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Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week in July 2011 seems ancient now, given the twists and turns in my life during the last two years. For those of you not familiar with the “last Tuesday and Wednesday in July,” I am referring to the traumatic experience known as the bar exam.

Around this time of year, especially after the Fourth of July (when Bar Takers’ Panic officially sets in), one of the most common search terms leading to this site is “New York Bar Exam,” thanks to a series of posts I wrote on the first anniversary of my pilgrimage to Albany. (You can read the posts here, here, and here.) The series is less “how to pass the bar” and more “here is what my mind went through during the two days of hell.” Plus some hopefully useful tips here and there.

As most practitioners would say, the exam itself is not that difficult. It is the sheer volume of subject material and time constraints that kick your ass. But the questions and fact patterns are rather straight forward, if you put in the time to memorize the law.

Recently, I was asked a critical question. Can you bring coffee into the exam room? Critical question. If you are anything like me, the constant churning of neurons throughout the eight or so weeks of studying for the bar was fueled by coffee and more coffee. A sudden absence of coffee, therefore, may or may not have adverse effects on your brain, body, soul, mind, and entire being during the exam. One would hope that you are not so hopelessly addicted that you cannot sit through a few exam sessions without coffee. But to be certain, I looked up the single most important piece of paper for the New York bar exam – the Bar Examination Security Policy. (You can find the original file here.) This is the most recent version as of April 2013. As such, my experience from July 2011 is no longer relevant, as far as the security policy is concerned.

There are enough things to worry about during the exam period. You do not want to be distracted by what you can and cannot bring into the exam room. At that point in time, you’ve crammed so much black law into your head that a mere tilt may lead to a tragic spilling of precious knowledge out of your ears. That’s why reading the security policy on the night before New York day is so critical. On Monday night, set aside what you plan to bring into the exam room. Don’t wait to do it on Tuesday morning.

So, coffee. Is it allowed? Here is the relevant provision from the security policy.

“One beverage/drink in a re-sealable clear plastic container, (max size: 1 liter, no label, no glass, cans or cups). If the plastic container contains a label, the label must be removed. It must be kept under the table when not being used.”

From this, it seems like coffee is indeed allowed. The “re-sealable clear plastic container” part would be most important, as many coffee tumblers are not clear. A full liter of coffee is not necessary for anyone in any dire circumstance. Labels, both stickers and anything written or imprinted on the container, are not allowed. The container must be clear in all aspects.

If fretting over the nature of the container is not worth your worry, one option is to get some delicious cold-brewed coffee from one of the respected cafes around (none in Albany, in my humble opinion, but I could be wrong), and pour it into a clear plastic water bottle, with labels removed. Problem solved. The security requirements would be met (there is nothing saying that the beverage or drink itself has to be clear), and cold-brewed coffee during the exam will surely get your motors running. One caveat. My exam room was freezing cold, so maybe a cold drink is not advisable. Use your judgment.

I did not take coffee into the exam. I drank some as soon as I woke up, as to avoid an unnecessary restroom trip during the exam. I had a bottle of water with me, which proved useful, especially during the essay portion. All that typing perhaps?

In short, yes, coffee would be allowed for the New York Bar Exam, under strict guidelines. However, given coffee’s nature of triggering the bladder at the most inconvenient of times, I would advise you to reconsider. Water will do.

Good luck to all test takers during this final weekend. Regurgitation is right around the corner.

This is the sole opinion of the author and is not meant to be used as legal advice in interpreting the New York State Board of Law Examiners Bar Examination Security Policy. This does not reflect any official interpretation of the policy by the New York State Board of Law Examiners.

First things first. I have the utmost respect for those of you who went through the three-day exams. How unthinkable! I had a few friends take the train up to New Jersey to take that bar, and another few who did the ordeal up in Massachusetts. Two days of nervously shaking hands and fidgety madness was more than enough for me. After the MBE, I was spent, ready to pack my bags and get the hell out of miserable Albany, never to return.

I stuffed down a bagel and fueled myself with hot coffee. My mind was numb, probably from the carnage of the day before, and my brain was buffering longer than usual. Great.

And so came MBE day.

Since I was old enough to read street signs, I hated multiple choice questions. Why? Because you can’t bullshit your way through them. Essays, especially through high school and college, are pinnacles of master bullshitting. Even on the bar, I dare say, if you don’t know the exact rule, you can make up a decent sounding rule and bullshit from there. You might end up sounding half intelligent and score some points.

