Rikki McCoy, Esq., L’2000 (New Jersey)
Let me be one of the first to congratulate you on making the mental transition by discovering that the bar exam is a real event, rather than a far away concept that some people at the BarBri table in the Rhatt are always handing you pamphlets about. Trust me, it is definitely real and will most likely be the most challenging test of endurance and emotional strength you will ever encounter. But we all did it before you, and you too will succeed. Let me try and tell you how I not only survived the bar exam experience, but retained my mental well-being and passed the New Jersey and New York bar exams this past summer of 2000. I will focus specifically on the New Jersey exam.
First, a few overall points on the exam. As a former law student and trained note taker, I have listed them as bulleted points to keep your attention:
Decide which bar exam you want to take immediately and begin gathering your application materials. The application process is very tedious. You will have to remember places you lived when you were a young child, fast food restaurants you worked at in high school, and various other forms of information that will leave you staring at the application in disbelief. So start NOW.
Design a study schedule. Remember to include time spent traveling, eating, sleeping, exercising, and complaining with your friends outside of BarBri class for at least 15 minutes per day. Most importantly, make a real attempt to stick to the schedule. I say this because like the process of making outlines in law school, if you don’t study them, update them, and actually use them, outlines are a waste of time. And so is a study schedule that you design on your computer, post on your wall, but never follow. I suggest going to morning bar review classes because it allows you to get an early start on your day. I studied about 10 to 12 hours per day (yes, that is not a typo) the entire months of June and July. I was miserable but I passed and do not have to take that test again…that is all that matters to me.
Life will be much easier later if you realize now that you will not experience the season of summer when you graduate from law school. I went to Cancun immediately after graduation and tried to think of anything but the bar review classes that were starting the day after my return home. If you don’t take a vacation before classes start, don’t plan on enjoying the beauty of the summer season at all (except while walking to and from bar review class towards the Metro station).
If you haven’t signed up for BarBri, PMBR or whatever review class you choose to take, you should sign up (or at least begin seriously thinking about it). I didn’t take PMBR. BarBri’s volume of materials overwhelmed me and I could not stand the thought of studying another thing. But my choice may not suit everyone. After completing some sample multistate questions, evaluate your multiple choice test taking skills and decide for yourself whether PMBR is right for you. If you have a law firm paying for your bar review classes, by all means, take PMBR and anything else that makes you feel secure. But if BarBri is all that you take, make sure you follow the paced program and do as many practice essays and multistate questions that you can muster without throwing the books out of the window.
There should not be many huge surprises on the exam once you sit down and start reading. The best thing you can do for yourself is to refrain from panicking. Remember that you finished 4 years of college, 3 years of law school and survived the bar review class without losing your mind- this last simple feat should be no problem. Don’t get too scared when you are still coming across new material in your study guides the week or even the day before the exam. You can’t learn it all. Just realize that you will have to take a loss on some information and focus on big major subjects and the material that you have down cold. And do not, I repeat, do not study the morning of the exam. Have a good breakfast, try to get focused, and practice some breathing exercises with your friends while discussing anything other than the different types of damages buyers and sellers can get under the U.C.C.
Approach is everything. What I mean by this is that you should walk into that exam room excited, or at least a little anxious, to show these old fogies who are grading your exam what you know. Face it, you have been studying for 2 months, have not had any fun or joy during these months- now’s your chance to show them your stuff. Write a focused, clear, well-reasoned analysis in your essays and blow the graders away. Make this your goal when you first wake up the morning of the exam.
Finally, simple rules that you followed for law school exams still apply. Use headings, write legibly, IRAC, use the word “because” a lot, blah, blah, blah. You know most of this stuff and what you have forgotten while you were partying those 2 weeks after graduation, BarBri will drum back into your consciousness.
The New Jersey Bar
Those of us who are from Jersey (or have visited Jersey) are accustomed to the strange things this small but crowded state does (for example, no left turns, outrageous car insurance rates, traffic circles). The bar exam is no different. New Jersey only tests mulitstate subjects. That’s right, the only subjects on this bar are Evidence, Contracts, Criminal Law/Procedure, Torts, Constitutional Law, and Property. That is the good news.
The bad news is that Jersey asks questions that appear simple, but force you to tell the examiners almost everything you know about the subject. For instance, in a Constitutional Law question, you may have to explain and apply all the levels of scrutiny that may apply to a single issue in a question. And an evidence question may have 8 or 9 statements that you have to explain as an exception to the rule against hearsay, inadmissible evidence, etc. So be prepared.
The Jersey bar is also a good exam to take concurrent with another exam, for example, New York, Maryland or Pennsylvania. Since you are already familiar with the mulitstate subjects, Jersey just asks you to apply what you already know. This is comforting. There are no state specific exceptions or extra state laws to learn- you learn the common law and that’s it.
The NJ exam also consists of the MPT- the Multistate Performance Test. The MPT is a 90 minute exam during which you will receive a case file, consisting of letters, statutes, cases, and other junk. You then have to write a memo, an opinion, a letter, or something of the sort using the case file. Luckily, the MPT is the first 90 minutes of the exam so you can get it over with and out of the way. But take this 90 minutes seriously. The MPT isn’t extremely difficult or anything but it will have you thinking and writing furiously.
I worked extremely hard in law school. My bar exam studying was no different. It motivated me that I wasn’t receiving a grade on the bar exam- all I had to do was pass. It also motivated me to remember that if I worked as hard as possible for just one summer, I would NEVER EVER have to retake that test. This kept me going.
You need to focus. There will be times that you just want to lay on the floor and cry due to the sheer disgust you feel about studying just one more hour or reading that outline one more time. You will start to feel like you have permanently lost your marbles as you begin to laugh at essay questions and multiple choice questions that would never be funny to a normal, non-law student. It’s ok. You will be ok. Don’t fret when your friends stop calling you just to chat and only call to check up on you in a “comforting voice.” They just don’t understand and possibly never will. They will get over it, trust me.
Finally, keep in mind that hopefully, this will be the last time you ever have to think this hard again without getting paid for it. Good luck and God Bless.