Saturday, March 10, 2007
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
It's over. I have taken my first standardized test (other than for my driver's license renewal) in almost thirty years (the administration of the Multi-State Bar Examination in East Lansing, Michigan in July, 1979). Here are some thoughts on, and reactions to, the preparation for and taking of the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination.
1. I admit that I did think a couple of times this week about bailing out. I don't need to waive into the Massachusetts bar. And maybe nobody would remember that I had publicly called myself out. On a similar note, you may fill in a box that says where the NCBE should send the score, but you don't have to have it sent anywhere (you contact them later to send it, but pay an additional fee). At first I thought about not filling it in, but then thought that was an unnecessarily defeatist view, and decided I would go for it.
2. I don't know how I did, and won't for about five weeks. I would be shocked if I didn't score high enough to get the 85 (on a scaled basis out of 150), but, of course, merely squeaking by would be somewhat embarrassing, even if not life-changing. I recall the real bar exam being much harder. Yes, you can always eliminate two answers, but the number of times when I felt really hung up between the remaining two seemed fewer than I recall from 1979. I still have the recollection, these many years later, that I guessed between the two best answers on EVERY question of the bar exam.
3. I cannot speak to the competing review courses, but I used the BAR/BRI materials, and they were helpful. Before doing any studying at all, I was consistently getting about 75% right, and probably was getting tricked up by putting in the most ethical answers in areas on which the rules are either technical or exceptional, like judicial clerks applying for jobs, or the entire Code of Judicial Conduct, or government service.
4. BE FOREWARNED! You have to attach an original passport-sized photo to the admission ticket. You get an e-mail from the NCBE with the ticket in a PDF file. If you merely download and were not to read it (ask the man who knows) until the morning of the exam, you would be screwed unless you had quick access to a passport photo taker (Kinko's or most drugstores nowadays, I understand). I happened to download it a couple of days ago, but that was pure luck.
5. My undisclosed location was Indianapolis, where I live, rather than New Orleans, where I teach. The idea of taking it with my own students was a little more than I could bear.
6. There were multiple rooms, by first letter of your last name, in the business school at IUPUI. You lined up, gave your admission ticket and ID to the proctor, and then were seated every other desk in the room. Right near the end, a couple old people came in, so I didn't feel quite so out of place.
7. Sitting and waiting for an exam to start recalls Einstein's homilies on relativity. I had five precisely sharpened Number 2 pencils, and I found myself doing a "Monk"-like thing trying to line them up perfectly.
8. My major concern was being stuck in the room if I finished early. I asked one of the proctors about it when I walked in and she said she thought we had to stay. I was relieved to find out you can leave when you are done. (I was, I think, the second person to leave the room. I took about 75 minutes to do the whole thing, and the first person was about 15-20 minutes ahead of me. I process pretty fast, so I was impressed if in fact she completed the whole thing and scored well.)
9. My only moment of near-panic was during the part where you fill in your name and address on the front of the answer sheet, and fill in the machine-readable circles. One, my hand was getting tired from gripping the pencil and, two, the proctor seemed to be going really fast. I was worried about whether I might cramp up.
10. After all the personal data, you have to fill in how many times previously you have taken the exam. I got to say "zero" but looking at the "four or more," oy vey!
11. By far, the most helpful preparation was taking the practice exams in the BAR/BRI book. With all due respect to Brad Wendel's excellent E&E book on the subject, which I have already praised, there is, it seems to me, "sport-specific" training going on here. There is a certain thought process and logic to the construction of the questions, and you need to work yourself into that. Moreover, the practice exams have explanations of the answers, so you can learn from the mistakes. Indeed, I decided to save about twenty of the practice questions for this morning, and did them as a kind of warm-up while I was eating breakfast. I got eighteen of the twenty right, so I figured I was okay.
12. Where I thought there was a close call on an answer, I circled the question number in the book, and reviewed those at the end, although I didn't change anything. I also kept checking about every five questions or so to make sure I was still filling in the line on the answer sheet.
13. Don't drink a "Venti" Starbucks thirty minutes before you start the exam.
14. I still don't know about the grading scale - it seems a little unsettling that we admit people to the bar if the 85 out of 150 really reflects that you don't know the answers to almost 50% of the questions (and I still don't know if I am one of those people!). On the other hand, many of the wrong answers aren't really wrong; they just aren't the best answers, or they are the "too ethical" answers.
15. It was a salutary exercise. I learned something substantive. I understand more thoroughly the experience our students will undergo. And I will seek therapy for the obsessive concern about each pencil being precisely the same length and degree of sharpness.