Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Bar: I have sat at many, but never for one, and hopefully this is my last…

**Disclaimer – For those of you who loosely follow my blog or even for those who regularly follow – this is going to be a horridly long post that discusses my personal “adventure” of preparing for and then taking the Florida Bar exam. This post is more for me, for me to deal with what I have been through as well as document it. Although I feel a lot of stress in thinking about what I went through during the weeks leading up to and then the days of the test I feel it is important for me to document it and have a means of remembering it. Although I appreciate ALL my readers (all 2 of you – thanks!) this is a selfish post, mostly for me, and to some extent for you, so you know what I (and thousands of other bar takers) go through twice a year in Florida in order to make that J.D. worth more than a piece of paper and tens of thousands of dollars of debt.**

It is funny I have had my mind on writing this post for a long time now, out of some fear that I would somehow forget the experience. Of all things, the prep time, the last few days leading up to the exam, and taking the exam will be something that will be with me for quite a long time. Hopefully I will not have to relive the experience in July, but only time will tell. Speaking of time - the exact time I should know is on April 13. So now that the test is not looming over my head the date that I will know the results is now looming. I actually had a dream last night that I passed and received the score needed right on the number - I was definitely pleased and although I'd like a little more leeway in the way of scoring above what is needed passing is passing. Hopefully that dream will come true! The anxiety that I am feeling now waiting on the score however doesn't even compare to the prior two months of preparation or the feelings I experienced just days prior and the day of. There are good days and bad days while waiting - some days are really positive and I feel like I did fine, then there are other days where I feel like I should probably already start getting ready for July. It is all part of the waiting game I guess...

Below I am going to blog about the day to day events leading up to and during the test in a five part series of sorts – thanks to the recommendation of a close friend once I realized that at the conclusion of this post I was well over 9,000 words! I can only do so much to express what I went through physically and emotionally during that time but regardless of how skilled my writing may (or may not) be, there is simply no way to describe it and unless you have been through it, or plan on going through it, there's really no way to properly explain it but alas, I will try.

Part 1 – Leading up to the test:

The week preceding the exam I took one last full practice exam and then did some final prep and memorization of our "one pagers" which are geared toward learning the material that we must know for the essay portion of the exam. On Sunday February 22 I left Jacksonville and headed to Lakeland where I was going to spend the night and then head over to Tampa the next day. Nerd Alert – but based on the advice of an amazing professor - I actually recorded myself reading all of my one pagers (created by our bar coaches to help us learn the information needed for the Florida essays) so I could listen to them/continue to memorize them/study during the 3 hour drive from Jacksonville to Lakeland. Nerdy - but if that’s the difference between passing and failing I'm glad I did it! I really didn't start to get nervous or feel any different until I was packing for the week - THAT is when it really started to set in. The only thing I could compare it to is packing for a trip to the hospital for surgery or some trip that you really don't want to make but you know that you have to. It can be a sick feeling packing and trying to think ahead for any possible situation and becoming more and more apprehensive the further you get along in the process.

I waited to leave until Brittany got home from work and then said my goodbyes. It wasn't like I was going to be gone terribly long but it was hard to leave the support system that had been with me (and put up with me) during my whole preparation process. This part of the process was definitely more difficult than I thought it would be because taking this test and doing the best I can do is not just for me but for everyone, and I care much less about failing myself, but failing the people that I love and those who support me is unacceptable. I know it wouldn't be the end of the world to re-take in July but leading up to the exam I did not want to allow myself to think of that as an option. So when I arrived home I had this waiting for me on the bed:

"Bar Prep"

Now to explain a bit. A while ago my mom gave me a small rubber chicken as a gag Christmas gift, many years and retaliatory chicken Christmas gifts later, we have assembled a "Brady Bunch" style chicken family. Anyway, depending on the time of year, or the reason for coming home the chicken family is situated to reflect their interpretation of why you are paying them a visit and sleeping in their bed. Of course, this time it was geared toward the bar, and it is a very fitting expression of my bar prep experience - the occasional beer (and maybe the need for a couple more), the need for Tums on a regular basis, and the need for some humor to relax - the chickens. It allowed for a relaxing moment and a couple of laughs before I went to bed for the night.

After spending a few minutes checking my email and then some time reviewing, it was time to head to bed and make an attempt at getting some sleep. Attempting to sleep is really all that I accomplished. I literally laid there thinking of all the different situations and honestly all of the bad things that I may have to go through during the test as well as all of the possible negative results. This is one of a very few times I lost control of myself during the time leading up to the test - my mind and negative thoughts are definitely my worst enemy - and that night definitely was a rough one.

I woke up early (6 a.m. – hey that’s early for me) and was back to work doing final preparations and memorization and around lunch time I headed up to "The Heights" for lunch with Dad. Lunch and talking about anything but the test was really what I needed to help me relax as much as I could before heading to Tampa. After lunch I spent another hour studying and then around 2 it was time to make the trip to my hotel in Tampa for the test. Fortunately mom snuck out of work a little early and was able to be home for me when I headed out. Similar to the goodbyes in Jacksonville these were just as difficult and involved some tears and then I was finally all alone and on my way to Tampa with my collision course for the Florida Bar Exam.

It was a pretty short trip and again, I listened to my recordings to help me study during any spare moment I had. Once I got to the hotel it was overrun with people staying there for the bar - it was a wild atmosphere. It’s quite a racket really, all of the hotels within walking distance of the convention center where the test is offered charge upwards of $250/night. The hotel was very nice but for what I paid for a Monday and Tuesday night in February was a bit much. When I pulled in there weren't any parking options except for valet (of course, at another $25/night) and it took me a while unloading all of my bags, books etc, and it actually took one of those bellman rolling carts to get all of my stuff from the car to the room. Looking back on it I kind of have to laugh about how much stuff I brought, I guess it is better to not pack while so anxious.

On the elevator to the room another person noticed my books etc and asked if I was here to take the bar. In full study mode I immediately thought this was some type of trick question and was hesitant to answer. Turns out this person felt the need to tell me that this was their second attempt to pass the bar exam. I’m not sure what this person was trying to do – trying to psych me out or just felt the need to share but either way it didn’t have any bearing on what I was going to do. Once I realized that – that it was just on me - no outside factors or people were going to determine how I did I felt a lot better about things and more relaxed.
Once I got everything into the room and settled in it was time to go on a recon mission and I was back on the elevator and out the door. One bit of advice that we received from our advisors was to walk to the convention center and actually go in and view the testing room so that:

1. We would know exactly where we were going and

2. The enormity of the room with all of the tables and chairs etc wouldn’t be a surprise the next morning when you first enter the room.

Walking around downtown Tampa around 5 p.m. on Monday made me realize that the only physical threat during this testing adventure would be to not get hit by a car. It’s not that the conditions for pedestrians were more dangerous than any other downtown area, but walking to/from the test the safest way to cross a street or to get to your destination certainly isn’t the first thing on your mind the day before the biggest exam of your life and for some this is about the time when being hit by a car wouldn’t be such a bad thing. So one bit of unexpected advice I will certainly pass along to future test takers is – Don’t get hit by a car!
It was about a 10 minute walk at a decent pace to get to the convention center and after walking around the inside for 15 minutes or so I finally had to ask the question that had probably been asked by hundreds of others at the information desk and was informed – that the test would take place on the “whole second floor” and that is when the sheer enormity of the whole test started to set in.
For those who don’t know, the bar exam is offered in only one location in Florida and it is only offered twice a year (The last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and the last Tuesday and Wednesday in July) so every recent law school graduate in the state from all 10 schools, and any out of state examinees all take the test together. The test consists of 2 days broken into four three hour sessions. The first day is strictly testing on Florida law also known as Part A. The morning session consists of three essays and you have three hours to complete them. The second three hour session consists of 100 multiple choice questions and you have three hours to complete that portion. The second day , also known as Part B, tests strictly on multi-state law (MBE – Multistate Bar Exam) – essentially this is a test on generally accepted legal concepts in the United States and cover 6 areas of law including Torts, Property, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Law, and Contracts. The full second day is all multiple choice, 100 in the morning, and then 100 in the afternoon. It may not sound like a lot but physically and mentally it takes a lot out of you.

Once I got to the room/full second floor area they weren’t finished setting up and none of the tables were in place. I stood in the room for a few minutes and took it all in. The sheer size of this room is difficult to put into words, it was huge. Once I was done taking it all in, I was on my way back to the room. When I got back to the hotel room I spent most of the evening going over some of my review materials and had planned to walk down to a Subway around 8 p.m. and take a short break while getting dinner. I finished reviewing some of my Florida notes and then finally headed out to grab some dinner. It was a short 2 block walk and as I approached the Subway I was pleased to see that the “Open” neon light was still on. I walked up, tugged the door – locked. After looking at the hours posted on the window I realized I was about 10 minutes too late. Fortunately I saw a Quizno’s on the other corner of the block and headed that way as well – also closed at 8. This trip around downtown Tampa is starting to look like a waste and not quite the start I was hoping for on this bar exam adventure. So here I was in downtown Tampa with nothing to eat and headed back to my hotel. On the walk back however I did notice that the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts was literally across the street from my hotel. Unfortunately I would not be able to visit during this trip but it is definitely on my radar and I can’t wait to get back to Tampa and visit the museum.
Once I returned to the hotel I called in an order to room service – which was thankfully still open and ordered some dinner. I ate as much as I could but at around 9:30 the night before the bar exam it is tough to be relaxed enough to have a full meal, especially with my stomach. The dinner was great and then I took some time to review and then finally made myself stop around midnight and was in bed by 12:30. I prayed before I went to sleep like I always do and I didn’t ask for any favors from God at all, I just simply asked to have peace in my mind and heart so I could sleep and for me to be able to stay relaxed and focused so I could do my best based on the preparation I have done in the last two months. I usually don’t share stories about my faith and religion because although it is important to me, I do not want others to feel that I am forcing my beliefs or religion on others. My faith and why I have faith are very private things to me. The warmth and peace that almost immediately came over me while I was praying and reflecting before I slept was astounding and I have never felt so relaxed or at peace before such an important event in my life. I was asleep in a matter of minutes and got a great night’s sleep. If that isn’t something miraculous I am not sure what is.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Phew!! Good writing, I'm all in knots just reading about it. And most of all CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm very happy for you and know that must be a HUGE load off of you :)

I'll be going to Tampa next weekend, I'm going to see about going to that museum, sounds interesting. If you don't mind, flickrmail me the hotel you stayed in since it was nearby.