Running on Caffeine and Misery!
Oh my gosh, let me just start off by telling you the education system in the United States does not prepare you very well for standardized testing!!!
If any of you know me, you know what I'm stressing about in particular: THE BAR EXAM
Till date, most of us can agree that we have been able to pass with minimal effort on our part (Of course, most of us have to study to get straight A's, but I'm talking about just passing - it's pretty difficult to fail high school as long as you submit your assignments on time and show up)
Well, all that worked until High School. Then college went and changed the rules on us. Getting an undergraduate degree definitely required more effort than high school did. But for those of us who didn't do a math/science based degree and opted for a liberal arts major (coughEnglish&Politicscough), it wasn't that strenuous. A couple of essays per semester, and as long as we did our readings and could talk about them a couple times in class - just enough to make our presence known - we got participation points and ambled right along. Most of my classes were not substantively testing me on material I had to memorize every few weeks like the pre-health majors went through. Grades matter, of course, because they determine your ability to get into graduate school or get a competitive job. But the amount of preparation needed to excel in undergraduate classes wasn't that crazy. For the politics class where there was some substantive knowledge of various political theories, you spent maybe a couple weeks leading up to your final exam reviewing your notes. And if the class was an open book final exam...forget it. You just spent enough time to organize your notes, write out answers to past exams, and just make sure everything you needed was in your outline and accessible. And even after all that, 7 times out of 10, I barely looked at my notes while taking the test anyway because there was just so much to write.
After undergrad, enter: Law School
Oh Law School, I think you're set up for failure, and yet I can't figure out an alternative that wouldn't be equally as bad. Let's lay down the basics that you need to know going into my rant. We take "core" classes our first year of law school. These are the "basics" that we build on for the remaining two years. The core classes include: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Civil Procedure, Property, and Contracts. Coincidentally, these are also the major subjects tested on the bar exam. In fact, one out of the two days is 200 multiple choice questions in those subjects (plus Evidence). Of the 7 subjects, 6 are taken during our first year of law school.
The remaining subjects are: Conflict of Laws, Partnerships, Agency, Corporations, Secured Transactions, Family Law, Wills, and Trusts. These don't really show up in the multiple choice section, but do show up in the essay section. (6 essays, 3 hours, some essays test multiple subjects...so the 7 core subjects plus the 8 additional subjects are all fair game). These subjects are a mix of secondary core classes OR optional classes at most schools. (In my school, we had to take 4 out of 5 from: Business Law, Administrative Law, Evidence, Trusts and Estates, and Tax. The other subjects are optional or covered briefly in other classes. Conflict of Laws was covered in our Civil Procedure class, for example. Family Law and Secured Transactions were completely optional).
So you take your core, you take your secondary core, and you fill up the rest of your law school semesters with electives (Ie. I took an incredible class on Family Violence and Sexual Assault, I took Matrimonial Law Practice, and I joined the Child Advocacy Clinic. Can you see the theme?).
But the problem is that a BULK of the Bar Exam that we are now studying for is made up of those 7 core subjects that we took two years ago! And it's difficult to recall that information with word-for-word clarity, which is what we need for the essay portion of the bar exam. Not only that, studying these subjects in law school is a very nuanced thing. We spent a semester on each of these subjects, flesh out the history and evolution of the rules, and discuss hundreds of court cases that have shaped the law into its current form. To pass a final exam for our law school classes, we had to be able to eloquently discuss all of that, especially case law. The answer to everything was MAYBE, followed by explanations on why it went either way, supporting both sides with case law and favorable interpretations of the statutes at issue.
And now, for the bar exam, we are told to recall the cut-and-dry version of the "rules" and forget all the rest of it. The answer is no longer a maybe. They want a very succinct "IRAC" formula for answering the essays. State the issue, write out the applicable rule in 2-3 sentences, analyze the facts to the elements of the rule...again, very concisely....and finally, conclude one way or another based on your perfunctory analysis.
I mean, an example of an IRAC'd paragraph would be:
The issue is whether the defendant created an irrevocable option. An irrevocable option can be created by a merchant if it is in writing and states that it is irrevocable. If there is no time limit, the offer expires after a reasonable time. Here, the defendant is not a merchant, he is just a consumer. Thus, he could not create an irrevocable offer, and no irrevocable offer was created.
^ Like literally, it's got to be that repetitive. I mean I cut out some details from the rule statement (there are some other elements, and other methods to create irrevocable options) BUT you get the point. No linguistic flourishes. They want that wording very specifically so graders can grade our essays in 2-3 minutes each.
We spent three years learning how to make that paragraph above into a full-blown 10 paragraph essay answer to a final exam question. Now we've got to stop "arguing with the question" and just answer it in that robotic, mechanical way. No time for maybes. No time for exceptions, and case law, and court rationales.
Now, we have to spend three MONTHS (from end of our final semester in ~May until the bar exam at the end of July) to unlearn everything and re-learn it in a way that's appropriate for bar exam writing.
Not only are all the major subjects three years old in our memory, we also have to change our writing and analysis style.
But the icing on that cake - we have to memorize in three months all of those succinct rules distilled from three years of law school. I mean, it's a final certification exam - isn't that the point, you say? It is the point, I get it.
But it's not fair to allow students to take open book law school finals for three years, then expect them to unlearn everything, and re-cram the important rules from all of the subjects they've taken.
We never had to memorize the rules in law school. We only had to know that FRE Rules 401-403 covered Hearsay, and flip to those rules when we needed to reference them. The analysis we always had to do, but no memorization was necessary. You could bring your outline and the statutes to the final exam and flip to whatever rule you needed. Just spot the issue, conduct the analysis on the applicable rule, and you were good. It definitely doesn't prepare you for the bar exam.
I would rather have had to memorize rules for individual classes per semester for three years to have a solid foundation going into bar prep studying. Instead, it was overwhelming as fuck.
Even now, just a week before the exam, I feel confident in my ability to pass the MBE Questions and the MPT exams. (MPT's are "practice tests" where they give us a closed universe of rules and case law, and we have to write out some kind of brief, memorandum, jury instruction, etc. We get 2 of those closed universes. 1.5 hours each. That part doesn't require "learning" because everything you need to write a perfect answer is given to you in the closed universe. I guess it's like a reading-comprehension test for wannabe lawyers to make sure they can actually prepare legal materials and follow instructions)
What I don't feel confident in is those goddamn ESSAYS. Those 6 essays are going to make or break my score, and the biggest problem is that I have to memorize 3 years worth of materials in just 3 months. We have to regurgitate nearly word-for-word on whatever issue and subject they test us on. It's just a lot of goddamn memorizing
Most essays we encounter, we can do a cursory read and "answer" and know how all the subparts of the essay will play out. (No, the mother cannot deny her daughter asthma medication even though her cult-like religion forbids medicine. Yes, the mother can cancel her daughter's skating lessons even though the daughter loves to skate, because it's not the courts problem what recreational activities a parent puts their child in).
What is hard is structuring it in that mechanical IRAC format and WRITING.OUT.THOSE.DAMN.RULES. Word for word.
So yeah, it sucks that law school didn't administer final exams in a closed-book setting to emphasize our need to MEMORIZE (and also train us in memorizing those rules so we didn't start from scratch for bar prep). It also sucks that all the major bar exam subjects were the first ones we took in law school and aren't remembered that clearly 2 years later. (Even though I also know those are foundational subjects and they can't do it any other way).
I'm just salty.
And whining. And venting. And miserable because the bar exam is seven days away and I keep getting my non-hearsay exceptions mixed up with my hearsay exceptions -cry-
And for some reason, I never get any answer involving depraved-heart murder right.