Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Will Taking the Bar Exam Be Like?

Here's a brief run-down of what to expect in Roanoke, VA next week:


First, the Drive

If you're traveling from the Washington, D.C. metro area, the drive is roughly four hours, all highway - all the way west on I-66, and then all of the way South on I-81. The drive, at least, is gorgeous and runs through the heart of the Shenandoah.

Second, Roanoke

City slickers will look down on the small city of Roanoke. Sure, it has a civic center, but so does Richmond, so does Norfolk, and Fairfax, Reston, Charlottesville, probably Virginia Beach too. . . . Of all the places to hold the July bar exam, why Roanoke? At least Richmond would make sense - it's the capital, and it's centrally located. But Roanoke, really? I read somewhere that W. Scott Street, the Secretary-Treasurer of the VBBE, is a Roanoke native. If that's true, I doubt there's a coincidence. . . .  Anyway, no matter. Roanoke is where you were called to test; Roanoke is where you will pass.

Third, Lodging

A lot of examinees obsess over the proximity of their hotel to the civic center. Some want a place close enough to walk to the civic center. That's not necessary. You drove hours and hours to get to Roanoke. Another ten minutes won't kill you. Don't be surprised if Roanoke hotels jack up prices for these two nights. But the closer you stay to the civic center, the steeper the prices. And for what? There's no credible reason. It will not be any more convenient. Do you really want to walk in the July heat in a suit carrying a laptop under your arm?

I recommend finding any decent hotel within a 15-minute driving radius. You should save money, too, and don't worry about being alone. Everybody else in the hotel, whichever one you pick, will be there for the bar exam. Just be sure to account for morning traffic, which, in Roanoke, shouldn't be too bad. But better safe than sorry. You'll be up early anyway. Light sleep, morning jitters, ready to rock. . . . Hard to avoid them.

Fourth, the Civic Center

The first day, the state-specific essay day, is laptop day. A thousand-plus examinees will line up outside - in suit-and-tie, on unshaded concrete, in July heat, holding laptops and a Ziploc bag of bare essentials. You will arrive when the VBBE instruct you to arrive, and you will proceed to stand there for 40 minutes, like an idiot with everybody else, until finally the VBBE open the doors. Hot, sweaty, and annoyed. Great way to start the morning. Thanks, VBBE!

Once inside, you will quickly realize that the civic center is a worn and dated, minor-league civic center. The first half of the alphabet will proceed to a large, convention hall-type room. The second half of the alphabet will proceed to the floor of the hockey rink.

As you walk into your respective room/rink, 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 is really happening!

Don't panic. Breathe and relax. The find-your-seat process is actually very quick and easy. A big sign will direct you to a row of tables where your last name, and those closest to it, are assigned.  Go there. Your I.D. card (showing your name and photo) and several instructions will be waiting for you at the very seat to which you are assigned. This seat will be your seat for the next two days. Boot up your laptop, follow the instructions, and remember to keep breathing. Technicians will be all around to help you.

Fifth, Attire

In case you haven't noticed, 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 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, throughout the application process and in their regular communications up to this point, were a bit cold and grouchy. 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. And you're just sitting there, ready to go. Again, just remain calm. Say a prayer, meditate. . . Do whatever you do.

And then the proctor tells you to begin. Each session, morning or afternoon, will fly by. In fact, the essays will feel like a time crunch. I expect all of you will have enough time to finish, but you'll have to hustle to get there. 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.)

MBE Day

The MBE day is more streamline - no laptops, just pencils! 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. You might also 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 hustle to get there. Read my previous post here about basic MBE tactics. Be smart with your time. Don't fall behind!

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

Seventh, Food

If you're an alum 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 are nearby - mostly fast food, I think. But the VBBE gives everybody ample time for lunch, specifically for people like you who might have to drive somewhere to eat.

For breakfast, I recommend eating at your hotel. Again, just more convenient. For dinner, Roanoke has some decent options. But treat yourself to a good meal. You need the energy!

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