The Cast of Characters
If I could have documented the period of time before the doors opened while every was waiting outside the Ontario Convention Center, I would have. I believe there were around 1,500 people at my testing center, and 8,000 overall in California.
What an interesting group of people. From people who went to law school straight out of college to people in their 50s-60s. The older men love Hawaiian shirts; everyone loves their flip-flops. One man wore a suit with a Lakers jersey underneath while other people were in pajama pants. There were people chain smoking and others praying. Jewish men wearing yarmulkes, Muslim women wearing Burqas, and people wearing traditional African attire. So many Asian people. So much more diversity than any law-setting I saw in DC; my roommate and I felt like we were at the UN convention.
Yet, even though the dress and ethnic diversity was different, the law school characters were all present. My favorite was the group of "Mean Girls." There was the classic queen bee/Regina character we called "Legally Blonde," who had about 10 pounds of makeup caked on every morning. She and her posse, walking behind her of course, matched with little spaghetti strap tops with velor pants, would give each other little hugs each morning, talk about how long it took them to blow dry their hair out in the morning, and blow kisses to each other once they went to their separate seats. I am not joking. [And before you liken me to Selma Blair's character in Legally Blonde, I am sure at least a few of these ladies are intelligent, but I really do not care about what hair product you use when I am trying to listen to instructions]
And as much as I tried not to, I was sizing up people sitting around me, as everyone else was probably doing. When the guy sitting two seats from me uploaded the wrong testing software (not sure how that is even possible), brought in a bottle of water after numerous warnings that we were not allowed to have any beverages in the room, and came in late almost every day, I thought to myself: I have to be smarter than that guy.
So the test itself. It is actually funny that everyone knows what the bar exam is but few people know what the test actually consists of, even law students.
The California bar exam is 3 full days of testing consisting of 6 essays, 2 performance tests (which are writing memos, affidavits, or other analysis/drafting exercises), and 200 multiple choice questions. Each day is broken up 2 3-hour sessions with a lunch break in the middle and some fingerprinting thrown in on the side. So it essentially feels like taking 6 back-to-back final exams that are all closed book.
If you think this sounds intense, it is. Whereas most states are only two days, California's is three. This adds to its reputation as the hardest test in the nation. It really is a mental marathon. You have to keep going even if you get a tricky essay on the morning of day 1. You have to keep going even if the girl behind you is tearing up because her computer crashed, the girl in front of you is having a nervous breakdown because she pressed start 1/2 hour before go time, and the guys in front of you will not stop talking about yesterday's questions. You have to keep going even if your friends on the East Coast are done and you still have an entire day to go.
Those three days are the fastest and longest 18 hours of your life. The instructions could not feel any longer and the time to write the essays could not feel any shorter. It is such an out-of-body experience. At the end of each day, I asked myself "did I really just do that?"
I am still a little bit in shock, even a week later. But more on that tomorrow . . .