Different story for multiple choice questions. You learned how to use POE to get rid of the obvious wrong answer, and if you at least read your outline, you can probably eliminate another choice. It always comes down to the last two choices. You think you remember bits and parts of that rule from somewhere, buried deep in your ever-congested mind. Clock is ticking. You need to move on. You move on, but only after you circle the question number to come back to it later. Damn I hate that feeling. It’s like stepping on gum on the sidewalk.

The MBE is a battle against time. The last thing you want to do is run through the last twenty questions, blindly filling in those cursed scantron bubbles with supposedly high-probability Cs (or in some cases, “B” for BarBri). So my strategy was to make sure I had enough time to correctly answer the questions I knew for sure. Skip the RAP questions, skip the ones that make you draw little diagrams (seriously). I didn’t want to look back and realize that I had missed all those easy crim questions because I was sulking over some RAP battle.

The first half of my MBE wasn’t too bad. I actually had time left! (unusual, because I am a painfully slow test taker). I decided to use earplugs to minimize the paper shuffling noise, and it helped tremendously. Under that kind of time pressure, critical reading is an invaluable skill. You don’t have time to read and re-read the questions. One shot, get the point, summon up the rule, and dive into the answer choices. Through the simulated BarBri practice test session, I learned that the sound of paper shuffling, to me at least, became annoyingly deafening. Earplugs did the trick. But keep this in mind. They do kind of feel funny when you first use them, and you can hear yourself breathing at times (can be an intimate, even religious experience of sorts). So my advice would be to go through practice rounds with the earplugs so you’re used to having a sponge fill up your ear cavity.

I wasn’t about to have another dry roast beef sandwich for lunch. I wasn’t too hungry anyway. I was glad the first half wasn’t that tough, but an eery fear of a blistering second half was starting to creep up already. The first half was easy, so they must have saved up the tough ones for the second half, as a cruel joke. With a million versions of this thought going through my head, I hustled over to the coffee bar for a muffin and some fruit. Again, good carbs go a long way during the bar. Reading through two hundred of those MBE questions will drain your brain, and sugar is the cure-all.

The second half was, in my mind, tougher than the first. But by that time, after a day and a half of testing, I had less trouble rolling the dice and moving on on the tougher questions. I just wanted to get it over with. Enough of this crap. Fail me if you’d like, you bastards, but I’m getting the hell out of here (I probably already failed the New York portion already). So I walked out of the testing center with minutes to spare. I’d started looking over some of the questions I had circled for myself, but I just couldn’t take it any more. And you know you’re usually better off sticking with your first choice anyway. I said a quick prayer and bailed. Oh the sun was shining brightly, and maybe there were even some birds chirping in the distance. The last thing I expected to see was a group of surveyors with clipboards, grabbing us as we exited, like a pack of blood-thirsty piranhas. I was about to shun them in vain, until I realized they were handing out five bucks in cash. God bless America, I thought, and I giddily answered their questions for my cash.

I broke down in my hotel room. The past eight weeks passed by in my head, like the film rolls in those old movie cameras. All those lectures, the notes, the essays. The trip up to Albany. The first day of testing. The night before the MBE day. What I had for breakfast. The lunch break. Everything was melting together.

I was confident that I had failed. No way in hell I could have passed. Not after I left out or terribly misconstrued those issues on the essays. Not after I completely butchered the MPT. Not after I guessed on all those MBE questions. Sure, there was some relief. We were done, after all! But I just felt like shit. I asked myself, if I had really failed, was I willing to take it again in February? My immediate answer was an emphatic no. Couldn’t imagine going through eight weeks of that hell again.

My roommate dragged himself back to the hotel too. We offered our condolences, and our congrats to ourselves and each other was sincere, none of the half-ass remarks that law students typically give one another. We knew what we went through that summer, and no matter what the outcome, we were done. At least for now, hopefully for good.

The rest is history. The celebration, the plane rides home, the endless misery of waiting for the results (which is another posting in itself).

In the end, we passed. How I managed to squeeze by, I still don’t know. But hey, all you need to do is pass, not ace.

So on this Wednesday night, I offer my sincere congratulations to all of you who have completed this leg of the journey. For those of you fighting on for a third round, the best of luck til the bitter end. Waiting for the results will be even worse than the test itself. But don’t let that worry you for the next few days and nights. Get back out into the world, get some sun, get your life back.

