For my readers who have a brain tumor or had a brain tumor, you will agree – life is that much more difficult for us. And when you pile on preparing for the bar exam and the expectations to pass it, life becomes arduous.
To sit for the Connecticut bar exam, all applicants must pay a filing fee of $750.00. The application consists of approximately 30 pages of questions and requirements such as listing every residence you held for more than thirty days, both temporary or permanent, since your eighteenth birthday or for the past ten years, whichever is shorter. Oh, and in chronological order. The application also requires an applicant’s employment history, again both temporary and permanent and in chronological order. You will also need affidavits, letters of reference, a certified driving history, a copy of your law school application, verification of your law degree and a Certificate from the law school Dean which states that you entered law school on such and such a date and earned your degree on such and such a date. And a contract to give up your firstborn child…not really, but might as well.
The exam is administered over two days, each day being 6 hours long. Testing accommodations (special test-taking exceptions for applicants with qualified disabilities) are available, but any applicant who wishes to avail themselves of these must complete a further application and have his/her doctor complete paperwork and submit all supporting materials to prove the accommodations are necessary.
When I applied to take the ethics exam (a separate test you must pass before you can even apply for the bar exam), I applied for testing accommodations but received a letter which stated, in relevant part: “Your request for testing accommodations is denied because the documentation provided for review does not contain all of the essential elements…Your documentation does not contain any scores from relevant cognitive or achievement batteries to indicate a current substantial limitation to a major life activity.”
Seriously?! My surgical reports which stated that I had a large tumor resected from my brain, along with having a device inserted allowing me to function on a day-to-day basis doesn’t constitute a “current substantial limitation to a major life activity”?
Not to fret though, my doctors and I would just send in additional records, along with past and current images of my MRIs. In addition, we provided the results of the neuropsychogical tests accompanied with a letter providing an update on my diagnosis, changes since that test, current treatment (which would be the shunt and anti-seizure medicine) and rationale for providing me with extra time and a private testing room. We submitted everything imaginable and I was notified that my request had been granted. The bar exam application required the same documentation which meant that I had to resubmit all the same documents.
If you’re an applicant with a disability applying for admission to the bar, the first step for you is to apply for accommodations. Applicants with a disability are entitled to apply for whatever accommodation that you “the applicant” deem necessary to provide you an equal opportunity to pass as the applicant next to you.
The bar exam, at least in Connecticut, begins both days at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 with an hour for lunch. Ask most applicants and they will tell you they felt pressed for time. After my tumor was removed, I was not the same person and 6 hours was not going be nearly enough time to complete the exam. Completing certain tasks now took me a lot longer as the information did not process as quickly as it had previously; or, like my final exam, I’d read a problem and understand it in my head but then end up writing ten pages or garble. So, what was I to apply for?
To start, I knew for sure that I would need extra time, that was a given. And in talking with the bar examiner, if my request for extra time was granted, I would start earlier than the other examinees and end later in the day, but with one one-hour break for lunch only. So I would need something to eat in the exam room. And to drink. So I requested both of these as well. Additionally, I requested a private testing room to avoid being distracted by the hundreds of other examiners in the room. After the tumor resection, my ability to maintain my focus had diminished and my thoughts turn to mush. In order to receive any accommodation, my doctors had to complete paperwork that explained how “what” I was applying for would assist me in passing the exam. You said it, it was a headache.
Not more than a month after everything had been submitted, I received a piece of mail from the bar examining committee notifying me that my request had been reviewed and granted. My schedule was 8:30-1:00 and then 2:00-6:30. I was permitted a private testing room, the extra time and a “quiet snack” (whatever that is). A drink was permitted, but it MUST be put into a clear bottle so that the examiners can inspect it.
So, how does one prepare for the bar exam, you ask? Well, before explaining the methods and strategies that some utilize, let me first tell you about the exam. In Connecticut, the first day now consists of six essays and two multi-state performance test questions. The times that I have taken it, it was 12 essays on various topics. The bar examiners provide a listing of possible subjects from which they can draw questions. I think there were 18 total subjects. How nice.
Day two consists of two-hundred multiple choice questions, all drawn from 6 subject matters – you have three hours to complete 100 questions in the morning and then three hours to complete 100 questions in the afternoon. These are not your run-of-the-mill multiple choice questions. Rather, each question is a complex problem which requires you to sort through the facts, analyze everything and select the “best” answer. Note that I wrote “best.” On the bar exam, there is no “right” answer; rather, they want you to choose the “best” answer and when there are four options to choose from, you can pretty much make a sound argument that any one of the four is the best answer.
Now, for just $3,250.00, you can register for BarBri, a two-month bar review class designed to assist applicants in passing the exam. Upon registering, a nice present will be delivered to your address – two boxes filled with books. In the BarBri course, you attend classes in a lecture hall and fill in outlines in a book designed by course instructors. But there’s a twist – the lectures have all been pre-recorded and are shown on a video. If you have a question about any of the material, I’m sorry but you’ll have to email your question in and wait days for a response. While there is no requirement to taking the course, you put yourself a pretty high disadvantage if you don’t because almost everyone else takes it. And the books are chock-full of released questions.
The video begins roughly around 9:30 every day and ends around 1:00-1:30. You then have about an hour to get home and eat lunch before you begin reviewing and analyzing the lecture outlines from that day. The advice given is to outline your outlines to absorb the material. Once that is complete, there are problem sets from the books pictured above to work through and complete. The problem sets can take hours. It’s a lot of work to get through 18 multiple choice questions as they are long and tedious and the only way to learn the legal concept is to answer the question and review the answers, specifically why the wrong answer is in fact wrong.
The best way to sum up taking the bar exam is exhausting. A month into studying, you find yourself asking what have I learned the past month and how can I possibly remember all of this? Don’t worry – you’re told on day one of bar review class that you won’t remember everything so don’t bother trying. Wait, what??
Hazing. Survival of the fittest. I apologize in advance to the readers who are currently preparing for the exam next month – I have faith in you.
As for me? I wasn’t nearly the fittest of the fit. Two years removed from having surgery, my brain was still not what it used to be. And I knew that it may never be. I had studied all that I possibly could; done as many practice questions and practice exams as humanly possible. I was mentally and physically exhausted. As the exam approached, I feared for my life. I feared that I would cause myself to have another seizure from the unnecessary stress of taking the exam, or yet, that the shunt would malfunction due to the stress I was putting on myself in trying to cram mounds of information into my brain.
No stopping me now though – the moment had arrived – July 26-27, 2011.