STUDYING FOR THE BAR EXAM
Make your mark dark.
Since I have a few friends who are currently stressing while preparing for the bar exam, I thought now would be a good time to share my own test-taking horror story, which I will repeat here for your reading pleasure.
In the summer of 1999, when I first started studying for the California State Bar Exam, I vowed to do everything possible to pass this exam on my first attempt. I told myself that my next exam would be a prostate exam.
As I soon realized, however, preparing for the bar exam is a thousand times more painful than a prostate exam, even if your inflamed urethra glands were inherited from Strom Thurmond.
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The arduous three-day exercise in torture that is the California Bar Exam requires remembering every irrelevant rule you could imagine. The only thing rivaling this herculean task of inconsequence would be trying to memorize the Daly City phone book.
It's hard to describe how singularly awful the experience of studying for it was. Every night, I felt like the black Madonna with the elephant dung at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on Christian Coalition night.
In order for me to store countless bits of information in my brain, I had to throw out a lot of other things in my head: high school memories, ATM pin codes, siblings' names, Public Enemy lyrics, the importance of deodorant.
I spent most of my days memorizing random mnemonic devices. For example, in order to memorize the six covenants of title ...
- Cov. of Seisin
- Cov. of Right to convey
- Cov. against Encumbrances
- Cov. for Quiet enjoyment
- Cov. of Warranty
- Cov. for Further assurances
So for an entire summer, I walked around babbling nonsense like Smokey Robinson Enjoys Quarreling With Fabio. It's amazing I didn't get locked up in a mental institution.
Today, I don't remember anything about any of the six covenants of title but I still remember that Smokey Robinson enjoys quarreling with Fabio.
As I prepared to jump through this ridiculous hoop of a quasi-standardized test, it became clear to me that the only reason the Bar Exam exists is to prevent people like your Uncle Bocephus - deranged, alcoholic, gun-toting, abusive and lifelong Pat Robertson supporter - from being able to practice law. It doesn't actually test useful knowledge of the law, nor does it assess your judgment, your determination, or your creativity as a potential attorney.
Back to the specifics of my bar exam ... I decided to choose the option of typing my exam. So did I use a laptop? No. Computers of any kind were banned. We were only allowed manual or basic electronic typewriters. I think I was one of the last groups to not have the option of taking the exam on computers. (Am I dating myself?)
I had to prepare for any number of topics to appear on the test. The bar course lecturers warned that the examiners might induce massive fecal discharge by testing the rarely-tested (and rarely-studied) topics, but I didn't believe it.
As my luck would have it, the exam required us to write a memo on the archaic and convoluted "Rule Against Perpetuity," which, of course, converted the convention center where I took the exam into a giant colostomy bag.
To make matters worse, and speaking of enemas, I ended up sitting right next to the quintessential Uncle Bocephus, who conveniently developed, in time for the exam, a wheezing cough and a nose more congested than Highway 101 at rush hour. To harmonize with his clogged nasal snorts, he used a 1970's typewriter with an extremely loud bell that rang after he finished each line.
To top it off, on the second day, the instant after the proctor instructed examinees to "break the seal" of the test booklet, my test-taking neighbor passed a deadly and pungent gas, leading me to wonder whether he understood the meaning of the phrase "break the seal."
Call me immature but I couldn't focus for 15 minutes. I had on ear plugs, which heightened my sense of smell, which explains why I was laughing and gagging at the same time. I thought about putting the ear plugs in my nose, but then I risked hearing his colorectal outbursts.
Throughout the exam, I also had a hard time focusing because the proctors seemed to be imported through time travel from the 1970s. Given their anal retentiveness, I pondered whether the word "proctor" is a combination of the two Latin roots - "proctology" and "sphincter."
Worst of all, because I hadn't practiced much on my electronic typewriter, I failed to estimate how long it took to print out stuff. For my corporations question, I failed to print a substantial portion - three whole pages - of my essay in time. I miscalculated my remaining time, due to my inability to tell the minute hand from the hour hand.
When the proctor grabbed my papers, I immediately cried, curled into a fetal position, and dropped a deuce in my pants, which nobody noticed since everyone was still suffering back from when Uncle Bocephus broke the seal.
Do people fail? Yes. Uncle Bocephus failed. Former California Governor Pete "Meritocracy" Wilson failed three times. In fact, for the 2000 exam, only 51% passed the California Bar - the lowest rate since 1983.
Unfortunately, some of my smartest classmates also ended up not passing - they were the unlucky ones who got stuck with tough graders. In fact, my Dean from Stanford Law School -- Kathleen Sullivan, the smartest woman I know -- didn't pass.
My results? I passed, but barely.
The experience was so onerous that I will probably never move to another state to practice law since I don't want to study for another state bar exam.
By the way, weeks after I became licensed to practice law in California, I had my first in-court argument before a judge. I represented myself in a hearing to contest the $140 charge when my car was illegally towed.