The summer has just begun for you. Enjoy, with vigor! You deserve it.

The walk back to the hotel was miserable. The day was already a blur. All I remembered was that it was freezing in our testing room and that I didn’t even eat half of my roast beef sandwich during the lunch break.

The New York day went by so fast. I guess the bar exam itself (both days) went by quickly, but to me, time was not on my side on the first day of testing. Those damn New York multiple choice questions. During the last two weeks of review, I’d put off going through practice multiple choice questions for New York day. Preoccupied with memorizing every detail of my outlines, I paid no attention to those gnarly practice questions. And I’d pay for that mistake.

Compared to to the MBE, New York multiple choice questions are more detailed and knit picky. They are annoying. Not necessarily hard- if you know the law, and if you’re used to the formatting. Sure, I had the MBE down. As you probably know, the MBE questions have a certain flow, a certain ring to them. Maybe a certain predictability can be detected, after you go through your twelve-hundredth practice question (as recommended by BarBri). Same thing for the New York questions. BarBri actually assigned significant amounts of these bastards, especially towards the end of the review. But hell, I barely had time to go through the other one thousand MBE questions and all the essays that I had pushed back. So I figured the fifty New York questions wouldn’t be so bad. It’s just fifty questions, right?

The problem for me was that I did those questions first. Pro and con to that. Going through the multiple choice questions can serve as a mental warmup, jogging your brain before you take on the heavy blows of the essays. The con for me was this: if you’re guessing on three, four, five questions in a row, that is no mental warmup. No better way to start the first hour of the bar exam bent over and taking it up the alley. I recognized some familiar rules here and there, but for the most part, I was running blind, to a point where I just giggled like a little girl, amazed at my stupidity, cursing at my procrastination.

The essays themselves were not that bad, at least while I was typing away. The property question was decent- there was no RAP! A little crim pro here, a little wills and trusts there. One truly annoying sound was that of my next door neighbor’s typing. She was a Duke grad, Korean-American, looking definitely prepared and confident. I swear she didn’t bother to outline any of her essay answers. She would glance through the questions in no more than three, four minutes, and off to the races she was, crunching away on her laptop as if she was performing Beethoven’s Fifth. The typing was obnoxiously loud, half machine gun and half helicopter. What was more annoying was that she always had time left over to actually edit her work. Me? I was just happy to get my thoughts onto the computer screen in a semi-coherent manner before time ran out.

One tip about lunch: know your food options before the test begins. Explore the eateries around the testing center, ask if they take orders for sack lunches beforehand. I tested at the Desmond Hotel, so I figured I could grab something quick in one of the hotel restaurants. Apparently, so did a hundred other testers. It took nearly a half hour to grab a roast beef sandwich. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but figured I’d better eat something if I wasn’t going to pass out during the afternoon session.

I dragged myself outside to soak some sun while I ate, but after a few bites, I really couldn’t force myself anymore. Nerves can get the best of some, and it did sure got me. Eating between sessions is important. You don’t want anything too strong and exotic that will send you to the crown, but you want to make sure you have good carbs. Fruit is always a good choice (although I should say, I did have a mad craving for a hot bowl of pho..).

The afternoon session was tougher. I didn’t really know the rule to one of the essay questions (I don’t even remember the subject). But you have to improvise and sound like you know what the hell you’re talking about. When you don’t know a rule on the bar, you still want to construct a logical answer, and make up a rule if you have to. Just be sure to logically apply your made-up rule to the given facts. Sure, I did that. I was kicking myself while doing it, but it’s better than leaving a question blank.

Then came the MPT. Talk about having fun. In my opinion, the MPT is something you can really prepare for, to a certain extent. There are only four or five types of formats they can throw at you, and if you go through enough of the practice MPTs provided by your barprep service, you should be fine. Or you can be like me and not do the practice questions, in which case you’ll be cursing yourself for the entire ninety minutes. Going through the File and the Library took so much time, and I didn’t have enough time to really organize my answer. My rule statements were unclear, and some paragraphs were totally illogical and incoherent.

When I got back to the hotel room, things got worse. That’s when you start discussing your answers with your roommate. By the way, you should never be doing that, period. All throughout law school, most of my friends did not utter anything about an exam once it was over (with the exception of one good friend who seemed to take great pleasure in rehashing every painful detail of the fact patterns). I don’t know what got into me, but the next thing I know, my roommate and I were slapping ourselves silly after every realized mistake. For me, I found out that I had completely left out an issue in one of the essays, and that I had stated a completely wrong rule for another. Ouch.

The mood was generally gloomy, and I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. Cheeseburgers at a sports bar maybe?

But the MBE was coming up, so the best I could do was get a good night’s sleep. After glancing through some outlines and looking over a few sample questions, I was out.

To be continued…

In your life, you have those moments you’ll remember for years to come, those moments that seem cemented in your nervous system, the sites, the smell, the surroundings, all of it.

Exactly a year ago today, I was in Albany, NY, about to go through a moment of my own: the bar exam. So much in my life has changed since those three nights at the Holiday Inn Express, and I lived to tell the tale. I write this reminiscing that fateful night. Many of my law school friends are going through their own moments at this very hour. I write this in their honor. This is for all of you bar-takers.

*     *     *

It’s truly a right of passage. After three years of the good, the bad, and the ugly, you have the high of finally graduating, earning that valuable (arguably not so much anymore) juris doctorate. You’ve had enough lectures, term papers, mock trials. You are a gangly white from all those hours under florescent lighting in the stuffy, windowless trap they call the library (especially if you went to my law school). You’re done, free at least, initially not knowing what to do with free time on your hands.

Well, at least for a few days, maybe a week.

You’re in the eye of the storm, in the midst of that nervous calm, your fingers trembling slightly, as you wait and brace for a mad whipping through June and July.

Getting to Albany was a pain. I could have been smart like the rest of my buddies- take the train! But no, I opted for fancy air travel, and ended up transferring through Boston’s Logan. My flight out of Reagan National left at 6:30 am, and I think I landed in Albany sometime around 2:30 pm. This was Monday before the storm (of Tuesday and Wednesday), and I had spent precious hours in the plane and sipping bad coffee in airports. Sure, I nervously flipped through my outlines, but honestly, my blind was slowly going blank. The liters of coffee and energy drinks were taking a toll; I just had to hang on for the next two days. Not a problem. But I just could not get my mind to focus on the ink and scribbles on my outlines.

After arriving at my Holiday Inn Express, I reserved a spot on a free shuttle for the next morning to the Desmond Hotel, my testing center. Surprisingly, there were already hosts of nervous, whacked out law grads lined up for shuttle service. I barely saved a spot.

I was hungry, and my roommate had not arrived yet (he had overslept and missed our flight out of DC). I asked the front desk if there were any decent eateries around within walking distance, and he just went off, as if he was describing a list of amusement park rides for fifth graders. I nearly cut him off and dragged myself outside, turned to my right (with no logical reason or thought) and kept walking until I hit an Olive Garden. Take-out chicken parmesan and a Mountain Dew from the vending machine, in my hotel room, watching Sports Center. That’s how I spent those precious first hours in Albany.

I’d like to tell you that I spent hours poring over my outlines, rummaging through decks of flashcards, cranking out last minute sample essays. I didn’t. More accurately, I couldn’t. I was just so damn nervous that I couldn’t keep my mind straight.

It’s ok to be nervous. After all, it’s the bar exam for crying out loud! At moments like that, you must drop what you’re doing, grab yourself a Diet Coke, plunk down in your comfy Holiday Inn queen-sized bed, and watch meaningless reruns of Sports Center. Get those cobwebs out of your system. Breathe. Eat. Relax.

I did manage to review some subjects that dark Monday before New York day. You already have that top ten hit list from BarBri (or something comparable from Kaplan or elsewhere), so you go through some of the heavy-hitting nightmares (Contracts, New York Practice, Property, so on). And you also know what you suck at, so go ahead and review those as well.

What I didn’t do (wisely, now that I look back) was go through more sample questions and essays. I knew I would get some wrong, and I knew that would bring fits by the fistful.

Sleep is crucial. Don’t trust your brain to function on four hours of sleep before your essays; you’re asking for it then. My roommate finally got there (we can laugh about it now), and after nervously going through some outlines together, quizzing each other on some hot topics (not always a good idea, especially if one person seems to know more than the other, the emphasis being on the “seems to”), I took a hot shower and slept.

Nervous as hell? Check. Felt like I wasn’t prepared? Check. The weight of the world crushing down on what frail of a body and soul you have left? Check.

My friends, welcome to the New York Bar Exam.

To be continued…

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