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!


  1. Thanks for the helpful info and support!

    I'm stuck at a different hotel that's not near the Marriott. I've never been to downtown Norfolk, but it seems like you might be able to give me some advice.

    First: How much extra time should I leave in the morning? (Google maps says it's a 10 minute drive in no traffic.) I'm planning on leaving 35-ish minutes for the drive.

    Second: Parking. I see that there's a parking garage next to the Marriott, so my plan was to get there early to secure a spot. But the garage apparently only holds ~225 commuter cars, and I suspect some of these might already be filled with applicants staying at the hotel. If the lot is full when I get there, do you know where I should be looking next?


    1. I'm going to post this here in case anyone else is driving in.

      Here's the City's parking map.

      If Waterside Garage is full, it looks like the next closest garage is the Main Street Garage, on the corner of Atlantic and Main Street. It has even less general parking spots, so it might be just as fast to fill up. (And the people staying in the Sheraton might take up quite a number of the spots.)

      Down a bit on Main Street is Town Point Garage, which has under 100 general parking spots.

      If you go a bit northwest from Town Point, there's West Plume Street Garage, with 185 general parking spaces. (On the map, it looks like it's close to Boush street, but you've actually got to turn onto Plume to access it.)

      Quite a few blocks away from the Marriott is the Boush Street Garage, with 266 general parking spaces. I suppose if everything else were full, one could hopefully find a spot here and leg it to the Marriott.

      All in all, I'd say it'd have been much easier to book a room at the Marriott, and that Roanoke Civic Center's parking--even with the long lines to leave--was a breeze compared to this.

      Here's to hoping there are enough Waterside spaces for all the commuters, and this will be less a hassle than it seems.

    2. 35 minutes is enough time if you find a spot at the Marriott. If the lot is full and you have to park elsewhere, then 35 minutes would be stressful. So I would allow for more time in case you have to park elsewhere. Worst case scenario - you park at the Marriott and have extra time to spare. No biggie.

      Thanks for posting the additional parking information. I'm sure other readers will find it useful too.

  2. Based on your post, I assume the handwriting room will be sparse?

    1. There are a decent amount of handwriters, last Feb there were well over a hundred in the handwriter room, maybe closer to 200. It's not like the 3-5 people who use a typewriter on the DC bar exam each year, you will have more company than you think. Good luck!

  3. Laptop-writing examinees far, far outweigh hand-writing examinees. The latter group will take the exam in a separate, smaller room upstairs. My guess is up to 50 students handwrite the exam, but that's purely a guess.

  4. Hi. I'm a bit of a dinosaur; I took my last bar exam in 1990 (passed). I am a bit uneasy with the laptop, but I suspect the cut and paste feature and neater appearance of a typed response (and speed?) may commend its use over hand-writing. Although the sound of several hundred people typing may be a distraction and only a few dozen people hand-writing in a smaller room may allow for greater focus of concentration.... any thoughts? And what about timing? No watches allowed, so how can you tell when you have taken 30 minutes and its getting to be time to move on?

    1. Handwriting versus laptop depends on each person's preferences. But unless a student strongly prefers to handwrite, I encourage all of my students to use a laptop. The speed, ease and clarity of using a laptop far outweigh handwriting.

      The sound of your fellow typers should not distract you. You will have too much to read, analyze and write -- in barely enough time -- to let typing sounds disturb you.

      The examiners display a large clock on at least one wall in the exam room, possibly on other walls too. Also, I believe the exam software still allows your laptop clock to function.

  5. if hand writees and laptop examinees are seperated on the day of essay exam are they made to sit together for MBE or they still sit in seperate rooms?