In this post, we discuss what it is like to take the Illinois bar exam! One of our blog readers has written this post with her suggestions on where to stay, what to bring into the exam room, and her test day tips! She gives a ton of useful information about the Illinois bar exam! Please read further about what it is like to take the Illinois bar exam from someone who has actually done it!
What is it like to take the Illinois bar exam?
Where to Stay
Crowne Plaza Chicago West: This is the hotel the majority of out-of-town Examinees stay at. Once you sign up for the exam you will receive information about a discounted-rate to stay here. I did not stay here but from what I hear it is fine and it is easy to get to the testing sites from here.
Hilton Chicago- 720 South Michigan Avenue & Holiday Inn & Suites Chicago- Downton- 506 West Harrison St: These hotels are both easy to get to the testing site via Uber/Lyft, and on the way back, walkable if you choose.
What to Bring in the Exam Room
Illinois is strict about what you can and cannot bring into the exam room. In the exam room, you are only allowed to bring: a laptop if you’re a laptop taker, a laptop charger, and one plastic bag with your “essentials” including your license/ID, credit cards (without the wallet), and keys. You will be required to wear your ID Badge when walking into the room. You will also need to remember to bring your ID badge with you on Day 2. They do not allow you to bring your own pencils, pens, or highlighters. They provide pencils on the MBE day and pens on the Essay day, but no highlighters, which is disappointing.
They also apparently don’t believe in the benefits of hydration, because you are not allowed to bring any water or beverages into the room. I understand the risk with the laptops and the close proximity of students, but it would be nice for them to allow water bottles at least. I brought a water bottle with me and kept it in the storage room.
Do not under any circumstances bring your cell phone into the exam room. Leave your phone turned off and inside your bag/coat in the storage room. The facility is secured and there are people standing around the building. The only people in the venue are people there for the bar exam (no classes/events going on), so you don’t need to worry about losing your things. If they see you with a phone or hear a phone go off in the exam room (even during breaks) you will receive a failing grade on the exam!
Exam Room Conditions
The Illinois bar exam is split between two venues, the UIC Forum and the UIC Pavilion. Examinees are split up by last name. I took the exam at the UIC Forum. The Forum is generally a very nice venue. There is a large space in front of it that you can use to sit outside during the lunch break or get some fresh air. When you walk into the building you’ll be required to pass through a metal detector and show the guard inside your bag. The Examiners have tables set up by last name with your badges ready. The lines aren’t long at all because they move at a fast pace, but I recommend getting there early to ease any anxiety. Once you get your badge you can head into the storage room to place your items down and wait. Many people look through any notes, outlines, or flashcards they brought with them just to ease their minds, and others eat a quick breakfast or socialize. The storage room isn’t very big but there is room right outside where people sit on the floor during lunch.
The actual test room is a nice, very large space. It is not auditorium style. They have tables lined up with the laptop takers in the front and the hand-writers in the back. The tables aren’t very big, but there is enough room in between people that you don’t feel crammed in. I am a person that likes to sprawl out all my papers and scratch paper when I take an exam, as I got used to in law school, so there was a bit of an adjustment. There is just enough room to have your laptop and a stack of paper next to you, so you probably have to interchange between your scratch paper and the exam booklet. There are outlets on the floor in between every two seats and as far as I know there were no issues with plugs.
There were some issues with laptop connections as they switched to different testing software in February. The Examiners tell you there is no internet in the testing room, and you have to upload your answer when you get back home or to your hotel, which creates anxiety. However, in February they had issues with the software and ended up projecting the Wi-Fi password for everyone to connect to, so I was able to upload before I left which was nice. The exam software is much better than the one I used in law school, Softest.
The proctors and everyone working there are very nice and try to do what they can to ease your anxiety.
The room was very, very cold and I recommend wearing a sweater and bringing a jacket.
I sat on the left side of the room closest to the doors and towards the middle of the rows. They have a huge screen where they display the time that is visible by everyone. I do not think you are allowed to bring in a watch or something to keep time, but their clock is sufficient.
Taking the Illinois Bar Exam
The exam is split up as follows:
- Day 1 AM: IEE & MPT (these are administered back to back, with no break in between)
- Day 1 PM: MEE
- Day 2: AM: MBE part I
- Day 2 PM: MBE part II
I did find the room a little distracting at first, since I had solely studied alone in my house up until the exam. It could help to alternate days at a library so you don’t run into this problem. There are so many people in the exam that the typing and flipping of papers is pretty loud, so it takes a minute to not be distracted by it. The second day is much better than the first, since you become accustomed to the surroundings.
My Bar Exam Experience
Personally, I was too anxious to eat a full breakfast the day of, though I recommend doing so. I had a triple-latte the morning of on the way to the exam and I forced myself to eat a granola bar in the storage room before I went in.
I brought a packaged salad, nuts, and dark chocolate with me for lunch on both days. I bought all the items the day before the first day of the exam and had it ready to go for both days so I didn’t have to worry about it on the in-between night. I don’t recommend attempting to go out for lunch during the break. Though they say there is an hour, it was cut a little short because of a lag in time to collect exam materials and there is nothing to buy right inside the building. There is a Subway across the street however but not much else.
Many people recommend against doing any studying in between the days, but I felt it was helpful to go through MBE problems before the second day just to refresh my mind. For the past two months, most people have been doing MBE problems each day and I didn’t feel comfortable taking a day off in between. I didn’t go crazy but while I ate dinner I probably did around 50 or so questions to ease my mind.
Taking the Illinois bar exam was less intense than I expected. The proctors and environment make the best out of what is a very stressful day and contribute positively to the testing experience. Remember, almost no one is walking in or out feeling confident about this exam, so you are not alone!
Try breathing techniques in the exam room! Even if you’ve never meditated before or tried any breathing techniques, take a long exhale in and out once the proctors tell you to begin the exam. Then, begin working at a brisk pace.
Bring headphones. When I took the exam, there were lots of people who started talking generally about subjects and topics from bar prep. Others talked about subjects and topics likely to come up in the next portion. Do yourself a favor and tune this out so that you don’t add any unnecessary stress!
From once you leave the exam site to the results, try your best to put it out of mind and out of sight. It is impossible to do, but a good thing about the Illinois exam is that results come out earlier than many other states.
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