For once, I don’t mean THAT kind of bar exam.
No, I mean the three-day multijurisdictional bitchslap that so many law graduates endure at the end of each July. It’s a different kind of beast from regular law school exams because it essentially tests you on two full years of law school, plus quite a bit of stuff you didn’t ever cover in law school that you have to teach yourself. You spend basically the length of a semester studying for it like it’s a full-time job, starting as soon as your last finals are over (even before graduation). Assuming for the moment that I actually passed it, a tremendous part of that is due to principles and philosophies I learned during my two-and-a-half years of CrossFit.
1. It’s a Hero WOD – pace yourself!
It really struck me when we did the Memorial Day WOD that “Murph” had a lot in common with studying for (and taking!) the bar exam. If you look at the whole workout, it’s overwhelming. But if you break it down into a run, 10 rounds of 10-20-30, and another run, and just approach each task as you get to it, you’re able to get through it. The NY/NJ bar exam is 250 multiple choice questions, 12 essays, and a mega-essay called the Multistate Performance Test. The box of materials my test-prep company sent me just in paper form weighted 17 pounds, plus there was a ton of hours of video and online material. But I just focused on what I needed to accomplish each day and tried not to worry about how many days/essays/videos/question banks remained.
2. Work on your goats/Don’t be a WOD-picker
I would have been perfectly happy to do Criminal Procedure essays every day and never look at another Property essay as long as I lived, in the same way I could happily do backsquats every day and never do another burpee. But that’s not going to make be any better at burpees or at Property law. And being a well-rounded testtaker, like a well-rounded athlete, means working on your weaknesses, not your strengths. And for me, that meant teaching myself Property and Civil Procedure, no matter how much I disliked it.
3. Consult your coaches
You can ask Tim, MK, or Lanny to confirm, but I suspect you already know that I like to gather the maximum information possible – about technique, about scaling, about programming. I like to go into a workout or a strength session with a plan. And I wanted a well-researched plan for this test as well. So I looked to the experts – people who professionally helped get law grads ready for the test, plus classmates I trusted who had passed it the year before. A lot of their most useful advice involved logistics – advising me to make a hotel reservation way in advance in case I had to go to Albany to take the test, or mentioning that they wished they had brought lunch instead of trying to buy it during the lunch break. But all of their information let me focus on learning the information I needed for the test itself instead of worrying about the details surrounding it.
My schedule has always been crazy. Throughout law school, I had a full time job with a wacky schedule, so there were a lot of weeks where I wasn’t home for any meals, and even under the best of circumstances, I was rarely home for more than 5. I was supervising rehearsals that went until 11pm in the city, so even when I wasn’t physically there, I tried to keep my phone on and be available in case of emergency. But my natural inclination is to be asleep by 10pm and awake at 6am. I was finally able (for most of the study time) to arrange my schedule to maximize my effectiveness as a student/studier. And for the most part, I was eating well, snacking on raw bell peppers or almonds instead of M&Ms or Doritos. Since I am the one who does the grocery shopping in my house, in the week leading up to the exam there was quite a bit more takeout, but I was able to go through the whole test prep process without relying on Redbull or massive quantities of coffee, which meant no dips in focus or stamina on the actual test. I also tried to pry myself away from my flashcards and get to Maxability on a regular basis to get rid of some of the test stress and refocus myself.
5. Not everyday is a PR day
We all know how frustrating it can be to go into a benchmark workout or a max strength day and not exceed our performance from the last time. But we also know there are plenty of reasons that we don’t PR aside from us getting weaker or softer. I had to remind myself of that on days when I’d do practice questions and struggle in an area that I had crushed the day before. Some days there was no rhyme or reason to why certain things were suddenly more difficult, but dwelling on missed questions rather than moving on and using them wouldn’t help when I had to take them on the next time.
6. Cheating Reps only hurts you
Bragging about how fast you did “Karen” won’t impress anyone if they know you don’t get deep enough on your squats or you don’t clear the 10’ mark on the wall. Similarly, it doesn’t do me any good to say that I’ve been studying fourteen hours a day if I’m counting my Candy Crush breaks as actual work time. Breaks are important, of course, but making sure you’re putting in the work you claim to be is the only way to improve.
7. Prepare for the unknown and the unknowable
We’ve heard Dave Castro say that CrossFit is about preparing for the “unknown and the unknowable” right before throwing some awful twist out there like a Fran ladder. But, behind each of his sadistic Games workouts, you can find a pattern in his programming. There are certain things that are almost guaranteed to appear – swimming, snatches, and rope climbs, for example. You don’t know how many or how difficult, but you know they’ll show up, often with some evil twist. In the same way, the Bar Examiners have favorite elements to include. Looking back through old tests told me that there was absolutely going to be a New York Wills question, and reading old model answers told me that New Jersey loves it when you explain the Fourth Amendment to them as if they’ve never read it. Practicing what has come before then allows you to see something completely new and go “ok, this is similar to this other thing, so I should approach it the same way.” It’s like trying deficit handstand pushups for the first time after doing plenty of Rx ones. It may be a little harder, and a little different, but you can use information you already have to get through it.
8. I got through 14.5, I can get through this
I didn’t want to do 14.5. Like, I REALLY didn’t want to do 14.5. What do you mean, no time cap?! Do you know how bad I am at thrusters and burpees? But 14.5 was a mental test even more than it was a physical one. The hardest part was getting my head right to get started. Because once I started, there was no way I wasn’t going to finish. I had scores for every Open workout since I started CrossFit, and I wasn’t going to let this masochistic Fran variation beat me. I had moments where I felt similar feelings towards the Bar Exam. Sometimes I really think the Board of Bar Examiners tries to make the process surrounding the test as much of a challenge as the test itself. (And this is BEFORE “Barghazi” and the ExamSoft nightmare of 2014, which I think I was less emotionally tortured by than most.) But knowing that I had spent four years in law school working my butt off meant that I wasn’t going to let this one test stand in my way. And while it was three days long, not 39 minutes and 51 seconds, the Bar Exam was going to hurt way less. So I just needed to suck it up and get back to work.