Before I came to law school, an attorney and family friend told me the purpose of law school was to pass the bar exam. Somewhere in my bumbling incompetence of 1L and my apathetic and disinterested 2L, this slipped my mind. But it rushed back full force this summer as my recently graduated friends began bar prep. Their tweets and Facebook status updates about all of the studying and apprehension and misery gave me sympathy pain. When they actually sat for the bar, I had sympathy anxiety. But when the bar exam was over, the anxiety didn’t dissipate, and I realized I was actually anxious for me. For whatever reason, that’s when the reality of the bar exam hit me.
After taking the MPRE in August, which only vaguely resembled the half dozen sample MPRE tests I’d taken, and panicking that I had just failed it, the bar exam came back again. If I can’t pass the MPRE the first time, how will I pass the bar? The MPRE is 2 hours, 60 questions, one topic. The bar exam is two days, 200 questions, essays on essays on essays, about everything I should have learned in the last three years. Umm. Okay. Hearing everyone else freak out about thinking they also failed the MPRE didn’t particularly help. Misery loves company, but it loves gainful employment more. I shoved all of this to the back of my mind, decided I’d deal with it when the results came back, and prepared to resume classes.
Too little too late, though. Bar exam anxiety was already calling the shots. I initially signed up for four classes this semester, two of them bar courses. I dropped one of the bar courses and added a non-bar course after the first day, then my anxiety kicked in and I switched back before the next class period. That could have been the end, but instead I took it a step further, dropped another non bar course and added a new bar course. It took three days and countless calls, tweets, texts and emails to my mom, my graduated friends, my current classmates, and anyone on social media who threw in their two cents. It was a cluster, ending the with three bar courses, one non-, and one research course. I got settled in and relieved about my decision, bar exam anxiety taking a back seat. Temporarily.
I made it about three weeks without thinking of the bar exam — until bar exam results came in for the state next door. Many of my friends took that exam first, planning on practicing there or taking our state’s exam later. Lots of thrilled and relieved social media updates; a few noticeable and heartbreaking silences. Anxiety crept in again. Classmates who took my state’s bar exam still don’t have results back, so I expect a similar round of reactions any day now.
Putting all of this aside, I resolved myself to worry about it later, rationalizing that a 6-7 week bar review course would give me more than enough time to devote to anxiety. Told myself to focus on the now, finish these classes and this year, work on applying for jobs and figuring out what to do after graduation, and then deal with what happens during bar prep. And it almost worked.
Recently a few friends and I ran into a now-retired professor we had when we were 1Ls who grades sample bar exam essays. Like every retired professional I’ve ever met, she was more than happy to share her opinions on her trade: bar exam studying and classes to take and how to write a bar essay. (I’m fairly confident none of us even asked; I know I didn’t). When she finished an hour later, I could’ve sworn my blood pressure was already rising. The preceding 60 minutes had been filled with detailed suggestions on how to spend the hours of the days of the weeks leading up to the exam (literally), what to eat during the exam, who to talk to, all of it essentially validating all of the anxiety I’d been trying so desperately to dismiss.
I confirmed the bar exam dates that night (it’s 10 months away), made a note of where to stay, and asked my best friend the next day if we could book the same hotel.
I am six weeks into my third year of law school and I am already anxious about the bar exam.
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