Rules Are Made To Be Broken

One of the rules I learned during bar prep was that you should study in a place where you won't be detected. I was told to study in a quiet area where no one could bother me and I could focus solely on my information. It's worked well for hundreds of students and it would be what worked, I was told.

I immediately broke that rule.

Why break such a fundamental rule of bar prep, you ask? 

Because it's a dumb rule.

Yes, I know that's juvenile but allow me to explain a bit.

When I sat for the February bar exam, there were 1,349 other students sitting in that room with me. Those students shifted, coughed, insisted on running to bathrooms to pee/scream, and made noises that I can't even begin to describe. That's not even counting the number of proctors and monitors that were moving up and down the rows of students like prison guards ensuring that we were not cheating. The room is huge and everything echoes. Look at the picture and now imagine over a thousand nervous, agitated, panicked people in there. There's a lot going on in that room during one of the most critical times of any law students life that could destroy a normal persons concentration.

And yet the world of law insists that you study in absolute silence, away from distractions and away from noise. 

Are you seeing now why the rule is dumb?

I've worked in various positions from Appeals Specialist for a government subcontractor to working for a theme park. But in every company I did the same thing eventually: I was a trainer. Throughout law school I used my experiences as a trainer to help me survive. One of the critical ways we used to train incoming employees for their jobs was to put them in realistic situations, under pressure, and with pre-programmed problems that would arise. It not only helped us as trainers spot those who needed additional assistance but it also help ease the shock on new employees when they were finally on their own.

One of those things that I did during law school that I attribute to my training background was that I always studied with noise. Most law students I knew barely watched TV. In my house, the TV was always on. Every law professor I had probably cringed when they read that. But I had a TV on almost all times. I find that TV was better to work with that music because there are not always smooth transitions with television. There's commercials, changes in music and annoying voices. By keeping the television on, I trained myself to tune out those noises and distractions so that I could focus in on practice questions and memorizing. And I didn't deviate from this during bar prep. The television might not have been on all the time, but mostly at night it was. I kept it on towards the end of bar prep when I did practice questions.

But I didn't stop there. 

I became known by my Starbucks barrista (scolded also for scaring other customers when I would mutter to myself about murder and manslaughter) and by my Panera bakery workers during bar prep (who found it amusing to quiz me). I studied outdoors and in classrooms. I studied in lobbies of two law schools and also worked in my favorite place on earth: Chipotle. Every where Joanne went her bar books were sure to go, my mom would joke.   


Because people were constantly moving around. People would get up to get food, to find tables, or to leave. There was also noise. The temperature of these places would vary. The light might be too bright or too low. I had no control.

These are the same concerns you face when you enter that bar exam room. By studying in less than ideal conditions I had actually managed to condition myself for what it would be like in the Tampa Convention Center those two days in February. A professor laughed the other day and said that I became a bar exam ninja but I had no idea how cold or hot the room would be or if people would be running out of the room passed me in order to escape the exam. I had no control over what would happen during that exam any more than you can control what will happen during yours.

So my advice is to put yourself every so often during bar prep in less than ideal conditions. Study in public, or study with the TV on and your family wandering around. Crank the heat up in your place or blast the air conditioner. Put yourself in as many bad situations as you can and evaluate after each one how you did. If you figure out how you did in those conditions then you will be able to figure out how to adapt and compensate when those situations arise.

For example, according to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners rules you are not permitted to have a hoodie on during the exam. So I knew I could use a hood to block out people moving in my peripheral vision. But, when I was out in public I realized that having long, thick hair worked to my advantage. I was able to use my hair as a screen and it helped me stay within the Board's rules. During the exam, I made sure my hair was straight and down. I can't tell you what happened beside me at all during the exam because I had my "hair screen" on. Had I not evaluated my public studying and how I could block out movements in the corners of my eyes I might not have been able to concentrate as well when it came to exam time.

It all is going to boil down during the exam to your ability to focus you and use the knowledge you've attained to get as many points as possible. Just like studying information to be able to spit it back out on the exam is critical to your ability to gain points so is practicing in less than ideal conditions in case those same conditions present themselves in the exam room. Give yourself an advantage by studying this way from time to time. And also, enjoy that for a little while you can enjoy feeling like you are part of the world again.

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