How I Survived the Virginia Bar Exam
“Your time begins now.”
And it began. The test I had anticipated taking since high school. The test I had been studying for day and night for two agonizing months. The anticipation was now over, and the most important test of my life had begun.
I suppose some background about the exam will help:
First, the cost of the VA bar exam seriously makes you feel like youre paying off the mob. I mean, they make you pay $400 to take the test, another $500 for a “character evaluation” (where they basically just harass you about every speeding ticket you have ever gotten), and then another $150 to take the test on the laptop. But wait, there’s more: $3,200 for bar prep classes, and a solid month off of work. It’s robbery.
A few other things about the test: its two days long, you have to wear a suit and tie, and it’s in Roanoke, VA. So…yea.
Anyway, the doors to the test opened at 8:00am, and when I got there just before 8, the place was packed. Law students are so predictable. They file us into the building like cattle and next thing I know I’m in a room the size of a huge airplane hangar with about 1,200 other students. I set up my computer, went to the bathroom, sat in my seat waiting for the test to begin, and then headed back to the bathroom. I probably went to the bathroom a solid 8 times.
Finally, some guy stands up at the podium and tells us to take our seats. And he certainly doesn’t lighten the mood…
“If you leave the testing room, you will be disqualified. If you don’t fill in the bubbles to your identification sheet correctly, you will be disqualified….” One rule they are particularly sensitive about: cell phones. They make it very clear that they are bad, bad, bad. If you have one, youre dead.
I started praying, but at this point I’m feeling very nervous. Like, Tom Hanks in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan nervous.***
*** Only, I’m taking the bar exam and he was storming the beach at Normandy. But other than that…
You get three hours to answer five essays. A break for lunch, then the process repeats in the afternoon. That’s Day One. There is very little downtime. And so when the proctor tells us that our time has begun, I get right to it.
About an hour and a half into the exam, something happens. Some dude is making sounds. Weird sounds. He’s a row away. His hands lock up, and the sounds get louder. I’m no doctor, but my diagnosis was immediate: THIS DUDE IS HAVING A FREAKING SEIZURE!
Slowly, he leans over in his chair and falls face first into the ground. Blood splatters all over the place, and his face turns blue. Then his eyes shut. I’m preparing myself for the reality that I might watch this guy die right in front of me. Right in the middle of the bar exam.
I screamed out: “SOMEONE CALL 911!” It then dawned on me that I just asked 1,200 people WITHOUT cell phones to make a phone call. How heroic of me.
Shortly thereafter, some guy runs up. He’s a fellow test-taker, but he’s also apparently a doctor. He takes control of the situation. I look around and see over a thousand people continuing to work on their exam, and I’m standing here helplessly watching this guy and trying to think of ways to be helpful.
About 10 minutes later, paramedics arrived. Realizing there was nothing I could do at this point, and knowing that the clock was ticking, I sat back down.
I had never figured I would have to mentally shift from watching someone have a terrible seizure to diving into personal jurisdiction under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But there I was, plugging away and trying my best to tune out the medics while they do their thing. I knew he was going to be ok when I heard…
Paramedic: “do you know where you are?”
Guy Who Just Had A Seizure: “THE TEST!”
Anyway, I scrambled through the remaining hour or so. I was short on time, but I derived some serious Bar Exam skills from one of my favorite shows: Chopped.
See, on Chopped, the biggest mistake contestants make is that they try to make the perfect dish, and end up not getting mandatory ingredients on the plate – a total dagger. Rather, to win Chopped, often you just need to get something on the plate, even if it’s terrible. So when I was typing total nonsense into my keyboard, I had to just keep telling myself to “get it on the plate.” And heck yea I did.
When we came back for round two, the test proctor started going through his panic-inducing rules again, but this time I was prepared – I stared at a picture of the kids until the test began. Much better.
A few hours later, I walked out of that test feeling fairly confident. A cold beer and some chips did wonders. The hard part was over, and I slept like a dog that night.
Day Two is what’s referred to as “The Multistate.” It’s a 200 question multiple choice test covering some of the basics of the law: evidence, constitutional law, criminal law, property, contracts, and a few more. By now, the mood is much less tense. I was cracking bar exam jokes. They were funny?
Oh, and good news: apparently the guy with the seizure was out of the hospital.
I ripped through the first half of the test with no problem. I guess after you take a test and watch someone have a seizure, then any other subsequent test it bound to seem anticlimactic. But anticlimactic is good.
One thing I will say is that on several occasions I found myself using the same letter choice four times in a row. And nothing drives a test-taker insane quite like filling in the same bubble three or four times consecutively – especially when it’s the letter “D.” It’s cruel and unusual.
The second half of the test was tough. Not only because I was doing some serious guessing, but also because I was counting down the number of questions I would have to answer as a law student. 20, 10, 5, 1. Done. Eyoooo!
Overall, the experience was one I will never forget. I’m not sure if I passed, and won’t know til October. But the important thing is that I survived – something I wasn’t so sure about for a while there.
So here’s to hoping that what I put on the plate won’t get me, well, Chopped. Cheers!