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Empire prep: Tips for taking the New York bar exam

New York Bar Exam

Three years of blood, sweat, and tears in law school have led you this point – preparing to sit for the New York bar exam. You will undoubtedly spend 8-12 hours a day over an 8-10 week period, closing yourself off from family, friends, and the world to ingrain the law into your brain (i.e. the “beloved” Rule Against Perpetuities) for what is without-a-doubt the most important exam of your career.

Approximately 10,000 individuals brave the New York bar exam in July, and approximately 4,000 individual brave it in February. Once you know your location (Buffalo, Albany, White Plains, NYC, etc.), but before you start planning your post-bar vacation, get the following tips on your checklist:

Book your hotel accommodations early

This tip may not seem so obvious at first thought. But think about it. You find out your testing location about 7 weeks before the exam, and generally the Board of Law Examiners will not allow you to change locations, even if seats in other locations later become available. Realize also that most hotels do not charge your credit card until you arrive for check in and generally won’t charge a penalty unless you fail to cancel your reservation providing 24+ hours’ advance notice. Understanding that your testing location is fixed, secure yourself a place to stay and eliminate the chance of begging the hotel manager for a room to become available. Don’t let that be you. Be proactive.

If you are taking the exam in Buffalo, I would highly recommend staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, located 3 minutes from the test site and which provides the most reasonable prices, a gym, and a buffet-style breakfast from 6-10 a.m. This breakfast includes eggs, sausage links and patties, bacon, cinnamon rolls, muffins, toast, biscuits & gravy, make-your-own pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, apples, oranges, coffee, milk, juice, and more. In addition, all resident-guests of the hotel receive a 20% discount off the TGI Fridays restaurant located adjacent to the hotel.

Book your flights to provide flexibility

The same advice that applied in tip #1 applies here – be proactive. You are more likely to get a lower-priced flight if you book an early reservation than if you wait until the week or two before the bar exam.

Arrive the day before the exam starts so that you have more than enough time to settle in, get accustomed to your surroundings, and know where you need to arrive for security check-in. On the same note, it is wise to book a returning flight for the same evening upon completion of testing on Day 2 (8:00 p.m. or later). Keep in mind that this is a short trip, so you will only need to pack a small carry-on bag. Don’t risk getting your checked luggage lost in the shuffle. Remember, your goal is to minimize unnecessary stress.

If you are taking the exam in Buffalo, you can take the $2.50 (exact change only) shuttle buses from the airport to the convention center in about 20 minutes with little to no traffic. Upon completion of the second day of testing, those same shuttle buses will arrive at the entrance to the convention center and carry you directly to the airport for the same price and in the same time frame.

Take advantage of the pre-ordered meals

Let’s be honest here. Yes, the prices for pre-ordered meals may seem a bit high, but let’s face it. Once, the examiners call “time” and use up a good chunk of your lunch time to collect your testing materials before releasing you and the thousands of other hungry testers, you are not left with an exorbitant amount of time to search for outside food before going back through the security check and lengthy restroom lines.

Remember the goal here – work smarter, not harder.

If you are taking the exam in Buffalo, you are provided three lunch options – chicken salad, turkey sub, and hummus. Each option comes with a cookie (chocolate chip or sugar), a bag of chips (Doritos or Lay’s), an apple, and a drink (water, Sprite, or Coke). The sandwiches are large and  will definitely satisfy you. The lines to get your food are quick and efficient, and you are provided a wealth of 8-person round tables to sit down and comfortably enjoy your meal without feeling unnecessarily pressed for time.

You have enough to worry about on these two days, so provide yourself a bit of convenience and just order your lunch from the convention center.

Do anything other than study during test days

I know that this will be a tough piece of advice to follow, but it is worth giving yourself a break from studying before your 12-hour exam. A light review of the material I would agree is fine, but it may not be the best use of your time and energy trying to cram for one point of law.

Regardless of the location you are taking the exam, use this day to relax. You have done more than enough to get yourself over the curve and will pass the exam. Catch up on your favorite TV shows that have been put on the back burner for the past couple months. Watch a movie or two. Go to the gym and get a little exercise in. Treat yourself to a good meal. Set out the clothes that you will wear for the next day and ensure that you have only permitted items in your clear plastic bag. Definitely don’t sacrifice a good night’s rest. Remember that you can only push yourself so far.

Set yourself up for test day success

Don’t rely on your phone. Take advantage of the hotel’s wake-up calls (set for 6 a.m. and 6:15 a.m.). You definitely don’t want to wake up only to realize that you overslept because your phone died or turned itself off throughout the night.

Take a shower. This tip speaks for itself – be fresh, not only for yourself but also as a courtesy for others sitting around you.

Eat breakfast. Balance is key. Provide your body with enough nutrients to last until lunch. Also pack a light snack in case you get hungry during testing.

Follow the rules. Because the policy changes constantly from one test to another, you will want to double check New York’s security policy regarding permitted and non-permitted items (starting February 2018, watches of any kind are not permitted).

Arrive early (7 a.m.). Leave your backpack, phone, notes, and other prohibited items in your hotel room so that you aren’t pushing and shoving for space in the personal belongings room as if it were New Years’ Eve in Times Square.

Make sure ExamSoft is working. Ideally, you will have already tested your software prior to test day by downloading and uploading the mock exam. Don’t risk dealing with delays or potentially having to handwrite your exam for 6 hours – like some of the February 2018 testers experienced.

Use the men’s restroom. Ladies, I am talking to you. The line for the women’s restroom is always long and slow, and it is no different during the bar exam. You will experience a high level of anxiety waiting behind 30+ women in each restroom line with less than 10 minutes before the start of the exam. Subsequently, just take the lead in making the men’s restroom “gender neutral.” The proctors will give you permission.

Get in your zone. Stick your earbuds in to stay focused, and refrain from talking about the exam with others during the breaks. Your 12 hours of testing are your time to show the examiners that you are officially ready to be a member of the profession. Continue to use the strategies that have worked for you in the past.

Let these tips be a resource for you. Good Luck!

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Heather Bowen Heather Bowen is an intellectual property and licensing counsel in New York. She has protected intellectual property and licensing portfolios, negotiated and reviewed domestic licensing agreements, and strategically counseled internal legal, finance, sales, and marketing teams. She has continued to stay abreast of developments in intellectual property law through publications as well as her effective leadership and involvement in committees of the American Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the International Trademark Association, and the New York Intellectual Property Law Association.