This is the last and final installment of the series “Advice for the bar examinee.” In part 1 & part 2 of the series Prof. Riguera gave some very interesting tips on what to do before the bar examinations. Now he concludes this series by discussing what to do the night before, during the bar exams and after the bar exams.
DURING SEPTEMBER AND THE BAR EXAM
AVOID UNNECESSARY STRESS AND DISTRACTIONS. Some stress and nerves is unavoidable during the 7-dfbx review and exam week and in fact helps to drive you harder in your studies. However undue and excessive stress and nerves is an enemy of the bar examinee as it results in a lack of sleep and hinders proper thinking both while studying and taking the exam itself. If you feel that you are unduly stressed or worried, learn relaxation techniques like yoga and deep breathing. Prayer and meditation are powerful relaxation techniques.
Learning to face and accept the possibility of failure also serves to relax us and unburden us of pressure. When I was reviewing for the bar, my prayer to God was not for me to pass the bar but that God should enlighten my mind and strengthen my body so that I would be able to give my best during the bar exam. I told myself that there is no shame in not passing the bar just so long as I give my best and that should I be fated not to pass the bar, there are other worthwhile endeavors that I could pursue in life. When I learned to face and accept the possibility of failure, I found that I was relaxed and serene when I was reviewing and when I was taking the bar. I believe that this is a better attitude than one in which the examinee cannot accept the possibility of failure or views it with such dread as he would the end of the world. The result is that the examinee cannot study and think well and his sleep is interrupted by nightmares of not being able to answer most of the bar exam questions.
I am reminded of the Book of the Five Rings in which the samurai warrior is taught to consider himself dead when he is in a swordfight. The samurai warrior thus fights with serenity and equanimity since he has nothing more to lose. Ignore or don’t mind useless distractions. Usually rumors of who the examiner is become widespread during this time and examinees worry themselves silly with the type of questions the rumored examiner usually asks and with obtaining notes and materials written by or about the rumored examiner. This is just a useless exercise which would distract you from doing what should be done: studying. All examiners are in the main bound by an unwritten law that their questions should be on the basics of the law and on significant jurisprudence. So just ignore the question of who the examiner might be and stick your nose to your review materials.
September is also the month for the annual frenetic paper chase by bar examinees. Examinees go on a quest for the Holy Grail of the bar exams: the red or blue notes from San Beda or Ateneo or the UP notes. These notes are supposed to embody the answers or even “leaks” of bar exam questions. This is balderdash. I graduated from Ateneo and worked in the bar-ops. I know that the so-called blue notes are simply compilations of probable bar questions with answers prepared by law students with a little assistance from the faculty. While they are definitely helpful, you don’t need to wail and grind your teeth if you do not get them. What is contained in the blue notes is more often than not also in your bar reviewers and review materials.
I know of an examinee who spent a lot more time looking for notes, tips, and leaks rather than studying. He failed the bar five times and is now exploring career opportunities with the CIA and the KGB.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP ON THE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM. This advice cannot be overemphasized. Adequate sleep makes the mind sharper and allows us to recall what we have studied with facility. So do not make the mistake of studying until midnight. The extra hours of study is not worth it if you find yourself sleepy and thinking sluggishly during the bar exam. You should hit the sack by 9 p.m. Do not panic if you find that you are unable to sleep. Just relax and continue lying in bed, at least your body will be rested. But do not make the mistake of standing up and studying. In that case you will lack both sleep and rest, and the chances of a disaster are multiplied threefold. Ron de Vera slept for only an hour the night before the first Sunday exam and for only 30 minutes the night before the second Sunday exam of 2004. He placed second. (Lat et al., Bar Blues, p. 85). Of course I’m not saying that you get only an hour’s sleep if you want to place in the top ten, what I’m saying is that there is no need for you to call 911 if you find yourself unable to fall into the arms of Morpheus.
I advise against taking sleeping pills. They often have the side effect of muddling up your thinking. I remember a bar examinee who, finding himself unable to sleep the night before the Civil Law exam, popped a sleeping pill. He was able to sleep all right, but the next day he found himself unable to distinguish between loco parentis and a crazy momma.
