Monday, March 05, 2007

bar exam, bar exam, rah rah rah

I know I said I would never speak of it, but I've had a change of heart. It's just that... well... i keep getting hits on the site from people searching for "Oregon Bar Exam 2007" and I feel bad because they're coming for info and I'm not giving any. So here's a very small breakdown of the weirdness of the bar exam.

First of all, the whole, two-day experience can be summarized by a four-word cliche: hurry up and wait. Check in was at 7:30 both mornings, but the exam itself didn't start until somewhere around 9. You're not allowed to have any printed materials anywhere near your seat, so that first day, I didn't bring anything to read during downtimes. Turns out, there were LOTS of downtimes.

I checked in at 7:35 on the dot, chose myself a seat, put all my pens and my earplugs on the table and then... you know... sort of milled around until the 8:10 in-your-seats time. I wandered to the back of the very enormous room (in a conference center next to the hotel) and began pacing. I wanted to keep moving and get the blood flowing because I knew I'd spend the rest of the day glued to my seat.

Soon I was joined by at least two other dedicated pacers in the back corner. We didn't talk. Like sharks or people in a mental hospital, we moved back and forth, back and forth, lost in our own little heads. At 8:10 we all scampered back to the seats we'd chosen and I was very concerned to realize I'd chosen to sit next to a man who was planning to eat an apple. You should know I hate mouth noises, ESPECIALLY apples. Blech. So, even as the woman began to read the day's instructions, I put one earplug in to drown out the sound of the apple-chomping coming from my right.

It took the woman about ten minutes to read the directions, which left us with another thirty-plus minutes to kill before the exam would actually start. Advice to anyone taking a bar exam: I don't care what they say about printed material, bring a newspaper and leave it wherever they let you leave your bags. Then you can just go over and read it during these interminable breaks and you won't be so bored and you have so much time to freak yourself out. The second day, I brought a magazine and left it by the wall in the pacer's corner.

The first part of the exam was the performance test. You're given an assignment, a "file" and a "library" from which to work and then you have 90 minutes to create some work product. I had to write a memo for a senior attorney at "my firm." I was so happy to get a type of assigment with which I'm already familiar. I've written my share of memos in school, I'm comfortable with those. If, however, I'd been asked to write a set of interrogetories, or closing arguments, I would've been fairly freaked out because I've never done either.

After that, we got a thirty minute break (five minutes of which I easily used in a trip to the bathroom, and the other twenty-five I spent in the pacer's corner), and then we were back in our seats for the first three essay questions. You get thirty-five minutes for each question and only three pages in which to write your answer. Plenty of time and space, in my opinion. There's nothing worse than the three hour law school exam with ONE QUESTION. That's miserable.

After the first three essays, we had an hour and fifteen minute lunch break. All I can say is: thank god for my school. They rented a suite over at the hotel and provided a nice lunch, complete with chair massage for anyone who wanted it. I demurred on day one, but by day two I was first in line. The food was good (assorted sandwiches, vegetables, and a huge dessert spread) and the acting dean and some women from career services were there to give us pep talks. I love the acting dean, but in the middle of the exam, I didn't find her story about leaving to take her kids skiing very comforting. I wanted to head-butt her.

After lunch, we all dutifully filed back over to the conference center for the last two sets of three essays. For some reason, day one was manageable. The first half of the day, I was driven by a feeling of inexplicable excitement. It was almost over! I wouldn't have to study anymore! I literally bounced like Tigger into the lunch room and stood bouncing until the acting dean started bouncing too. I was just so happy to be getting it over with. After lunch I had slightly less energy, but no mental fatigue. I just kept at it and when it was over I went home.

Day two was much harder. Day two sucked the spirit out of me. The whole day was multiple choice. One-hundred questions before lunch, one-hundred questions after. Three hours each session. This was fucking grueling. I didn't mind the multiple choice questions when I was studying. In fact, I kind of liked them, in the same way that I like crossword puzzles. There was only one right answer to each question, and if you paid very close attention and really looked at the details of the question and each answer, you could somehow figure it out, even if you didn't really *know* it.

Well, that's all fine and good, but it takes a lot of concentration. On day two I suffered from intense brain-fatigue. Especially after lunch. I had to read questions over and over again because I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't stay focused. It was pretty miserable. Usually, in an exam, I can lose myself in the taking of it. I read the question and enter an alternate universe where time seems to stop as I fully engage all my energy in the answering. With the last half of the multiple choice, none of that was happening. I painfully slogged through and kept checking my progress. "Only 75 to go." "Only 50 to go."

When I was finally done, I felt like I was crawling out on my hands and knees, it had been that fucking trying. And then, to have locked my keys in my car... there just aren't words for how fucked up that was. That was just fucked up.

One more thing. At lunch on day one, I sat at a table with a couple of people I didn't know. As we talked, it slowly came out that they were both taking the exam for the fourth time. The FOURTH TIME. I listened as they commiserated with each other about how hard it is to have to tell people you've failed, and all the asinine things people say by way of comforting you. And I realized that as much as I could empathize with them, I simply could not allow myself to live in a universe in which it was possible for me to fail this test. I knew I would not be taking it four times, no matter what. I might take it once more if, god forbid, I didn't pass this time. But if I fail twice, I will take it as a sign from the baby jesus that I am not supposed to practice law and I will move on. That shit is just too painful.


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