Tips: What to do 30 days before the PH Bar Exam

1. Get over your Mock Bar Exam Results

Many have likely taken Mock Bar Exams and find their results disappointing. For some, they may have even seen struggles in law school and the hardship in the bar exam review flash before their very eyes and wonder what they have all been doing this time. Why-o-why was I not able to think of applying this and that legal provision to this question? Why is my answer so far off?

I’m here to tell you: It is o-k-a-y.

You have to remember one very critical point: Sometimes, there is more than one answer to a bar exam question!

I have discussed about it lengthily via a podcast here: Making the Suggested Answers to the Bar Exam Book. In summary, when I was a working law student, I had the good fortune of being able to assist in the preparation and editing of the Suggested Answers to the Bar Exam by the U.P. Law Center. The following week of every Sunday bar exam, legal luminaries and experts (from retired justices and judges, law deans and professors, to well-known private practitioners) were invited to a roundtable discussion to come up with a suggested answer to the bar exam, which would then be submitted to the Supreme Court. After, it will be published by the center into that familiar white and blue book called Suggested Answer to the Bar Exam.

Along with my fellow legal researchers, we were witness to how even legal experts at times have different answers to a bar exam question. Yes, they cite different laws, regulations, or jurisprudence. Hence, there are cases when one bar exam question has at least three (3) suggested answers with different viewpoints and legal basis. Thus, they often stress that if they themselves have different answers then bar examinees may likely have different answers. That being the case, the attention of the Bar Chairperson and the examiners are called and shown possible alternative answers.

Hence, take heed.

Your answer or legal basis may not exactly be the same as that prescribed in the Mock Bar Exam Results. However, it does not necessarily mean it is incorrect. If you have legal basis and your argumentation is sound, you will likely get points on the actual bar exam. (Of course, it is a different story if your answer is way, way, and one more, way off).

Also, try comparing your Mock Bar Exam with actual bar exam questions, there is something that you will notice. Generally, Mock Bar Exams are designed to be more difficult than bar exam questions. The reason is that the law professor who designed it probably re-created a final exam for law school (which are usually tough). Whereas, the Bar Exam is meant to test your understanding of basic concepts and principles. (Repeat: basic concepts and principles.)

On this note, Justice Leonen was our law dean for our batch and my law professor for evidence at U.P. Law during our time. He stresses on the importance of basic concepts and principles. Thus, it is very likely that this coming bar exam will focus more on concepts and principles and their application to cases or situations. So get your basics and fundamentals in order.

2. Assess the best use of your remaining time.

Some of you will still likely not have read through all of your reading materials. No judgment.

Again, it is okay.

The bar exam review is about refreshing you of key concepts and principles. Then, it is about testing whether you understand them. After all, if you will become a lawyer, you have to learn how to use the language of the law and that means knowing your basics.

That being the case, go through the areas in the bar exam syllabus where you have not yet finished reading. For each topic, list down all related concepts and principles. Then, drill down some more on related concepts and principles, until you can’t list anymore. If you recall your Grade School English, it is similar to writing an outline with a main topic, sub-topic, sub-sub-topic, and so on.

Now you have a list of concepts and principles that you have not yet covered in your reading. Assess each one whether you already know it or you need to review on it. For sure, you’ll notice that you actually have only a few more topics to go through. Hooray!

Next, for the next 30 days, focus on reviewing on these remaining topics. It will boost your overall confidence if you manage to cover them and then some.

3. Double check your laptop.

You will be taking the bar exam via your laptop. (Read as: Your bar exam experience is completely dependent on your laptop.)

If your laptop malfunctions, a lot of things could go seriously wrong.

It is likely that you will not have the time to troubleshoot. Remember, the bar exam is time-bound. Meaning, it will follow a schedule. The exam proctor and other bar examinees will not wait for you.

It is also unlikely that you will be provided with a replacement. Neither will you be allowed to go out of the testing area and get your own replacement.

a. Laptop should be in good working condition

Make sure that your laptop is up to the task. If you have a family member or friend who is knowledgeable with computers, show them the SC-prescribed requirements and ask if your laptop meets them.

Further, even if your laptop meets the requirements, make sure it is in good working condition and will not just die on you the exam day. The average lifespan of a laptop is 3-5 years. Beyond those years, there is a high probability of a breakdown somewhere, from the monitor, keyboard, to internal parts such as RAM, hard disk, and motherboard, to name a few.

Thus, if you can, it is recommended that you use one that is not more than 2 years old.

b. Remove unnecessary applications or software.

Ensure that you remove unnecessary applications or software. This is to avoid any potential conflict with the bar exam application that may result in a crash, a freeze, or other technical issues. The worst thing that could happen is that you are in the middle of answering an exam and then you see the dreaded BSOD – Blue Screen of Death (for Windows users).

