issue-spotting, concise statements of law, analysis of the facts in the hypothetical to the rule of law, and a reasonable conclusion.
There are 6 essays on the exam – 3 on Tuesday morning, 3 on Thursday morning. Here are a few to look at, along with CalBar’s opinion of 2 passing answers. Even if one is able to write 2 essays per day during Bar Review, it still takes an entire week to get through all the subjects. The components of practice include a sufficient set of rule statements, which are better understood as definitions of issues….maybe it’s better to show by example:
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Intentional Infliction of emotional distress requires (1) extreme or outrageous conduct (2) intentionally or recklessly caused (3) that in fact causes extreme emotional distress.
Extreme Conduct: P will argue that B’s saying “You made me mad so now I’m going to shoot you” is extreme and outrageous. It would be outrageous to an average person, because they might think they were going to die. They might think about their children or live lives, and be very disturbed. Therefore, this is met.
Intent: B need not have intended to cause extreme emotional distress, he just need have recklessly done so. Recklessness is extreme indifference and beyond gross negligence. A person would clearly know this action would cause extreme emotional distress.
Emotional Distress: P will claim this is met because she fainted, and the court will likely agree. It may be bolstered by psychiatrist testimony.
Conclusion: Therefore, P will succeed in proving this tort.
Sometimes the particular rule statement needs to be dissected further, with sort of mini-analysis of each element of each rule. 3 essays per session, 1 hour each essay, one session on Tuesday morning, one on Thursday morning. While one may choose to spend more time on one essay, mathematically that subtracts time from one of the remaining essays, and we have heard repeatedly from professors and bar review materials to strictly limit oneself to one hour per essay.
PT is short for Performance Test.
It is the most lawyerly portion of the Bar Exam. I’ll take the liberty to speak for my fellow test-takers and say that this assignment would be delightful – a gratifying challenge allowing us to shine and show the bar graders our brilliance as legal strategists and negotiators – were it not for the fact that we have to show all this genius in 3 hours.
Upon the word GO, and within 180 minutes, the 30-page packet is opened, the assignment is read, the file is reviewed, the library is studied, the task is outlined, and the paper is written. In our 3rd year, my fellow students and I spent 6 months, SIX MONTHS, on one brief.
Here are two, plus passing answers, from July 2012. There is a one PT on the Bar Exam on Tuesday afternoon, and one on Thursday afternoon.
And on the 15th of May, 2015, at 8pm, I logged into the California Bar website and…
Thanks for reading!!