REMEMBER TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. Before you start reading and answering the questions, take the time to first read and understand the instructions. Quite a few examinees in their eagerness go straight to reading and answering the questions without bothering to read the instructions. This could be disastrous.
The instructions start by telling you the number of questions and the number of pages of your questionnaire. This information is important. First it will give you an idea of the length of the examination and the time which you need to allocate for each number. Second you should check that your questionnaire has the correct number of pages and questions. Your questionnaire might have a page lacking or two sheets may contain the same page. It is best to have these problems remedied before the start rather than to discover them to your chagrin at the middle of the exam. The instructions invariably tell you to start each number on a separate page and that an answer to a sub-question under the same number may be written continuously on the same and immediately succeeding pages until completed. In the 2009 Bar Examination, the first one held under the aegis of Bar Matter No. 1161 providing for two bar examiners per subject, the examinees where instructed to write their answers to Part I (given by the first examiner) and Part II (given by the other) in the corresponding portions in the booklet. Examinees who did not carefully read the instructions continued writing the answers for Part II in the portion for Part I.
NEVER LEAVE ANY QUESTION UNANSWERED. Even if you are totally clueless as to the answer to a question, give it your best try. Never leave any question unanswered. The examiner may feel slighted if you do not answer a question. He may think that you felt that the question was not properly phrased that is why did not answer it. Moreover a blank response will get you zero while giving it your best shot could net you 2 or 3 points which could spell the difference between flunking and passing.
MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY. Many examinees spend too much time on the first part of the exam and thus find themselves rushing through the second part or worse running out of time and leaving some questions unanswered. Learn to pace yourself properly. Taking mock bar exams will help you learn how to pace yourself in a 18 to 20 question examination.
DO NOT BE FLUSTERED BY “SCREWBALL” QUESTIONS. Those who do took the 1991 Bar Examination (like me) will never forget the infamous first question in Political Law: “What is the writ of amparo? Discuss its constitutional basis?” Considering that almost all of us examinees could not tell the difference between this writ and Ms. Amparo Munoz, the question had the effect of a sneak punch to the solar plexus. I can still picture in my mind the bar exam room at MLQU, everyone was too shocked to say anything but you could see the shock in everyone’s faces.
I was shell-shocked and absolutely flabbergasted. For about seven minutes, I just sat there, unable to think or write anything down. Eventually I was able to steady my nerves by thinking that if I found the question befuddling, quite a few others also probably did. I wrote down something about the writ having to do with the enforcement of civil rights and being of Latin American origin, which I vaguely remembered from some obscure news item in the Manila Bulletin about a speech of Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan.
Other “screwball” questions include one which asked who the current president of the International Court of Justice was, one which asked for the meaning of the acronym ACID (from a speech of Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban), and another which asked the examinee to define the Denicola test in intellectual property law. Such kinds of questions are not really expected to be answered correctly by the majority of the examinees (and even law professors) but are meant more to test the resolve and fortitude of one who aspires to be a lawyer. Do not panic or lose hope if you do not know the answer to the question. Just give it your best try and proceed to the other questions.
AFTER THE EXAM
DO NOT DISCUSS THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS. After you have taken a bar exam in a particular subject, forget about it and concentrate on preparing and studying for the next bar exam subject. After all you cannot undo what you have already written. Avoid discussing the probable answers and avoid people who delight in discussing them. The time spent on arguing and discussing the probable answers is best spent for relaxing and studying for the next exam. Even if you feel from the discussion that you’ve answered correctly, what good would it do you other than giving you a little confidence or morale boost? And if you discover that you’ve answered incorrectly, it would just be bad for your moral and could cause depression or panic, which is the last thing you need. Besides you might be surprised to know that in not a few cases, law professors and bar examiners differ as to the right answer to a question, so don’t worry your head off that you’ve blown the exam. I know of many cases where an examinee felt that he did poorly in a particular exam and what happened was that he got a high grade in it. Conversely many examinees had felt they did well in an exam but their grades turned out to be mediocre. So don’t pay undue attention to how you feel about an exam.