If practical, re-format your laptop or make a clean install of your operating software. This will ensure previous issues that the laptop may have had in the past will not appear out of nowhere.

c. Update your operating software

Make sure also that your operating software is updated. This is particularly important for those who may have re-formatted or made a clean install of their operating software. The update will provide for fixes for any bugs and issues from the original date of the application to the present. This can include security patches which may be crucial considering that you will be connecting to the Internet at the start and end of an exam.

4. Prepare your bar exam kit.

Your bar exam kit will look a lot different from the previous bar exam given the pandemic and that you are taking the exam via a laptop.

At any rate, you should have one container that will house all of the things you need so you will not waste time, energy, and attention every Sunday looking for them at your home.

Your container should have your bar exam pass, student/Government ID, hand sanitizer, extra face mask, and whatever additional things you may need.

Whenever you finish a bar exam subject, organize your bar exam kit and laptop prior to leaving the test area. When you go home, make sure keep these at a safe place and check if you need to replace any of your items. For every bar exam day, you simply have to take them out and be on your way to take the next exam.

If you are into music, you may want to build a playlist on your phone to listen via headphones to music during lull times, from waiting in line to lunch and break times on an exam day.

5. Finalize your personal reviewers.

What are personalized reviewers? You know… that thing you’re going to take with you to the exam room. It ideally should not be codal or some law book.

The recommended personal reviewer is a customized Bar Exam Syllabus with your handwritten annotations or notes. So, you go to the bar exam with a bar exam syllabus filled with concepts and principles to remind you of them while waiting for the start of the exam.

Note, you’ll only have 15 minutes to 30 minutes during these lull times with the exception of lunch. Hence, there’s really no point to bringing law books nor codals.

6. Talk to your bar buddy.

Your bar buddy can be anyone. What is important is that you are comfortable with talking to him/her and that he/she understands what you are going through. And, whatever you say or feel, he/she will have no judgment and will just hear you out.

The bar buddy can be your parents, siblings, significant other, close friends, and even the one assigned to you from your law school’s bar operations. So long as you feel secure sharing your thoughts and feelings with that person, they qualify to be your bar buddy. If you’re wondering when this is important, it is for after taking a bar exam subject that you feel was downright unfair and you are likely going to flunk. Believe me, there is that one subject for everyone.

You will need someone to talk to in these situations. After you have expressed all your frustrations, you’ll feel better and renewed to go at it again with the next bar exam schedule. In psychology, it is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy to help you with your anxieties. Bottling them up or downing alcohol is not a good idea, particularly if you still have other bar exam subjects to take.

One thing though: Never make another bar examinee as your bar buddy. While misery loves company, it will not do you any good to either of you. You will be re-echoing and amplifying to each other your anxieties – which is not good, not good at all.

A good bar buddy is someone you can listen to you without judgment. He/she will be a source of comfort. And in some cases, that one person who will say to you these three simple words: it is okay.

7. Adjust your body clock.

There are for sure some of you who have been studying late in the evenings until early in the morning during your bar exam review. You better adjust your body clock to be at aligned with the time for taking the bar exam. You don’t want to be a yawn away from dozing off during your exam. (Yes, there are cases when an examinee dozes off. And no, the proctor has no responsibility of waking you up.)

Also, note that changing your circadian rhythm or body clock takes some time. It is not just a matter of days but weeks depending on your body of course. From what I recall, there are research which suggests that it can take up to three weeks before a body can fully adjust to a new body clock or behavior. So, do it soon.

8. Get some sunshine and exercise

Sunshine and exercise are the enemy of anxiety and the jitters.

If your area allows for exercise, go out in the morning or in the afternoon for a walk. Get some sunshine, stretch your muscles. It will work wonders for your mind and your mood. I’m sure you are already familiar of Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano which translates to “a sound mind in a sound body.”

This is particularly more important as the bar exam approaches and during the month of the bar exam, especially after every bar exam Sunday. Your mind, body, and spirit, will surely thank you for it.

9. Get vaccinated if you have the opportunity.

There’s a saying among junior lawyers: A dead lawyer is a useless one.

You really don’t want to take the bar exam and don’t see through the results because you are somewhere else – on a very different place apart from the living.

Of course, I know and understand that this may be difficult in areas with low supplies of vaccines. I’m just saying, if it is possible – meaning it is available in your area and there is sufficient supply, do get the vaccine.

If for some reason you are unable to get vaccinated, make sure to be extra careful and be cautious during your exam day. Again, you may want to stick around get your A-t-t-y.

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So there, as cliche as it sounds, make sure to use your next 30 days wisely. Avoid going with the flow. Rather, actively take the reins and, yes, own your bar exam!

All the best and keep safe.