The Bar Exam: Your Test Day Survival Guide

Well, it’s here. The day you’ve been working up to for the past seven (or more) years. It is the first day of the Bar Exam.

The most important thing about test days is being prepared. No, read that again. BE PREPARED. I mean super-duper-anal-retentive style prepared. We’ll go over that in a minute.

And RELAX. Take time to breathe. You’re on the home stretch. It’s almost over.
bar exam, test day tips, keep calm
Here are some test day survival tips.

The Hotel

Most Bar Examinees stay at the recommended hotel. I suppose if you live in the city where the exam is given you could stay at home, but I actually would not advise this. Unless you live alone just 5 minutes from the testing center. You don’t want an argument with your roommate the night before the exam. And you really don’t want a flat tire, a traffic jam, or stress finding a parking space on test day.

Walking distance from the testing center is key.

You may want to actually check out the hotels in the area before booking. I lucked out. The recommended hotel was amazing. Beautiful hotel, lots of amenities [if you need to work off your stress in the pool or fitness room], incredibly comfy beds, and rooms that sound did not pass through easily.

I’ve heard stories about bad hotels. You really should give yourself the luxury of an awesome hotel for the Bar Exam. Find a nice, 4+ star hotel within walking distance. You deserve it. You want someplace CLOSE and COMFY.

However, there is one negative element to consider regarding the recommended hotel. You will be surrounded by 100’s or 1000’s of nervous-nellies. This can get to some people. It didn’t bother me, and honestly I found some comfort in the fact that I was not alone in my misery. The anxiety of others is only a problem if you allow it to be. I avoided it by not engaging in much chit chat, and by staying in my room watching movies after dinner.

What was far more important to me was the comfort of knowing that I was just steps away from the testing center. I needed to know that there was no traffic jam between me and my exam. I needed the morning of the test to be CALM. And it was.

Arrive to Your Hotel Early

Get to your hotel early! You are officially DONE studying, so get to your hotel at check-in time. Use the afternoon to organize your room and get settled. Relax. Check out the hotel. Go down to the restaurant and have a nice meal.

I was lucky. I have an amazing husband whom I actually brought with me to the exam. I know, sounds kind of strange, right? But he is my biggest support. He offered to be there for me for whatever I bar exam, exam day tips, relaxneeded. He did not want me to have any additional stress during those two days.

So upon arrival we had a great time checking the place out and having dinner in the restaurant. It was actually a fun and relaxing night. Well…as relaxing as the night before this exam can be, anyway.

Scope Out the Testing Center

After arriving early, take a walk over to the testing center. Usually they plan for and allow this because they know that examinees want to see where they will be spending the next 2-3 days.

Word of warning. It can be intimidating as hell. The center where I tested was HUGE. I really don’t remember how many of us were in that massive room, but I’m guessing it was over 1000.

But better to rip off that band-aid and get the intimidation out of the way the day before. You don’t want that shock to hit you as you enter the the room the morning of the exam. That’s just not good for your blood pressure!

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And speaking of blood pressure, brace yourself, but you might see paramedics walking around the hotel and testing center. If you’ve read How Hard Is the Bar Exam, you may recall the story. About six of us were rendered speechless in a hotel elevator after a group of paramedics walked in. We asked if they were here for the exam, and they answered in the affirmative. Holy Hell! Paramedics would be stationed in two corners of the room. We nervously laughed as someone exclaimed, “They think some of us are going to pass out!” Blood pressure rising again.

Prepare Supplies Ahead of Time

Know what you are allowed to bring into the room with you. This varies widely from center to center, so be sure that you know exactly what the protocol is at your testing site. Have a list. Don’t assume you’ll remember.

The night before, pack whatever bag you will be bringing with whatever you will need. Always bring extra clothes (it’s COLD in there), extra pens, pencils and erasers. You can never have too many, but you can have too few. Most testing centers only let you bring in certain items. At my center everything had to be in plastic baggies.

