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What to Expect At the Bar Examination


Throughout law school, a student constantly hears about the bar examination. You spend your law school career and the summer (or winter) after graduation preparing for this exam, and then three years of study culminates in a grueling examination over the course of two days. The very notion of the bar examination is so daunting because your entire ability to practice law is dependent on passing this one single test. But while this is an examination of substantive knowledge, it is also a test of how to take a test. I have heard countless stories from previous test-takers about how they failed largely due to the fact that they became over-anxious and blanked on the day of the actual exam. To combat that anxiety, it is helpful to know exactly what to expect on the actual day of the bar exam. Here was my experience just a short while ago.

When you first arrive at your testing site, do not be surprised if the proctors are not ready for you. Be prepared to wait for quite a while as they finish setting things up and check your photo identifications. The best thing to do is to find a friend or talk to the person next to you.  There is nothing worse than just sitting by yourself and allowing yourself to worry and fret. At this point, you have spent weeks preparing for this very day and there is nothing else that you can learn. You just have to trust your studying, your knowledge, your experience, and your skills. It is important to stay relaxed before the examination.

Once you actually get into your testing room, be prepared to wait once again. Everyone has to find their seats, the proctors need to take attendance, the rules and instructions need to be read, and the testing booklets must be distributed. Meanwhile, your anxiety level starts to gradually rise with each passing minute. Again, it is okay to talk to those around you. It certainly helped to ease my tension. And you are going to be sitting next to these fellow test-takers for the next two days. It helps to have someone to pass the time with while you are waiting.

When you first open the testing booklets and start reading that first question, do not be surprised if you immediately panic and forget everything that you have learned. Simply stop, take a breath, and start reading the question again. All of your studying will come back to you. You just have to remember that this is what you have been working toward the last three years.

Time will pass quickly, so don’t spend too long on any one question. Keep an eye on the clock so you know exactly how much time you have to work with, but at the same time, try not to hurry your answers. With careful time management, you should be able to answer every question with ease.

Beyond these few simple words of advice, there is not much that can be said about the bar examination except this: Anxiety does not have to be your Achilles’ heel in taking the bar. The most important thing in preparing for the bar is to trust yourself and enter the examination with confidence. With this mindset, you will be well on your way to passing the bar examination!

About the Author

Stephanie Mann recently passed the Illinois Bar and was sworn in on November 1, 2012. She graduated from Northern Illinois University College of Law in June 2012, where she was an Assistant Editor for NIU's Law Review. She received her undergraduate degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she majored in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. She currently works as a law clerk for the Cosentino Law Firm, LLC and has a judicial clerkship with Judge Prochaska in Winnebago County, Illinois.


Stephanie, Thank you for this post. It does help to actually hear someone's candid report of what it is like. Usually when I hear stories, people talk about how awful it is. It helps to hear some reassuring words!


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