How to Prepare for Bar Exam Day Ahead of Time - JD Advising
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how to pass the bar exam

Step Nine of How to Pass the Bar Exam:

Get Ready for Bar Exam Day

The day of the bar exam can be especially stressful. We recommend that you reduce excess stress by thinking about and planning as many details of your bar exam days as possible well in advance.

This includes things like:

  • Arranging your hotel and transportation
  • Packing your bag
  • Planning where and what you will eat
  • Scoping out the testing center ahead of time (if possible)
  • And more!

Here are some critical steps to take to prepare for bar exam day ahead of time!

How to prepare for bar exam day ahead of time

1. Book a hotel

If you do not live near the test location, it is highly recommended that you book a hotel for the night between the first and second day of the exam.  You may also want to consider staying at the hotel the night before day one of the exam so that you do not have to travel the morning of the exam. The bar exam is on Tuesday and Wednesday (for most students in most jurisdictions) so you should plan on booking your hotel for Monday and Tuesday evenings. (You may even want to stay Wednesday evening so you don’t have to worry about checking out of your hotel room the morning of the exam. This is especially the case if you know anyone in the area or have friends who may want to go out and celebrate after the exam!)

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Even if you do live somewhat near the testing location, staying at a hotel that is within walking distance of the test center can reduce the additional stress of transportation (traffic, parking, public transportation delays, weather, etc.).

Many jurisdictions offer the bar exam in a location that is either adjacent to or inside a hotel.  Many people prefer to stay at that hotel for convenience.  If you do want to stay at the testing location, book your hotel early!  These hotels often fill up well in advance of the bar exam!  As soon as you figure out which testing center you will be taking the exam, it is a good idea to immediately book a hotel. That way, you will have the best chances of getting a room in the hotel (and if you want a specific type of room—i.e., a suite, or a room away from the elevators, or whatever) you will be more likely to get it. Lastly, if you book really early—i.e., at least a year in advance—you may even get a low rate. Many hotels increase their prices closer to the bar exam day. So by booking early, you may even save some money!

Some examinees prefer to stay at a hotel that is a bit farther from the test location (e.g., a 10- or 20-minute drive), and this option has its benefits also.  Although you may have to travel a short distance, you can avoid the chaos of being at the same location as all the other examinees.  Staying at the testing location means that you will be constantly surrounded by other people taking the exam, which could be stressful for some examinees.  Regardless of your preference, it is important that you consider where you will stay as far in advance as possible.

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2. Figure out transportation

As mentioned above, you don’t want to have to worry about things like traffic, parking, or public transportation on the day of the exam. Come up with a plan for the day of the exam in advance. If you live near the testing center and plan on driving (or having someone drive you), do a test run so that you know what route you will take, where you will park, what traffic will be like, etc.

If you need to arrange transportation or use public transportation, be sure to set this up in advance if possible, and plan for a worst-case scenario. What will your backup plan be if the subway/bus system is not working that day? Do you have another option? Thinking these things through in advance will ensure no last minute surprises that may cause additional stress.

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3. Decide if you want to bring someone with you

If you are staying at a hotel for the exam, think about whether you want to bring someone with you, or if you want to stay with another student who is taking the exam.

Whether you decide to stay by yourself or with another person is largely a matter of personal preference.  Some people prefer to be alone to avoid distractions and not have the additional stress of having another person around. If the person is also taking the bar exam, you may find that it stresses you out (i.e., they may cram at the last minute or be more anxious and it may rub off on you!)   On the other hand, staying with someone who is also taking the test and who understands what you are going through can provide some comfort.

Even if you don’t want to stay with another student taking the exam, you may want to consider taking a friend or family member with you.  You will have a break each day between the morning and afternoon sessions.  The length of the break can vary depending on the test location, the length of time the instructions and passing out the materials takes, and whether examinees are permitted to leave early if they finish early.  Generally, the break is anywhere from one hour to two hours.  Your friend or family member can be there to keep you company during the break, or can get lunch for you while you are in the morning session so that it is ready and waiting for you when your break starts.

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4. Review your jurisdiction’s exam day policies

Each jurisdiction has very specific rules about what is and is not allowed in the test center on the day of the exam.  The rules vary from one jurisdiction to the next, so there is no universal list of items that you can bring with you to the test center and it is crucial that you review your jurisdiction’s list.

For instance, some jurisdictions allow examinees to have watches or small clocks, while others forbid such items.  Some jurisdictions allow highlighters while others do not.  Be sure to review this list CAREFULLY well in advance of the exam.


5. Pack

With your jurisdiction’s list of permitted items in hand, pack a bag of items that you will be taking with you to the bar exam.  You can pack this bag and have it ready to go well in advance of the exam.  Most jurisdictions allow you to bring the items in a clear plastic bag, but be sure to check your jurisdiction’s list for specific instructions! Also, check out our bar exam packing list here as extra security to make sure you don’t forget anything!

Additionally, if you will be traveling to take the exam, you will need to pack an overnight bag also.  Think about what you will wear to take the exam.  Be sure to check your jurisdiction’s instructions for clothing that is or is not permitted (for instance, some jurisdictions do not allow hooded sweatshirts, while others require examinees to wear a suit to the exam).  You certainly don’t want to be turned away from the exam for failing to comply with the dress code!  Unless your jurisdiction has specific requirements, you should consider wearing something comfortable and should dress in layers.  Even if you are taking the exam in the summer, bring a long sleeve shirt just in case the air conditioning is on full blast in your testing center.

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6. Plan what and/or where you will eat

As mentioned above, you will have a break between the morning and afternoon sessions each day of the exam.  Before the day of the exam, think about what you are going to eat during that break. Keep in mind that you don’t want to eat too much and risk feeling sluggish during the afternoon session. On the other hand, you want to make sure you eat something substantial enough that you aren’t worrying about your grumbling stomach during the afternoon session.

Some examinees prefer to eat in solitude, packing a lunch and eating it in the car, or retreating to their hotel room during the break.  You may not have a lot of time during this break (or a lot of options), so if you plan on picking up something to eat during the break, you should scope out your options and come up with a plan in advance.  Keep in mind that if there aren’t many lunch options near the test center, any lunch options that are available may be crowded with other examinees.

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7. Scope out the testing center in advance

If you live near the test center, or travel to the test center and are able to arrive the day before the exam, take some time to explore the test center (to the extent that it is open).  In some jurisdictions, you may be able to see the room where the exam will be administered the day before the exam.  Others may not let you see the room, but you may be able to check out the entrance/exit and surrounding areas to get a sense of where you need to be on the morning of the exam.  Getting a look at the testing center in advance will help ease any stress and anxiety surrounding the unknown aspects of where you will be taking the exam.

Go to the next topic, FAQ: Common Questions First-Time Bar Exam Takers Have.

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