the dust is finally settling
the red/orange glow of the sunset on the bar exam is increasing
the silhouette of the cowboy riding off into said sunset is visible
I'm ready to compile my thoughts on the February 2008 D.C. bar exam experience.
I studied a lot for this exam. Maybe a little more time-wise compared to last summer. I think I can chalk up some of my poor performance last summer to:
1. working half-time (20 hrs/week) during the first month of studying
2. working on numerous projects around my house to get it ready to sell in prep for the move to D.C.
3. an unlucky day (mostly in the choice of the essay subjects for me, a few chinks in my armor proved fatal)
4. lack of proper focus on studying for the MBEs (more on this below)
5. failure to compliment/buttress with another form of studying on the MBEs (flashcards and/or listening to CDs)
1. During the summer 07 bar campaign I worked half-time through the first month of BarBri (to keep my insurance benefits). I’m sure some people can do this, but I think I was not one of them. If you can avoid any work during your entire BarBri review, do it.
For the February exam I was working full-time during January and a couple of days into February and going to BarBri lectures at night (6-10 pm). I did study on the weekends but did not study any additional times during the week (no time!) aside from listening to PMBR lectures on my iPod during my commute every day.
I was lucky in that my firm paid for three weeks of study time (including the days for the exam itself) so I had nothing to worry about at work aside from studying during the couple of weeks right before the exam. I kept track of those non-billable hours in February and I think they came to about 225 hours.
2. Needless to say, preparing to move sucks. With the acceptance of a job in D.C., I had many little projects around the house that originally had a longer timeline for completion. A sudden shortening of that timeline during bar study is not idea…dare I say bad. It definitely sucked mental and physical strength from me to worry about/work on these projects. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do, but if you can avoid a situation like this, do it. You really should focus all possible energy on bar study.
3. Sometimes you just get unlucky. Had I been asked a couple of different essay questions in subjects that I knew better, I probably would have passed my July 2007 bar. I may not have scored high enough to waive into D.C., but then again, I might have. Realize that you aren’t going to know every single subject that is possible in a robot-like manner. Focus hard on the subjects that you are weakest in since a poor performance is more likely to be damaging on one of those compared to how much you can increase your score in your top subjects (limited return value for your time).
Do everything you can to make sure you are lucky on exam day. For me this included wearing a lucky t-shirt and a favorite pair of shorts.
4. I think my poor MBE score from July 2007 (106 raw/126.7 scaled) was due to improper/less than ideal studying to some degree. I did quite a few questions last summer (approximately 1500 or so). In hindsight, I don’t think that I focused enough on the questions that I got wrong.
I knew I should change up my strategy some for my second attempt. Mind you, I didn’t think I had to rebuild everything from scratch, since I didn’t bomb the exam, but I knew I would want to try and tweak some aspects of my studying to maximize my chances of success.
I read quite a few books during my studying for the February 2008 bar:
-Mastering the Multistate Bar Exam, by John J. Talamo (2007, 2nd Edition)
-Pass the Bar! by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz (2006)
-Bar Exam Survival Kit, by Jeff Adachi (2006)
-MBE Survival Kit, by Jeff Adachi (2006)
-Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays, by Mary Campbell Gallagher (2006, 3rd Edition)
-Strategies & Tactics for the MBE, by Kimm Alayne Walton and Steve Emanuel (2005)
This book was great because all of the questions in it are from previously released MBEs. Granted, many of the questions these days are more difficult and a bit different, I think it helped to look at these since they were written by the NCBE. Also, this saves you from needing to buy the released MBE questions through the NCBE (which can add up quickly)
Another thing I did this time is pay $26 to get online access to the MBE Annotated Preview (2006) through the NCBE site. Here you get electronic access to 100 previously released questions (more recent than any of the other released exams). You can take the questions under a timed situation and the site comes up with a projected score band and some analysis on the questions and answers.
I did more questions this time around -just over 2300 total:
Almost all (90%) of the BarBri Study Smart questions
34 from each subject in the PMBR red book (didn’t get to the blue book)
PMBR 6 Day (50 questions per subject)
PMBR 3 Day (full simulated MBE)
BarBri simulated MBE (full simulated MBE)
100 questions from NCBE Annotated review 2006
17 questions per subject from BarBri MDR book (along with DVD explanations)
20 questions per subject from Walton & Emanuel book
My overall percent correct was around 59%, with a range (by subject) from 53% to 62%. Many times my second choice was the correct answer so I thought I had a good chance of getting many questions correct.
5. Last summer I did not use any flashcards to study or listen to any CDs. This time, I did use a number of the old PMBR flashcards (no longer given out, but you can still find them around on Ebay and the like). I also listened to the PMBR cds (you get them if you sign up for the combined course or you can also find them on Ebay) A LOT. I think this made a huge difference for me. I listened to the MBE subjects on the PMBR CDs every day, to and from work, for about seven weeks. This added up. There were definitely times during various practice sessions that I recalled things I had heard and was able to apply them to the question. Obviously, everyone learns in different ways, but for me, I think adding this auditory facet to my studying this time around helped immensely.
MEE v other essays
I found the MEE questions easier than those in my home state during the summer 2007 exam. I think the short amount of time (30 minutes) doesn’t leave a lot of time to have some crazy deep question. You pretty much have 10-12 minutes to read/outline, then 20 minutes to write. That flies by when you are jamming on six continuous essays.
