By Rebekah Cudé, Regional Director of Helix Bar Review Engagement
Sure, you’ve read the outlines, watched the videos, practiced lots of sample bar exam questions and flashed all the cards, but the mechanics that surround the exam day experience might catch you by surprise. The goal is to get through each section of the exam in prime, bar-crushing mode: thinking clearly, recalling and applying the law like a boss and avoiding crashes of the brain, body or laptop. Here are some tried-and-true bar exam tips, along with a motivational playlist, for helping you get through it, intact.
Get Ready for This
You’re going to need some key items with you in the exam room, but bar exam security is TIGHT. You do NOT want to waste time running to your car to find something you need or to ditch prohibited items.
Take a moment now to closely review the document you were sent approving you to sit for the exam – it will likely include two lists: items allowed in the testing space and items prohibited in the testing space. Some jurisdictions will allow you to bring in cough drops/tissues/medication, while others require you to ask for permission first. Usually there’s an approved method for carrying those items – often just a clear plastic bag, and some jurisdictions even have space available on-site for storing personal items. (Check the website or call if it isn’t in your test day instructions.)
The day before the exam, assemble all the items and have them ready to grab-and-go on exam day. Charge your laptop and put its power cord in the bag along with your pens and pencils and everything else you need. Have your lunch prepared or money in your wallet (and gas in your tank). Most importantly, make sure you have what you need to get in the door: the ID(s) and document(s) required by your jurisdiction.
Check It Out
Check out the testing site ahead of time and have a plan for how you will get there and where you will park if you plan to drive, including backup plans in case your planned route/parking is unavailable on test day. Have a couple of routes in mind for getting to the exam and a couple of options in case that route or that train or that bus isn’t working for you on exam day.
Better, do what you can to avoid a long commute or any commute at all – stay close to the exam site to reduce the likelihood of transportation troubles. A walk of just a few blocks is worth the expense if you can swing a hotel room. Consider whether sharing a room with another human being, let alone another bar taker, is best for you. And do your best to avoid joining your fellow bar takers for a last-minute study/gripe session in the hotel lobby. You don’t want to be lured into a conversation about the exam, and you definitely don’t want to catch anyone else’s anxiety (it’s so contagious!).
Wake Me Up
You need to eat and drink in a way that helps you stay focused for a solid three hours, twice a day, two days in a row. This starts no later than dinner on the eve of the first day – because you want your dinner to support your restful sleep, not interfere with it – and continues through the afternoon of the second day. And your breakfast and lunch choices should support clear thinking – avoid foods that lead to brain fog (junk/fast food, simple carbs) and aim for lean proteins and complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains). This is not the time to suddenly start doing quad shots of espresso when you usually have a standard-issue latte, nor is this the time to quit caffeine. And don’t forget basic hydration – enough water to keep you focused, not so much that you repeatedly leave the room.
Right On Time
Actually, scratch that. Don’t be right on time. Be early. You not only need some room for mishaps on the way, but you also need to get there, get checked in and then breathe. Redundancy is your friend here – set two or three alarms. Ask your friends to call you by a set time to make sure you’re up – and do the same for your friends also taking the exam. At worst, plan to be early so you can at least be on time.
Yes, breathe. Even if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed or anxious now, it’s likely to happen during the exam. Practice now so you are better able to calm yourself, clear your head and deflect the anxiety in the room. Also, before you go into the room and whenever you are on a break, don’t just breathe – move. Stretch those muscles, get them moving. Deep breaths and gentle movement get more oxygen flowing to your brain, leaving it primed and ready to work for you throughout the exam. Check out our tips for managing exam stress.
Feel This Moment
Let It Go
During these two days your focus is key, but it is critical on the test itself. Read every question carefully. Yes, you practiced ALL the MBE bar exam sample questions on the planet in the last 10 weeks, but you still haven’t seen this MBE question before. Read the question, confirm that you understand what it’s asking and answer that question.
And once you’ve answered a question, let it go. No matter how well or poorly you feel you did, leave each question behind you and put the full force of your focus on the next question. (This is where the breathing practice helps.)
Before the exam, during the exam, after the exam: Don’t talk about it. Any part of it. At all.
You should be looking out for yourself and each other throughout this experience – and not talking to others about the exam is one of the best ways to do that. Resist talking about the exam, or anything, really, except “are you awake?”, “do you need a (very, very quiet) ride?” or “I have an extra apple, want it?”
Go Your Own Way
Shake It Off
After you have completed the first day of the exam, vacate the premises immediately and go take care of yourself. Eat a good meal and then do something relaxing – something that gets you out of your head, maybe even gives you joy. Take a walk, take a bath, watch a comedy you already know you love, read a non-law book you already know you love. Note the theme here, though: no doom scrolling social media (this leads to anxiety, eye strain and sleep issues), no big surprises – just relaxing, almost lulling activities. The goal is to take your mind off the day, give your brain a break after its workout and get you ready to successfully fall asleep at a decent hour. (Read about the importance of sleep when it comes to bar prep.)
After the second day, all bets are off. Ideally, you will be able to celebrate with friends who have solemnly agreed not to talk about the exam – because you should be celebrating, not making each other miserable. But you will want to celebrate, so make plans to do something you love, because you’ve definitely earned it!
Get Ready for This – 2 Unlimited
Check It Out – Oh The Larceny
Wake Me Up – Avicii
Right On Time – Brandi Carlisle
Breathe – Anna Nalick
Feel This Moment – Pittbull (featuring Christina Aguilera)
Let It Go – Idina Menzel
Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
Celebration – Kool & the Gang