What It’s Like To Take the Washington, DC Bar Exam
While studying for the Washington, DC bar exam I often wondered what it would be like to take it. Sure, I knew the exam had three parts (the MPT, the MEE, and the MBE) and that it was spread over two days. I knew that it would be at the convention center in DC and that I could only bring certain items. But what was it really like to actually take the DC bar exam? If you have the same question, hopefully my experience can give you some insight!
What It’s Like To Take the Washington, DC Bar Exam
Before the Exam Days
Soon after graduating, I made the discovery that I could see the DC convention center from the street of my apartment. It loomed in the distance, almost taunting me. But I planned to make the convention center less intimidating. That June, I attended WonderCon with my brother and boyfriend at the DC convention center. I not only familiarized myself with convention center but made happy memories there to calm me during test day. It worked and when the exam rolled around, the convention center was not as intimidating as it appeared earlier that summer.
The day before the DC bar exam, I planned everything I would need over the next two days. I planned my outfits for both days. I highly recommend leggings or sweatpants, sneakers (you don’t want cold toes!), and to dress in layers. In addition, I also ordered my breakfasts and dinners from a meal delivery service. I am not a good cook, nor do I find it relaxing, so I knew it would be best to have some pre-made, but healthy, meals ready to go. Finally, I planned the time I would get up each morning and even the movies I would watch afterward.
The night before the DC bar exam, I heated up my pre-made meal in the oven while I packed my bag for the next day. I double checked the items in my Ziploc bag and made sure I had my exam ticket. Then, I relaxed while I ate my meal and watched a happy, feel good movie. I set alarms on my phone, my boyfriend’s phone, and my smart home device to ensure I would wake up.
Day One – Tuesday
I woke up quickly to the first alarm I had set. I made sure to give myself plenty of time to get ready, eat breakfast, and drink my coffee before leaving at a set time for my walk to the convention center.
My law school, George Washington Law, rented out the Carnegie Library for both days of the exam as the “base camp” for its alumni taking the DC bar exam. It worked as a place to keep our bags, snag a nutritious lunch, and even get emotional support. We exchanged small talk with fellow recent alumni while we took our Ziplocs and laptops from our bags and prepared to walk across the street to the convention center.
After a quick walk, we stood in the lobby waiting for the exam rooms to open. There were two large, windowless rooms on the first floor of the L Street entrance to the convention center. We continued to chat as we anxiously waited for them to let us in. People complained about the possibility of starting late. Many of us knew stories from the previous summer. Apparently, the exam did not start for three hours because it was DC’s first year as a UBE jurisdiction and the proctors were unprepared for the increased volume of applicants.
My friends and I complained about the possibility of starting late. There were many groups of applicants waiting in the hallway between the exam rooms, waiting for the doors to open. Many other applicants kept to themselves along the walls of the hallways or the windows of the lobby. Complaining can be a helpful form of pre-test anxiety for me but if talking to other people stresses you out even more, I suggest picking a seat by the walls and keeping to yourself.
Finally, and only a little bit later than expected, the doors opened. Before joining the line filing in, I made my third trip to the restroom. There was a rule that you could not leave the exam room after you entered and not until 30 minutes after the exam had begun. I wasn’t about to risk my bladder being any bit of an annoyance with a potential late start.
I was one of the last people to enter my exam room which made my seat easy to find. The exam room was set up classroom style. Long narrow tables side to side, with applicants all facing the front of the room. There were three sections of tables and an isle down the middle. Each spot was clearly marked with each applicant’s seat number found on your ticket. I lucked out and had a corner seat by the center isle in the front row of a section.
I plugged in my laptop and arranged my materials around me. Unfortunately, my laptop briefly crashed while I was waiting to begin. Luckily, I restarted in time and did not have any issues with it for the rest of the exam. I lucked out, but I recommend taking the written part of the bar with a reliable laptop. My laptop had a history of crashing and I did my best to fix it before the bar because I did not want to get a new computer or borrow someone else’s. I wanted to write on a laptop that I was familiar with typing with but I almost risked having to handwrite my written exam by having my laptop crash minutes before the exam even started! If you have an unreliable laptop, buy a new one or borrow one from a friend or relative. It is not worth the risk!
It took the proctors a little while to pass out forms and booklets. There were not enough attendance sheets to go around and many applicants were concerned that they did not have one. While some proctors went to go print more, the head proctor determined the exam could start without everyone having an attendance sheet. While there was a shortage of attendance sheets that day we were assured it would not be a problem. Once all the other materials were passed out, we started roughly on time.
One of the biggest things I wondered about was timekeeping during the exam. I knew that we had 90 minutes for an MPT and 30 minutes for each MEE essay. But I wondered if the proctors would keep track for us. They do not. Luckily when I practiced these parts of the exam, I also practiced budgeting my time. This came in handy and I was able to keep myself on schedule. I allowed myself a bathroom break in the middle of the MPT and the MEE to stretch and collect my thoughts. I used any leftover time to come back and fix my answers, only after I had answered all the questions within their designated time restraints.
After the morning portion, we submitted our exams in the exam software by uploading them to an individual USB drive we were each given that was attached to a tag with our exam ID number on it. It was a relief to see the popup that said my exam was successfully uploaded to the USB. For the first time in years, I even properly ejected the drive before pulling it out.
Unfortunately, many applicants using Macbooks got error messages when they tried to upload their exams. Techs from the exam software company assured applicants that their exam was fine. But, we could not leave until everyone submitted their exams. Eventually, the proctors dismissed us. They pushed our return time back so we could have the full hour for lunch. I learned from the other test taking room that some applicants there also received error messages. However, everyone else was allowed to leave. I feared the same issues would happen after the afternoon session but the issue did not repeat itself. If you have a Macbook you should be absolutely fine as no one lost their exam.
That night I ate my prepared meal, watched another happy, feel-good movie, and went to bed early. All while telling myself, “This time tomorrow, it will all be over!”
Day Two – Wednesday
Wednesday morning started significantly more smoothly than Tuesday. The proctors seemed more prepared at this point. The morning flew by and I impressed myself with how quickly I covered the questions.
I took my own scheduled bathroom breaks halfway through the morning and afternoon sessions. Even if you don’t have a small bladder like mine , I recommend taking one bathroom break each session, providing you have time. It gives you time to rest your brain, stretch, and get your blood flowing. Each time I came back ready to tackle the last half of each session.
During the MBE, I even had time to go back and check the answers I was unsure about. You could leave early if you finished a part of exam before the last 30 minutes. But, to me, it felt wrong to willingly give up some of my time when I could double check my answers. Like the day before, we could not leave the room during the finally 30 minutes. The afternoon passed as the morning did, with more people leaving as they finished early.
When the proctor called time at the end of the afternoon session, the room collectively sighed. The proctors collected the test books quickly. The head proctor headed to the podium in the front of the room, looked out at us, and amused at his own joke, dismissed us with “All rise.” There was laughter and a few small cheers of exhausted relief as we all filed out of the room. So many of us, myself included, had big grins on our faces to no one in particular. We had done it! The DC bar exam was over!
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