Reflecting on the Bar Exam

Last week I sat for the California Bar exam. Like other law school exams and traditions the bar exam has been criticized as being insufficiently gender-neutral. It's a racehorse style exam, which rewards quick thinking and automated recall rather than reflection. This is not the best measure of many women's abilities or knowledge of a topic. You know what, though? I'm used to dealing with whatever possible disadvantage that test format might create for me. Here's what I'm not used to: having to carry my tampons in a clear plastic bag for inspection by my proctor, not to mention having to sit for 4.5 hours without going to the bathroom.

I don't have a lot of useful commentary here--it's just so ridiculous and blatantly disadvantageous to women. You can study and improve your mental ability to take these kinds of tests. So the fact that the bar exam tests skills which men generally possess innately, but women must cultivate, isn't ideal, but it's not insurmountable either. The size of my bladder and the fact of menstruation, however, are immutable. The bar exam really ought to consider drafting policies which allow both sexes an equal opportunity to sit for the bar without fear of physical detriment or embarrassment.

In case you work for the bar association and are having trouble coming up with solutions, let me be more explicit:

1. If you need to limit what we can bring into the exam, and won't allow a toiletry bag or purse, then provide feminine hygiene products in the bathroom.

2. If you can't test in shorter intervals, then allow a bathroom break after the first 45 minutes of directions and after testing before the 45 minutes of directions which follow the exam.

3. Do not choose a location which does not have adequate facilities for the women taking your exam. You need enough bathrooms so that every woman can actually go to the bathroom before the exam and after, and not because she waited in line for 30 minutes, thereby missing the first five minutes of testing or her lunch break. If no such venue exists, I suggest port-a-potties.



  CLEVER, VERY CLEVER!!  You made me smile because you are so completely correct.  I how these are issues that will be corrected as more women embrace the legal profession.  I do not take reparation lightly.  So much room for improvement and you just might be the person to make it happen.  Path maker!


A solution to the bathroom problem can be found for some in the product called Instead. (You can google it.)  I hope I wont get in trouble for recommending a product but without it the bathroom issue could keep me from taking the bar. Thanks for the article and enlightening us to some otherwise unmentioned concerns.


I couldn't agree with you more.  And given how much we pay to take the exam, they certainly can foot the bill for some menstrual products in the bathrooms. 
My biggest peeve was the immense line for the women's bathrooms and the nonexistent line for the men's bathrooms.  THIS IS TOTALLY PREDICTABLE!!  It happens wherever there are public restrooms and big events.  Yet, given the importance of the bar exam and the time crunch, they can't find a solution???  Give one of the men's bathrooms to the women!  (Especially since there were 4 of each at the San Mateo, CA site.)  Don't designate an entire bathroom just for the proctors to use…they can wait just like everyone else, and instead designate it as another women's bathroom.  Bring in some port-a-potties.  (What an easy solution!)  Or choose another testing site that can provide equity for women's and men's urination needs!

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe