What Is It Like To Take the California Bar Exam?
What Is It Like To Take the California Bar Exam?: In this post, a recent bar exam taker gives us her experience of what it’s like to take the California bar exam!
What Is It Like To Take the California Bar Exam?
I recently found out that I passed the February California bar, my second time, and would love to share my experience. I took the first ever two-day California bar exam in July 2017. The truth is, it probably was as bad as the three-day bar because the amount of information you need to cram into your head is the same, but the weight on each section is now different if not more. Please don’t let this freak you out, this just means you need to be smart about how you allocate your study energy and time.
If you are taking the upcoming July bar exam, you might be worried because there are only two administered two-day bars to date and there isn’t enough information floating around for you to truly understand what the bar is now like. Well, I took the first one in July 2017 and failed. And I took the bar again in February 2018 and passed. Hopefully, my experience can give you some comfort as you prepare to take the California bar exam.
The Weekend Leading Up to the Bar
Most of the bar companies assigned specific review homework for this weekend, but I did my own review. I focused mainly on the areas that I need more work on. At this point, the review is no longer about learning new things, but for comfort. It’s time to settle into your testing mode and to prepare for game day. I treated it like a regular study day, read through as many essays as I could and reviewed rules I need some work on. I went to the gym in the afternoon and went to bed early.
Monday Before the Bar Exam
I was lucky enough to get the testing center of my choice: Pasadena Convention Center, both times. A lot of my friends also went to this testing center, but I’ve also heard great things about Ontario. The convention center is located near old town Pasadena.
The first time I stayed at a hotel, Hilton Hotel, which is one block away from the center. I woke up the same time I did for the past two months and started packing for the next two days. My mom was sweet enough to pack lunches that I can put in the fridge so I do not have to worry about waiting in line for lunch on both test days. I made sure I brought enough clothes in case the testing room is cold or hot. The key is layers.
I traveled to the hotel after early dinner and settled in around 6 pm. Took a shower and was in bed by 10 pm. I did not meet up with friends even though they were in the same hotel. I was honestly too nervous to interact with people. One big mistake I made was I didn’t bring my own blanket. I’m a light sleeper and prefer heavy blankets. Hilton only had really light blankets and I, unfortunately, could not sleep all night. Even worse, the person next door decided to shower in the middle of the night and I could hear everything.
You could tell, I did not have a good time staying at a hotel, so when I had to take it again, I decided to stay home and drive to the testing center. Good thing I live about 20 minutes away so it wasn’t a problem the second time. But, if you must stay at a hotel, I read online that you can request for a room reserved for pilots. Those rooms are usually away from the noise so you might have a better quality of sleep.
My second time, I stayed home so the Monday was very different. I did some more light studying in the morning and read through my problem areas. In the afternoon, I took a really long walk to clear my head. I find myself very calm and more comfortable than the first time. Again, I slept early because I will have to wake up earlier the next day to allow enough time to drive to the test center.
Test Day- Tuesday
I honestly don’t remember the details of my first time so I will focus on my second time. We had to get there no later than 8:20 am as a laptop user. I planned to get to my parking before 8 am so I would have enough time to clear my head and walk over to the test center. If you plan to drive to the center, I would recommend deciding on a parking structure before Tuesday. I knew the parking for the convention center would be crazy, especially in the afternoon when we were released from the center. My friend said it took her one solid hour just to get out of the parking lot. Knowing this, I picked a slightly far away parking lot (the Hilton Hotel parking lot).
That morning, I made sure to give myself at least 30 minutes driving and got to the parking lot around 7:30 am. Ate a big breakfast (I packed a sandwich and egg and some bars) in my car. Sat in my car for a little to prep myself for the big day. Then around 7:50 a.m. I slowly made my way over to the test center.
You will see a lot of people lining up in front of the center waiting for the door to open. Once it’s open, you are allowed to put your backpack right outside the testing room in the hallway. Water was provided inside the hallway. Two bathrooms on each end of the hallway. Make sure you know what you are allowed to bring into the testing room. They are fairly strict about it in California. I had a cheap watch that I got on Amazon. I saw some people bringing pillows. However, pillows are only allowed on the first day. Why not on the second day? I have no idea. Read the rules. You will be surprised why you can and cannot bring in there.
I finally made my way into the testing room and found my seat. The room was massive with rows and rows of tables and chairs. I quickly set up my computer and walked out for some fresh air. The proctors will come around a few times to check your ID. They were all really nice.
The first day was essay and PT day. Three hours in the morning for three essays (one hour each) and three and a half hours in the afternoon for two essays and one 90 minute PT.
Once the exam starts, there’s no turning back. I paced myself through the first three essays. This past February’s essays were a lot harder than the July set with so many more cross-overs and open-ended discussion type questions. I was a bit shocked but I kept calm and continued. I made sure I timed myself. Three hours went by really fast and my only recommendation is to treat it like your usual practice.
Finally, it was lunchtime. I walked back to my car and grab my lunch. I kept my eyes on the time so I have enough time to walk back to the testing center. Again, people will start lining up early for the afternoon section. I found my friends in the crowd when I walked back and we did not talk about the exam at all.
The afternoon section started the same way the morning section did, but the afternoon section was 3.5 hours. I remember feeling super tired at the end of the PT but I treated it like practice. It went by really fast and before you know it, you are on the last sentence of your PT. Finally, the proctor called time and picked up the booklets and let us out. I think by the time we got out, it was already almost dark. It’s crazy how long yet fast Tuesday went. Anyway, we were halfway done!
I quickly went home and uploaded my answers first thing. I had some dinner with my family and did some light review again before getting ready for bed. Compare the second time to my first-time hotel experience, I was glad I live close enough to drive to the center in the morning.
Test Day – Wednesday
Everything was the same as Tuesday, except I didn’t have to bring my laptop with me. Instead, I brought 12 standard pencils. It was MBE day. Three hours for 200 MBE in the morning and three hours for 200 MBE in the afternoon. MBE is my weaker portion so I was really nervous, but to my surprise, the first section was not as bad. The questions looked like what I’ve been practicing. I was able to pace myself through the questions and finished on time. We were let out for lunch and I repeated what I did on Tuesday and walked back to my car. I had the exact same meal – a sandwich with some chocolate milk. I took a break before walking back to the test center.
The afternoon section for me was more difficult. There were several questions where I was able to narrow down to two answers but could not decide on one. However, I had to remind myself to move on because I need to stick with my time. I was able to finish one time but I felt less sure about this section. Based on what my friends said, there’s always a harder section and it is random if you get it in the morning or afternoon. Nevertheless, I was glad it was over when the proctor called time. I quickly collected my belongings and congratulated the people sitting next to me. We did it!
I didn’t know how to feel when I walked out of the testing room but I knew I could finally sleep in peace, for a few months. Overall, the bar exam was rough and I am glad I don’t have to do it again.
To those taking it this July, you got this! You’ve been prepping for this exam all three years of law school. The process will be rough, some days will be worse than others, but if you keep to your schedule and work diligently (and you will), you will be fine! California is one of the harder bar exams, and when you find your name on that pass list, you will know you truly earned it. Good luck!
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