Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Trip to Norfolk: Logistically, What to Expect

Hello, readers --

I could go on and on about smaller issues, but I just want to cover the important logistical ones. If you have other questions specific to the test days, about the test center or Norfolk, which are not covered here, feel free to ask.  

First, the Drive

If you're traveling from the Washington, D.C. metro area, the drive is a little over three hours, all highway - first south on I-95 to Richmond, and then east on I-64 to the Hampton Roads peninsula. Hampton Roads is a pretty and unique region of Virginia where the ocean, rivers, Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Outer Banks, Navy, and sub-tropical weather all converge. If you can afford to spend a few hours poking around after the bar exam, I recommend it.

Second, Norfolk

Welcome to the world's largest naval station and also, unrelated, the crime capital of Virginia! Fortunately, you will be on the waterfront in the prettier, safer part of Norfolk. If you're a repeater from July, you'll probably find Norfolk to be a better venue than Roanoke. More accessible, less dumpy, biggish city amenities, and who doesn't like parking next to an aircraft carrier?

Third, Lodging

I hope all of you followed my advice from a previous post on this issue. If not, read here. The Norfolk Waterside Marriott is your best option. Your commute will be a leisurely five minutes inside the hotel.

First alternative: Across the street, at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside. Slightly cheaper, but also slightly less convenient. A covered sky walk connects the Marriott to the Waterside Festival Marketplace, which is next to the Sheraton.

Second alternative: No-No-No. Norfolk isn't like Roanoke. Buck up and stay at the Marriott or Sheraton. Virtually every February bar examinee will be staying at one of those hotels -- and for good reason.

Fourth, the Marriott's Ballroom

For those of you who have have been living on the Moon for the last five months, the Virginia Bar Exam will be held in the Marriott; specifically, in a corporate ballroom.

The first day, the state-specific essay day, is laptop day. The bar exam has a very mystique, intimidating aura about it. But appreciate the humor in the logistics of it all: Several hundred of you will hang around in the Marriott lobby, waiting for the ballroom's doors to open. Some will be read newspapers, others will camp out on the grand staircase, but most of you will just stand around aimlessly and awkwardly, as if it was perfectly normal for you to be in this lobby wearing a suit and holding a laptop, power card, and Ziploc bag filled with bare essentials.  At least you won't be alone. The second day, MBE day, will be a repeat show of the first day, except now a line will form behind the front desk's single pencil sharpener. Each of you will need maybe two or three pencils, but most of you will sharpen about twenty. Every five minutes or so, the pencil sharpener will shut down from overheating. The waiting line will grown and then panic in unison. You can't pay for this kind of tragic comedy. In the end, all will be well. But you would be wise anyway to bring a half-decent pencil sharpener and sharpen your pencils the night before.

Anyway, once inside the ballroom, you will see fold-out tables lined up in rows, row after row after row. A sudden wave of anxiety might rush in. OMG. This just got real. . . . This is really happening.

Don't panic. Breathe, and remain calm. The find-your-seat process is surprisingly very quick and easy. Signs will direct you to your specific seat, where you will find an instruction packet and your I.D. card (showing your name and photo). This assigned seat will be your seat for the next two days. Boot up your laptop, follow the instructions, and remember to keep calm. An overabundance of technicians will be walking around to help you, if necessary.

Fifth, Attire

Again, for those of you who have have been living on the Moon for the last five months, the VBBE requires courtroom attire to sit for the Virginia Bar Exam. For women, that's a suit. For men, a suit and tie.

The VBBE also lists on their website things that you may bring into the testing room - and only those things! Cellphones, wallet, lip balm (and a lot of other everyday items) are OFF the list. Carefully read the list. Leave prohibited items in your hotel room or car.

Sixth, Exam Logistics

Essay Day

Laptop day is the longest. A proctor will get on the microphone and direct everybody through a step-by-step process. Directions for registering and testing software will seem dumb and redundant, but just be patient. Then the VBBE will pass out of the morning essay questions. (By the way, you may have noticed that the VBBE are coldly formal throughout the application process and in their regular communications up to this point. They're the exact opposite at the actual exam - very friendly and helpful.)