The D.C. Exam
Having to write the exam by hand sucked. No two ways about it. I typed my exam last summer because I have horrible handwriting (even with printing) and I can type much faster than I can write.
Knowing that you cannot use your laptop during the exam*, I wrote a ton before the exam to build up my hand strength/endurance. I wrote all notes by hand for the PMBR courses, for BarBri and when studying on my own. I did have a typed outline that I adjusted from last summer (because some subjects were added/subtracted). I wrote out about 50 of my own flashcards that I used for specific topics that I wanted to reinforce. I used the PMBR flashcards quite a bit.
All that being said, my hand was killing me towards the end of the exam. I had even hunted for the perfect pen to write with:
very fine point (to help with my messy writing)
larger grip (to help reduce hand fatigue)
blue color (I think it is easier to read compared to black)
I settled on the Pilot G-2 gel with the very fine point (0.5 mm). I wrote exclusively during all my studying with this pen so my hand was used to it on exam day.
*Note: technically, it is possible to type your D.C. bar exam. No, not on a laptop...on a typewriter! I looked into this and decided it wasn't worth the hassle (who has a typewriter?!?). I actually met a guy on day 2 (the MBE day) that had typed his essays the day before. I asked him how many people did that and he told me six (6). Out of 281 people. The official rules I got from the D.C. Court of Appeals said that you needed a typewriter with no lines of memory. This guy said that at least a couple of the people typing had a line or three of memory. When I did a quick search of typewriters online, I didn't find any that didn't have at least a couple of lines of memory. Spending money on a typewriter just for the bar exam seemed like a waste.
Getting to the exam
For the past few years, the D.C. bar exam has been at Catholic University of America. This up the red line on the metro (the eastern half of the line). The metro stop is only about four blocks from the Pryzbilla Center on campus, which is where the exam room is. I didn’t look into it, but a friend contacted CU and obtained a visitor parking pass for free and parked in the large lot next to the exam site. This allowed her to have a quiet refuge during lunch to go eat, relax, study, etc. It was raining on day one of the exam so sitting outside (like I had planned) wasn’t ideal and I wished I had my car at that point (since I wanted to review my outlines a bit for the essays). On day two, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to study any more MBE questions during lunch.
I checked out the exam site the week before to make sure I knew where to go, where the bathrooms where, etc. There is food in the cafeteria one floor below the exam room, but it is packed with undergrads and fairly busy, but the food was edible and fairly priced.
The seating in the exam room is a free-for-all ... as in no assigned seats. You just walk in and find the seat that feels lucky. The tables are the cheap long ones with the legs that fold flat, two people to table. There was quite a bit of room in the space and many people only had one at a table (like me).
There is only one door for access so if you are going to need to use the bathroom, you may want to sit closer to it. Of course, you’ll be closer to the action if people come in late or head to the bathroom during the exam.
Someone I know asked if mechanical pencils were OK and the offical word was no. I used mechanical pencils (although I had a box of 20 pre-sharpened ready to go just in case. There was only one sharpener in some back corner...better to have your pencils sharp ahead of time.
I brought earplugs with me, and highlighers, pens and pencils in a gallon ziplock bag and had no problem getting through "security" (a couple of senior ladies that sort of look at you as you come into the room).
It was hard (impossible really) to see a clock in the room from where I was sitting. I had my digital watch on, and an analog watch so that made it little problem for me. I don’t think there were many clocks set up in the exam room - maybe one?
That is all I can think of at the moment. I’m sure I’ll add to/edit this post as I think of other things I wanted to include.
I definitely think that taking the exam a second time helped me focus on areas that I needed to strengthen:
-I knew I needed to beef up my essay abilities (about half of my essays last summer got pretty poor scores).
-Obviously I knew I needed to work on MBE stuff, which to me, is somewhat of a shot in the dark. Like most other things in life, prior experience helps a lot.
-I knew what it felt like to sit through the bar exam. I knew the stress associated with that.
Things that where different this time:
More stress, but in a different way. The thought that my job would disappear if I failed was horrible image in my mind and provided unending tension for me.
Writing two MPTs and six essays by hand sucks- no two ways about it. I probably should have written more in prep (although I'm not sure how I could have done that as I took all my notes this time by hand aside from reusing 3/4 of my outline from last summer).
Study experience in general:
Last summer I studied with one other person for 50-60% of my time. We weren't always studying with each other, but we would study in the same room and often compare/talk through answers to essay questions that we did, help each other understand various points of the black letter law and just generally support each other. It is easier to have someone that is in your same boat when trying to survive the bar exam. Other people just can't understand what you are going through, thinking, feeling.
Having moved to a new city/state, I didn't know anyone that was retaking the bar here in D.C. I met someone at the 6 Day PMBR class that I emailed occasionally (that person was studying at home via iPod lectures so we didn't cross paths at the BarBri lectures). Other than that, there was almost no interaction between me and any of the other people in my class, which was rather strange.
Last summer, pretty much everyone was a new grad, taking the bar for the first time.
Here in D.C. this February, there were all kinds of people taking the exam:
-those who failed a bar (could have been D.C. or some other state) and were retaking (some on their 2nd, 3rd + attempt at D.C.)
-those that passed a previous bar but didn't score high enough on the MBE to waive in
-those that had a foreign law degree and were taking D.C. for the first time
I definitely felt more isolated this time around as I didn't have anyone to chat with on a daily basis about questions, etc. I guess it worked for me so no complaints here.