Bar Exam Takers: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
After going through the process of taking two bar exams in the last year, I’ve come to realize that there is an uncomfortable truth all bar takers need to face if they hope to pass: No matter how much you study, no matter how many flashcards you make or practice essays you do, you’re never going to feel truly comfortable going into the exam. You can do all practice questions in the world, but I can GUARANTEE you there are still going to be some questions on the exam that make you feel like you’ve never even cracked open a book. But does this mean you’re doomed to fail? Of course not. Instead, it highlights the need for you get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
What does that even mean? On the Bar Exam, you’re likely to flip over to an essay, only to discovery you have basically no effing clue what the hell they’re even asking you about. At this point, you’ll have two options: (1) You can panic, staring blankly at the fact pattern in vein hope that the words will somehow morph into something more comprehensible before your eyes or (2)(The only REAL OPTION) You can scan the fact pattern again and, using the facts of the hypo, try to take an educated guess as to what is being tested. This prospect frightens the shit out of many students and, for good reason. There’s no getting over the fear of spending too much time on an issue that wasn’t really being tested. However, what you can and MUST do is make yourself comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. What I mean is, you have get to the point where you can look at a question, be genuinely at a loss for how to answer, and yet remain confident both in the amount of work you put in and in your comprehension of the material so that you can press on through the question with a sort of blind confidence.
Let’s say you get an essay on Evidence, and the hypo is asking you about Hearsay. You know that the facts indicate that this is a Past Recorded Recollection question, but you can’t, for the life of you, remember the elements for when a past recorded recollection is admissible hearsay. This moment can make or break your essay, and only by taking a hard look at the facts and trying to press on through the essay with an ad hoc rule statement can you ensure that you’re still giving yourself a chance at a passing.
The best advice I provide on this front is to do practice essays under timed conditions. Even if you’re floundering on one of these practice essays, the practice of looking at the clock and realizing six minutes have passed and you still don’t know for sure what you’re going to write about is incredibly useful. Unfortunately, the only way to become comfortable with the unpredictability of bar essays is to flounder a few times. Even if it is a bit of a slog to keep punishing yourself with essays when you feel like you don’t yet know enough about the law, keep in mind that, in the end, you’re preparing yourself for any unexpected curveballs come exam day.
Beyond even the question-by-question benefits, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable will allow you to wake up on test day with the confidence that, although things almost certainly won’t go according to plan, you know that it won’t sink you.