The last few minutes are agonizing. The entire room waits until everybody has successfully uploaded the software and are at the screen where you type-in your essay answers. The Windows folk will take longer than the Apple folk. Older laptops will take longer than newer ones. Somebody's computer might take exceptionally long.  Your exam is lying face-down in front of you. You're ready to go. And you're Just... Sitting... There...

Again, say a prayer, meditate. . . Do whatever you need to do to just remain calm and relaxed.

And then, the proctor tells you to begin. Each session, morning and afternoon, will fly by. The essays particularly will feel like a time crunch. Nobody leaves early on the essay day. I expect all of you will have just enough time to finish, but you'll have to work very efficiently to do so. Read my previous posts here on timing and here on short answers. Remember: 35 minutes per essay! You must stay on schedule!

(You repeat this entire process in the afternoon session.)


The MBE day is more streamline - no laptops, just pencils! (And remember what I suggested about pencil sharpening...) The proctor will get on the microphone and direct everybody through a similar step-by-step process where you fill in a bunch of registration bubbles. Then the VBBE will pass out of the morning MBE questions.

Each session will fly by again. Most of you will feel a time crunch on the MBE questions. Again, I expect all of you will have enough time to finish, but you'll have to work just as efficiently to do so. Read my previous post here about basic MBE tactics. Be smart with your time. Don't get behind!

(You repeat this entire process in the afternoon session.)

Seventh, Food

If you're part of a big Virginia or D.C. law school, be sure to sign up for their hosted lunches. They're quite convenient. If you're not from such a school, several lunch options exist in the Marriott or within walking distance of it (you may want to try the Waterside Festival Marketplace across the street). The VBBE gives everybody ample time for lunch, specifically for people like you who have to walk around to find a place to eat. (Bonus if you're staying at the Marriott: you will also have time to return to your hotel room to briefly chill out or do a last-minute review of flash cards.)

For breakfast, I recommend eating at your hotel. Again, just more convenient. The Marriott has room service and a breakfast buffet, which does not get nearly as crowded as you would expect. For dinner, the Marriott has some nice options, especially Don Shula's Grill. And across the street is Outback Steakhouse, Joe's Crab Shack, and the Waterside Festival Marketplace, which has plenty of dining options. Treat yourself to a good meal. You need the energy!


Good luck, everybody! Have confidence in yourself. You can do this!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Maximizing the Last Two Weeks of Study

Hello, readers --

By this point, some of you may have scrapped your study plans for frantic desperation: Practice questions, practice essays, outline after outline, or index card after index card; then pass out (or freak out); then repeat. You feel the need to maximize every hour -- every minute! -- leading up to the exam. Otherwise, you're convinced you'll be a goner. Sound familiar? While I don’t recommend this plan, I do understand.   

Rather than lecture you about how you should have studied earlier or how you should now be studying, I’m better off just helping you not totally screw up the next two weeks. So here are some pointers to keep in mind.