The security at the Bar Exam is tighter than Air Force One. So only bring what you need, and what you are allowed. And don’t forget your ID!

Prepare Drinks and Snacks the Night Before

Most testing centers let you bring water bottles into the testing room. You’ll need them. But even if your center makes you keep it outside in your bag, do so. This will necessitate getting up every hour or so to get some fluids, but the stretch and breather will probably do you good. bar exam, exam day tips, snacks

I’ve heard people advise you to also pack healthy snacks in your bag for breaks. Those same people will tell you to take breaks during the exam to stretch and breathe. Well, I do think that may be a good idea…for people very unlike myself. I have to admit that I could no more think about eating throughout the Bar Exam than the man-in-the-moon. Seriously. Not a single thought of food or hunger crossed my mind until after each session was over.

I also would never have taken a break voluntarily. It bothered me immensely to even have to get up to go to the bathroom! OK, so I’m a hopeless perfectionist. But I function well under pressure, and did not want a break.

So know yourself. And pack the snacks just in case. You never know, you might get nauseous and really need to eat. Better to have them there, even if you don’t use them.

Think About Lunch the Night Before

Devise a plan. I have one important thing to say here.

Stay far away from Bar Examinees with verbal diarrhea. I was shocked at how many people suffered from this ailment, and lunch is prime-time for their babble. Nerves are contagious. All it takes is one person who is lamenting the morning MBE questions and soon you’ve got an entire lunch table full of people comparing how awful they did. It can really snowball, and it is TOXIC.

So plan your lunch. Pack it if at all possible. Then you don’t have to spend precious time standing in line or waiting on service. You can curl up into your own little corner, plug in your headset, disappear into your happy place, and re-energize during the lunch break.

If you’re thinking that this is anti-social, I have one thing to say. You will have plenty of time to be social once you are a licensed attorney. The business lunches are endless! For these 2 days, stay away.

This approach helped me tremendously. I know because on the second day of testing I foolishly did not pack a lunch. After the essay portion of the exam I was in line behind two unbelievable pinheads who could not shut up about the essays we all just spent three hours writing. As I involuntarily heard their discussion I felt panic welling up inside. “Oh my God!!! I didn’t answer that Trusts question anything like what he just said!!!” Was I wrong?! Was he wrong!? And so the the avalanche begins.

I was beginning to fall apart when I recognized what was happening. I quickly got out my headset and blasted my pre-loaded, awesome bar exam music to block out the blockheads. I could literally feel my blood pressure returning to normal.

Tune Out the Exam the Night Before; Get a Good Night’s Sleep

I know. MUCH easier said than done. I will tell you my story. I’m pretty sure it’s unusual, but I’m making a point so bear with me.

As I said, I brought my hubby with me to the hotel. He knew I’d be in freak-out mode and really wanted to be there for moral and practical support. He fetched me things that I needed, and did all he could to make sure I was relaxed and happy. I know. What a guy!

But the most important thing he did for me was when it came time to sleep. Sleeping eludes many of us the night before this test. We both knew that I would not sleep. We both also knew that whenever he rubs my back…I pass right out! So the biggest thing he did for me was be there so I could sleep.
bar exam, exam day tips, sleep
I know, it’s unusual, but it helped immensely! He stayed awake all night rubbing my back so I could sleep. It was a Godsend.

Now you may not have someone to come with you to help you sleep, but find something that helps you. Try to find it a few weeks prior to the exam. Experiment. Try white noise. You can use tapes of ocean waves or a loud fan that drowns out extraneous noise and your fretful thoughts. Or if you are the type, try meditation.

Perhaps you do have a significant other who would help rather than hinder. Be discerning here. Be honest. If they would be a distraction, DON’T bring them. If they would help, you might want to think about it. But find a way to sleep if you can. Good sleep and a clear head can make a big difference in your performance.

Be Ahead of Schedule on Exam Day

The enemy of the day is additional stress. Do what you must to keep it at bay. That includes being ahead of schedule on exam day. Avoid panic. Avoid rushing.

