How to pass, nay, top the bar exams

MANILA, Philippines—Last Sunday, I commented on the dismal results of the 2007 bar exams. I said that it was high time the Supreme Court, the Philippine president and the law schools collaborated to produce better lawyers. “We concur,” chorused many readers. But the more pressing query of law students and reviewees for the 2008 test is “Can you give us tips on how to pass the 2008 tests”

Having taken the exams eons ago, I felt inadequate answering the question. Besides, I placed only sixth. So I called someone more qualified, 2005 topnotcher Joan de Venecia. In turn, she summoned help from two other numero unos, Arlene Maneja (2002) and Mercedita Ona (2007). Incidentally, Arlene comes from UST, Joan from UP and Mercedita from Ateneo de Manila. Here are their common tips.

Believe that you deserve to take the test. Forget the times you botched up a recitation or failed an exam. You’re past that. Believe that you have been allowed to sit for the bar because you have a fighting chance to pass it. Cultivate composure with that thought. You’ll need it.

Make time for serious self-evaluation. Have an honest assessment of the subjects you are good at, and those you feel you have an inadequate foundation on. If you sincerely believe that you do not have sufficient knowledge of a particular subject, accept it humbly and know that you still have a number of months to study for it. Adjust the number of days devoted to each subject according to the results of your self-assessment. A schedule is recommended to serve as a guide as to how many days you can allot for every subject.

Have a study plan and be realistic about it. At the start of the bar review, set aside all the materials you want to cover—all the books, reviewers and notes for each subject. Make it your guide and pace yourself. People without a plan either underestimate the workload or get swamped with available materials; either way, they don’t finish everything. So too, organize your review materials. Time is of the essence during the bar review. You cannot afford to waste time by looking for misplaced review materials. Maintain eight separate boxes or drawers for each of the subjects. This will help you sort through your materials and decide which to read during your pre-week.

Be realistic about your capabilities. People say they will “start afresh” during the bar review—study more, play less. That’s nice but it rarely happens. So, in setting a study plan, be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to attend review lectures, to wake up late, to be lazy, to go out and to have fun. The bar test is difficult enough without making yourself sick because of unrealistic expectations.

Do not compare yourself with other reviewees. We all have our own rhythm. Listen to yours. Bar preparation is an individual task. It is ultimately your understanding of the law and its varied nuances, not how many readings you do, or the laws that you memorize verbatim that makes the difference.

Be physically fit. Try to get regular exercise. Eat nourishing meals. Get enough sleep every day. Take vitamins and supplements. Manage your stress. Remember, all your efforts will be wasted when your body bogs down.

Use your time wisely. Sit in a review class or do personal reading? If you know the subject well enough, refresh yourself by attending review classes. If not, read up first. Review classes assume a certain level of knowledge and, without it, you’ll be lost during the discussion and waste valuable time. Know that you still have the pre-week review for all those “bar tips” that most reviewers give.

Abandon all emotional problems. Inform your family and friends about what you are going through in preparing for and in taking the exam. Ask for their understanding and support. The last thing you need is additional source of stress when preparing for the bar is draining enough. Avoid all distractions. Keep your focus.

Perfect your handwriting and grammar. Bar examiners have to go through thousands of exam booklets, and they are only human. As would any other normal person, they appreciate, and understand more, an answer that is at the very minimum, readable and logical. All three topnotchers have good handwriting, and believe that their passing, nay topping, the bar was in large part due to this. So, practice writing neatly, legibly and fast.

If you are a visual person write down your notes. This exercise will aid your quest for a beautiful penmanship, and help you retain the facts and the law that may be difficult to retrieve as you store more information in your brain bank.

Study smartly. Streamline. Codal provisions, a good reviewer for each subject and updates on jurisprudence should suffice. Master the basics. Understand the substance of the law and how to apply it to given situations. Recall legal provisions during your spare time. Listen to audio codals when you travel.

Ask for updates. Doctrines that you have studied in school may have already been overturned or modified by the Supreme Court or by Congress. Request your bar operations team to include abbreviated facts in the updates, because bar questions are often facts-based.

Pray. Pray. Pray.

A final reminder. There is no shortcut to passing the bar. If you want to pass on the first take, you have to put in the hours, and get yourself in the mood to study. Do not focus on things you cannot control (e.g., bar examiners, kinds of questions). Devote all your energies to studying and positive thinking. Good luck!

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