1.  Review Smart 
  • If you’re comfortable with all of the major issues for each subject, then move onto the details. If you’re still trying to nail down all of the major issues, focus on them—and forget the details.
  • Think small at this point. Ditch the big outlines and books and opt for index cards or shorter outlines, three or four subjects per day. Start with the important subjects and work your way down.
  • At least three times before the exam, run through all of the short answer questions.
  • Pop off 25 MBE practice questions per day—but review each explanation! If you don't have time to review more explanations, then doing more questions will be a futile effort. Do not waste your time.
  • Pop off 7-10 practice essays per day. If you went through Barbri’s Virginia Essay book cover to cover, switch over to William & Mary’s collection of previous Virginia Bar Exams. Do the four or five preceding bar exams. The VBBE love to recycle previous essays. If bar examinees bombed a particular essay on July's exam, don’t be surprised if you see the same or similar issue on February's exam. The VBBE test on what they think is important. 
    • NOTE: When you read through previous bar exams on the William & Mary website, you will recognize that you read the same essays in Barbri’s book. Re-read them anyway; it’s good practice. Also, some of William & Mary’s model answers will be different from Barbri’s model answers. That’s fine, too. Some essays will have more than one acceptable answer. The point is, just do as many essays as possible. You want to be in essay-mode from this point forward. Let no essay scare you!
2.  Recharge Your Body
  • You can’t afford to get strung out or sick in the next two weeks. You’ll risk being out of commission for some time or, even worse, you'll carry your exhaustion or sickness into the exam days. Now is the time to begin physically preparing for your exam days. Get sufficient rest (minimum 7 hours per night, preferably 8 hours), eat healthy foods and drink lots of fluids. Your body needs to be physically prepared for two grueling days.
  • To adjust their bodies, some of my students prefer waking up and falling asleep at the same hours they will be waking up and falling asleep on exam days. If those hours are abnormal for you, or if your body simply needs some time to properly adjust, this plan-ahead works well. 
3.  Recharge Your Brain and Psyche
  • With two weeks to go, emotional meltdowns = DEATH BLOW. Avoid crying in a stupor about your preparation or progress, or lacks thereof. At this point, those issues cannot be wholly addressed. Also, avoid crying in a stupor about the bar exam that lies dead ahead. Fretting over it won’t make it come sooner and go away or get any easier. It's coming. Deal with it. But remember -- it's just an exam, not the end of your world. 
4.  Keep Up Your Confidence
  • This one’s crucial! You have to keep your head up. You must be confident in your abilities, even if you don’t quite feel that way. The bar exam is your opponent. It will win by finding your weaknesses and exploiting them. Don’t let that happen. Build an impenetrable wall around yourself. When you feel an urge of anxiety or fear rushing upon you, smack it down with a pep talk.
  • Again, I cannot stress this point enough. If you walk into the bar exam feeling grim about your ability to pass, chances are you’re not going to pass. If you find yourself stewing like this, opt for keeping your head high and go in swinging. You have nothing to lose.
5.  Failing the Bar Will Not Ruin Your Future
  • IF you feel there’s a strong possibility you’re going to fail, or IF you want to know what to expect IF you fail, then read below. Otherwise, move onto #6.
    • OK. Worst case scenario: You fail. That’s it. You fail. You retake it in July, you pass, and you move on with your life. A couple months of setback; that’s all there is to it.
    • First, put your predicament into perspective. If you barely studied, then you deserved to fail. If you didn’t study properly, then get a tutor and study correctly the next time. If you missed passing by just a few points, then know that you’re not far from passing in July. 
    • None of the predicaments above involve embarrassment. Many attorneys before you failed the bar exam, many of them smarter than you. And your friends and loved ones won’t think any differently of you either. You’ll think they will and you’ll be too self-absorbed to think otherwise—but you’ll be wrong. You’ll think you let them down, too, and still you’ll be too self-absorbed to think otherwise—but you’ll be wrong again. A few clowns might silently judge you, maybe even a colleague, but I doubt it. You have a Juris Doctor. That means you’re smart and you have drive. So if you want something, go get it. Period. If you want to talk about your plan in getting there, contact me any time. But you CAN pass. I know you can.
6.  You’re on the Home Stretch
  • You’re almost there! Your bar exam woes are nearing their end point, only to be replaced by long nights at the office. Oh - joy of joys! Take a minute to appreciate just how much effort you gave this winter, how you put your mind to it, how badly you wanted master this goal, and just how much law you now know. Honestly, you know more general law right now than you might ever know in your entire career. That’s impressive!
You’re rounding the turn for the final 100 meters. These last steps are crucial. Don’t let up -- finish strong, but finish smart. Don’t be a dummy and trip yourself up. Good luck!