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Be Prepared To Be Terrified: Bar Exam Horror Stories!


She’s reached the end of her rope!Earlier this week Above the Law made a call for bar exam horror stories, because more than a professional licensing exam, it’s a trial by fire/hazing ritual. But the tradition soldiers on, and so do the stories about the absolute misery of the test.

We had some folks who’d already passed the bar exam dusty off their old war stories of bar exams past to provide inspiration for the newest generation of wannabe lawyers:

My exam number was 911. Minutes before the exam began, the person sitting next to me jumped up, ran to a nearby trash bin, threw up and returned to his seat. In response to my look of horror, he informed me that this was the fourth time he was taking the exam. Despite these omens, I passed.

And of course, the dreaded Rule Against Perpetuities comes up in any “worse case scenario” conversation:

In California, part of the bar exam is what they call a “performance test.” It’s meant to simulate something that you might do in the actual practice of law. (“Meant to” in the sense of “Doesn’t. At all. Not even close.”) By the afternoon of the third day of the exam, I was feeling quite relieved that there had been only one mention of the dread Rule Against Purple Chewy Things, and that was on the Multistate, so I just guessed and hoped for the best.

And then came the final performance test. It went, more or less, like this: “The state legislature has proposed changing the common-law Rule Against Perpetuities (which we’re not going to quote for you) to the following statutory version. [Something almost but not entirely unlike the RAP followed.] Our client has inherited the remainder of 99-year leases on several pieces of commercial real estate. Write a memo comparing and contrasting his legal position under the common-law Rule Against Perpetuities and the proposed statutory version.” (Paraphrased, but that’s the basic idea.) You could hear the little moans of horror all around the room as people read the instructions and realized what they were up against. I have no idea what I wrote, but it was probably just as nonsensical as what everybody else wrote. I came out of there convinced that I’d totally blown it, but in fact I passed the first time. Perhaps that will give prospective examinees hope.

Since this year there was not one, but two RAP questions on the bar exam, this is undoubtedly very comforting to this year’s test takers.

Speaking of this year’s test takers, there were some doozies — as there seemingly are every year.

From the tech issues:

CA Bar exam story: Pasadena convention center

a good number of us (at least 20 in my room) had to handwrite our essay sections because apparently the room we were in caused our computers to go crazy. We kept getting warning messages in a foreign language and our computers would not stop restarting. Exemplify said it wasn’t on their end. Apparently every time you plugged in at the convention center and had a Mac laptop you could randomly have this issue. No tech people available we were just screwed

To the minor — but annoying — issues:

A noisy restroom door control in the hallway outside the exam chamber of stress. Over time the door’s usage increased until it was truly inside my head. At mid-break I said something. Why did I need to say something? I think they used a trash can to prop it open. It’s only a story because it was very loud and went for so long before something was done. Impossible to ignore, but the people conducting the exam never thought anything of it.

Then there were timekeeping issues, which made the whole day run long:

Bar exam today was to resume at 1:15 pm the proctors came back at 1:50 and made everyone wait while they took a long lunch.

But this tale was simply horrifying — the tipster calls it their “ambulance lunch break” — just wow:

This is the story of my ambulance lunch break on Tuesday.

Let me preface this by saying that I did what everyone tells you not to do. I stayed up all night studying before day one of the bar. I did not eat breakfast, and I was mostly running off of caffeine.

We started the day with the MEE. I quickly realized that there were several essays that were on topics that I am either barely familiar with, or that I just simply am bad at. Well, I pushed on and BS’d my way through, until there was about 30 minutes left.

Everything suddenly went black for a moment. I became very lightheaded, my chest was tight, my left arm felt numb, and I was struggling to breath. I immediately assume that I am having a heart attack. I was overcome by a sense of dread and fear, but I also had a voice inside of me saying that I still needed to power through. I needed to finish the exam. I was contemplating the odds that this was a heart attack, or just a reaction to the sleep deprivation and stress. I considered asking a proctor to call 911, but instead I just sat there unable to make a decision.

I ended up running out the clock on the MEE, leaving the last question almost entirely blank. I felt very weak when I stood up from my chair to leave. I figured I would walk to my car, and the walk and some fresh air would make me feel better. However, when I got to my car, I was feeling even worse. I finally decided that I could not risk the chance that this was actually a heart attack any longer, so I called 911 and asked for an ambulance. I assumed that this meant I would be throwing in the towel, because there would be no way that I could get the medical attention I needed within the hour lunch break.

The ambulance showed up within minutes, and I was being triaged in the parking garage of the testing center. After being examined for about ten minutes, the paramedics told me that I was not experiencing a heart attack. Instead, I had been suffering from a panic attack, and I was going to be ok. The MPT was going to start in ten minutes.

After my ambulance lunch break, I went back in and tackled the MPT. I went back again and completed the MBE the next day. Who knows how I scored (probably not well), but I am glad I got to finish the whole thing.

I want to thank a classmate of mine who was kind enough to help me through all of this. She saw that I was struggling and she went out of her way to help and support me through that wild lunch break. I barely knew her before this experience, but out of the kindness of her heart, she sacrificed her break time to make sure I was ok. This profession needs more people like her. Unfortunately, the bar doesn’t test for traits like that.

This would take the cake for worst bar exam experience… except for everything about Cherelle Griner’s experience. Though that is much bigger than just bar exam fuckery.


Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).





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