Editor’s note: Our law clerk, Chris, recently took two bar exams — Colorado and New Jersey. Anyone who has been through one bar exam can tell you that it’s one of the most stressful experiences. Taking two in the same week is worse. And Chris had some interesting unexpected (but totally predictable) computer problems to deal with as well. Here are his notes from the front lines.
Exam day has arrived. I walk into the test center early on a Tuesday morning after studying for 2 months straight. I first pass through a room where I leave all my belongings: backpack, cell phone, wallet, and jacket. I leave that room with my drivers license, laptop plus charger, and a water bottle. Exam day instructions say no hooded sweatshirts, no clothing with deep pockets, and no clunky footwear that would distract fellow test takers. The parking lot was muddy so I decide to test my luck by wearing my double-buckled boots. No issue there. However, my SmartWater still has the label on it and I’m instructed to peel it off before entering the testing area.
Enter the testing area. It’s a large open auditorium with endless rows of bar examinees. It’s brightly lit and there’s around 1,000 test takers. At this point, some people are casually talking, while others fanatically review the outlines on their laptop before they must open the dreaded bar exam software. I am trying not to think about anything. I’m not going over the 30 mnemonic devices I have memorized, nor reviewing the rule against perpetuities, an impossibly difficult property law principle. I’m just trying to clear my head.
Fast forward approximately 30 hours. It’s lunchtime on Day 2 of the Colorado bar exam. Most test takers only have the afternoon session left, meaning there are three more hours to go before getting dropped off at the nearest brewpub. I decided months ago to make this week a little more complicated and tack on a second bar exam in order to get the most out of my studies. That means I’ll be taking the 7:40 PM red-eye out of Denver and arriving in Newark, New Jersey around 1:30 AM local time in order to take the New Jersey essay portion which begins on Thursday morning. But as I sit in my car eating lunch, there is what seems to be an apocalyptic snowstorm happening around me and I get the strong feeling that all flights out of Denver that night will be cancelled. But I need to compartmentalize these thoughts and focus on the afternoon bar exam session ahead.
Fast forward approximately 15 hours. I’m checking into a New Jersey hotel located only a mile or so from the New Jersey bar exam center. It’s 3 AM and I manage to squeeze in a 3-hour nap before getting up at 6 AM for the exam. I’m not someone that can easily sleep on planes so I’m hoping the 3 hours of sleep are deep enough to give me energy for the rest of the day. Combine the nap with adrenaline, caffeine and some fruit, and I’ll be ready to take on New Jersey essays.
Before leaving the breakfast area of the hotel for the exam center, I flip on my computer to double check that it’s working. It’s not. My clocks tells me I have to be at the test center in 20 minutes. Not good. You have to register your computer with the bar exam people at least a month before the exam in order to use it on test day. Any technical issues leading up to or during the exam means that you are going to be handwriting essays for the entire day; that is 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon. Major disadvantage. There’s always 3 or 4 old-school test takers that choose to hand-write their exam, for reasons way beyond me.
I’m hitting the power-on, power-off button multiple times but all I’m getting is a black screen and some computer noise. The screen finally shows some life, but it’s not allowing me access to my home screen. Weird screens are popping up that I’ve never seen before. I’m immediately thinking to myself: that freaking airport metal detector probably zapped my device into some weird technology state. I start to stretch my right hand to prepare it for a really, really long day of writing essays. My mind is also racing because I never wanted to be that person in the room with technical issues who’s probably going to fail – it’s just embarrassing. Low and behold, as it really becomes time to leave for the test, my Mac suddenly asks me for my iCloud password instead of that simple start up password. Somehow it gets the job done. By the skin of my teeth, I will be able to use my computer to type the exam.
Although exhausting, the bar exam experience was at least exciting. When I’m asked how I think I did, all I can really say is that I left it all on the field. On the essay portions, you type and type and type, regurgitating everything you’ve studied the past couple months. On the multiple choice day, you hope all of the practice problems you completed actually pay off. Multiple choice requires good instinct because the questions are nuanced and tricky. You just pray that your instinct on exam day is sufficient.