By Kelly Humphrey, Esquire
It’s that time of year again. Time for law school graduates to test their knowledge, skill, ability, and endurance whilst sitting for the Florida Bar Examination. Ah, the Florida Bar Examination; my former nemesis. An examination that is only offered twice a year and spans a full 2 days, encompassing both Multi-state Law as well as Florida specific law. Covering areas of law that you might have studied during your time in law school, but could just as easily have never had the opportunity to study. A test, that some would argue, is geared to be difficult and to weed out those who have not fully prepared....or simply lack standardized testing skills. Oh, but the test is so much more than that. Without a passing score, law school graduates will never earn the prestigious title of Esquire. Sure, they will be required to repay those exorbitant school loans and will hopefully find work as a legal assistant, but they can never rise to the level of an attorney without passing the Florida Bar Examination.
It took me 4 long years to pass it. Granted, I got married and had a baby during that time so I didn’t sit for it every time it was offered, but for all intents and purposes, it took me 4 years to finally earn the right to add an Esquire at the end of my name. Perhaps you will shirk away from hearing tips on passing the Florida Bar from a gal who clearly didn’t pass it the first time, but keep in mind that a lot of people sitting for the Florida Bar Examination do not pass it the first time. Also, know that I am an intelligent person. Education has always come easy to me and throughout my schooling I have excelled at my classes. I was in advanced placement classes in high school and received awards in college and law school. One would think all this would assist me in breezing through the exam. Clearly, not the case. I had never failed anything before failing the Florida Bar Examination and the effects of it really knocked me for a loop. Now, imagine failing it MULTIPLE times. Needless to say, it would have been easier to throw in the towel and just seek a new profession than to continue down such a rough road of disappointment. So why didn’t I give up? Call it tenacity, an unyielding desire, a need to prove to myself that I could do it - or just sheer stupidity - but I stuck to it. I continued to study. I skipped my honeymoon, I had to miss social events, I felt a pang of guilt anytime I was not studying, but I powered through and it paid off. I am an attorney! So here are my suggestions on how to study for and pass the Florida Bar Examination....all whilst holding on to your sanity and positive outlook.
1. Prepare. This is not the kind of test that you can cram for and expect to pass. Take months to study. Take practice tests and write practice essays. Know the idiosyncratic differences between multi-state and Florida law.
2. Get a mentor/study group. Find someone who will keep you on track. Someone you must be accountable to. Someone who will review your essays and give you honest feedback.
3. Preparation Course. This is really up to you. I tried it a couple different ways during my years of exam taking. First I paid for the big commercial prep course offered at my law school (did not help me). Then I tried just doing it on my own (also not a help). Finally, I signed up for Celebration Bar Exam Review and found a program that worked for me. It offered a prep course that I could do on MY time, invaluable study material broken down in a manageable format, and my very own mentor. Again, do what works for you.
4. Exercise. Go for a walk, run or bike ride before you begin your study sessions. It clears your mind and helps to keep you focused. Do NOT study whilst you exercise. I was not in a habit of exercising regularly when I began the process of taking this test, but during my final attempt, I made it a point to run every morning before I sat down to study and I honestly believe that this was a major factor in helping me pass.
5. Spend time with friends/family. As I stated above, I got married and had a baby during this whole process and refused to take any time away from my new family to study for the exam. So I woke up at before dawn every morning and studied before my family woke. When I put my baby down for a nap, out came the books. Point being, make time to study, but continue to spend time with the ones you love. It will help you keep your sanity.
6. Trial Run. Make sure you know where you will be testing. I am fortunate enough to live near the Tampa Convention Center (where the Florida Bar Examination is held) so I drove to the location and made sure I had the whole thing mapped out (even where to park) so there was no drama on the day of the exam. If you do not have the benefit of living close, book hotel accommodations and transportation in advance. They fill up fast.
7. Test Supplies. Only certain items are allowed in the testing area with you. Adhere to those rules. There are metal detectors and armed guards checking you over before you can enter the testing area and they will happily trash any item (regardless of how expensive or useful) that is not allowed into the center.
8. Expect to sit for 3 hours at a time. That is how long each testing session will last. When you study, study in 3 hour blocks of time. Try to avoid potty breaks and snack breaks. Keeping it as close to the real thing as possible will help during the real thing.
9. Time yourself. Whether you are practicing multiple choice questions or essay answers, make sure you time yourself and stay within the time constraints of the allotted time. The last thing you want to do it run out of time with unanswered questions.
10. Stay Positive. It’s a grueling process and passing or failing can be a life altering experience, but ultimately it’s a test. If you pass it, awesome! If you fail it, you can take it again. It in no way equates to your self-worth. Keep that in perspective as you study because its very easy to get overwhelmed.