Set an alarm clock. If that won’t work because you’re a snooze button aficionado, get on the buddy system. Ask someone you trust to call and text you that morning until you get up and answer.

Do whatever it takes to arrive to the testing center early. Not on time. Early. You will be more calm just knowing you are bar exam, test day tips, calm
there and ready. While you’re waiting, put on your earbuds and listen to whatever motivates or calms you. You know what you need. Don’t nervously chatter with other people.

Calm is the word of the day.

Taking the Test

During the test you will want earplugs. Just trust me on this one. Even if you are not a person who is irritated by extraneous noise, bring the earplugs.

I do not get bothered by noise. I can study with the TV on and completely block it out. However, during the Bar Exam annoying noises can drive you stark raving mad. My nemesis was this poor person who had a cold, and sat one row to my left and about three seats back. The incessant sniffling and sneezing were more than I could handle.

Two eight hour days of that while you’re trying to write the biggest exam of your life can make you violent.

So bring the earplugs. You might have a sniffler, finger tapper, penbar exam, test day tips, calm tapper, nervous cougher, or goodness-knows-what sitting behind you. And you can’t get away from them for two straight 8 hour days of testing. So bring the earplugs, just in case. It may be the only thing standing between you and assault charges.

Read Each Question Carefully

I know, this is a ‘duh’ moment. But when under the pressure of the exam it is easy to misread things. This is particularly true of anyone who has spent the past 2-3 months answering about 4 billion MBE questions.

You may read a question and think, “oh, this is just like that one I kept seeing during Bar Review.” But it isn’t that question. There may be one minor alteration that changes the focus of the question. So be sharp and read carefully.

Keep Track of Time

Some testing centers have timers that you can see from anywhere in the room. Mine did. So I was able to keep on pace, just like I’d practiced. If yours doesn’t, you may want to bring a timer. Anything that beeps or makes noise will likely not be allowed. Check your list.

It is important to keep time and remain on exam, test day tips, time

Oh, and a word about “early finishers.”

When someone gets up half way through the allotted time frame because they’ve completed the test, do not let that bother you. This seems to throw people. There is an almost audible groan in the room. You see it on faces if you look. People are thinking, “Oh my God, he’s done already!?”

Personally, I think this is stupidity at its finest. Why in the world would you rush such an exam? Keep in mind that anyone who completes the exam in that short of a time period probably failed. It is next to impossible to carefully read the exam in half the time and not miss things. So don’t let this throw you.

Avoid Negative Self Talk

You can truly be your own worst enemy on exam day. The thoughts you allow into your head can defeat you. Simply stated, be aware of your thoughts. The minute you start thinking you’re an idiot, you’re failing, everyone knows the answers but you…STOP IT.

Here’s a tip. No one walks out of the Bar Exam thinking they aced it. At least not sane people. That is because we’ve spent our lives in school and been trained that 65% is a failing grade. Not true at all on the Bar. 60-70% correct generally gets you a passing score.

So it will feel like you failed. We have not been trained to feel like 65% is good! This is an unusual situation, so don’t believe that you failed. Do not go down that rabbit hole, at least not before the exam is over. Keep telling yourself that you are crushing this. Have music downloaded to listen to during the breaks that reinforce that feeling. Control your mind so it’s on your side.

If You Panic

In Bar Review: Trusts and Estates, I talked about my experience when a Trusts question showed up on my exam. Panic filled the room. It spilled out into the halls during lunch. Trusts wasn’t supposed to be on the exam, according to the Bar Review gods. The gods got it WRONG.

Many things can spark a panic. But try to remember that others are panicking too. You are not alone. You can talk yourself off the ledge.
bar exam, test day tips, don't panic

Try to walk into that room remembering the thousands of tests you’ve taken in the past. You took many, many tests over the last 7 years. You’ve lived through them all! You are good at this, or you wouldn’t be here! Remind yourself of that, and take a deep breath.


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