Friday, August 5, 2011

Commencing, Part Two

I can't help but think some self-congratulation is in order. Not only did I survive sitting the Texas bar exam last week, but I think I've taken excellent advantage of the eight days since then to relax and have fun. But I guess that's only admirable if you can understand how much it had started to feel like I might never relax or have fun again. So let's start at the beginning.
When Russell and I got back from Cambridge, we had to settle into a mostly empty house for about two weeks while our moving pods were on their way. All we had were some basics I'd needed to live here those three weeks I came home before commencement (dishes, towels, a mattress) plus a few pieces of furniture I'd bought to help fill the bigger space (barstools, a small china cabinet, an armchair). No couch, dining table, TV, desks, nada. This wore on Russell and me somewhat, but our housemate and study buddy for the summer, Robert (the same one with the crazy trek to commencement I mentioned last post) seemed to have the hardest time with it. I kept finding him contorted in odd positions trying to read, which I felt bad about.

Especially since there wasn't much fun going on to distract us. Bar review classes were already underway when we got back from commencement, so we had no time to ease in. Each day we headed to a private conference center in north-central Austin for a lecture lasting from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or so, and sometimes another from 1:30 to about 4 p.m. Each lecture covered a different topic due to be tested on the bar exam, from Constitutional Law to Wills and Estate Administration.

Of the nine books of study materials we received in advance, many as thick and floppy as phone books, one was a big black book full of worksheets for these lectures. Basically these were outlines of the topics with blanks every so often for us to fill in, which several lecturers admitted were only there to keep us awake. Really advanced, well-proven teaching techniques, don't you think? This lasted four or six days a week (for some reason they alternated between giving us one-day and three-day weekends) for eight weeks. As Russell would put it, BARF.

And of course, that was only the in-class part. Outside of class, the bar review company's website fed us reading and practice assignments daily. Each night we were supposed to re-read the worksheet from that day's lecture, then practice answering multiple-choice or essay questions on it, then review the next day's topic in advance. I did a lot of this stuff - always the reading for the next day, often the practice questions - but it was literally not possible to do it all and have anything resembling a life. Eating dinner with friends, seeing a movie once in a while, or most importantly meeting my mom for her daily radiation treatments all happened at the cost of some bar review task or other. Robert had fewer of these kinds of things going on, and he was a lot more willing to turn down social invitations than me, so he got through a lot more. But I just couldn't bring myself to sacrifice that much for a pass-fail test.

Meanwhile, our moving pods also arrived at long last, and Russell and his dad managed to unload them completely in one morning while we had class. But unpacking everything was left to us, and I was determined to live out of boxes for as short a time as possible, knowing what the clutter and disorder would do to my test-prep focus in the long run. After a few days balancing the minimum necessary studying with a frenzy of unpacking, organizing, furniture-arranging, picture-framing, curtain-hanging, and cleaning, the house was more or less to my satisfaction. I left a few things for later, things I still need to do, but I think it looks pretty great. I'll try to post pictures sometime soon.

So then it was back to the bar review grind, but at least with enough furniture to make us all comfortable this time. I got my balance of (fairly) heavy studying and (some) social life back, even managing three days in Las Vegas with Russell's family in late June and a fantastic housewarming/cookout with about 20 people on July 4th. The next day, just like one of our bar lecturers predicted, I kicked into high gear. We had one week of classes left; they ended two weeks before the exam began on July 26. I made a schedule with the aim of finishing all the work the bar review people had recommended, plus a little more on my weaker subjects, in time for the exam. This would require about 4-5 practice essays or multiple choice sets per day, plus the necessary reading to review for them.

Amazingly, I got it done. Besides about 2/3 of a day to see the final Harry Potter movie with a big group I'd organized and one day to float the Comal River on inner tubes with some friends soon to move out of state, I took virtually no breaks for three weeks. My scores on the practice multiple choice sets fluctuated, but mostly stayed above passing, and the essays I submitted for grading online were getting high enough scores to bolster the rest if need be. Exhausted, I took the bar lecturers' advice and did virtually no studying the last day before the exam. I saw Harry Potter again at the Alamo Drafthouse with my mom, wandered the aisles at Target, had a couple of good arguments with Robert (a Republican, which if it isn't glaringly obvious yet is not my persuasion) and bought enough breakfast tacos to eat on the way out the door each day of the test.

Which went fine. Seriously. So fine, and so much as expected, that I actually had moments of doubt wondering what I was missing. It was held in a big, bare convention space in the city's Palmer Events Center, just across the river from downtown and a little over ten minutes from our house. My assigned seat was at the end (very much my preference) of one of several hundred long, metal tables covered in white paper, with power strips running underneath for the parts of the exam where we could use laptops. I got surprisingly comfortable there over the three days.

The 26th was only a half-day of testing, with the 90-minute Multistate Performance Test (a kind of closed-universe problem-solving thing where you use a made-up case file to write a legal document, in this case a memo persuading members of a state committee that something would be unethical) and the 45-minute Criminal Procedure & Evidence and Civil Procedure & Evidence short-answer tests that day. I was more time-pressured than I had been in practice, so I got to proofread less than usual, but afterward everyone else said the same thing. I was also happy to have remembered (vaguely, but enough to cobble together an answer) an obscure bit of vocabulary that seemed to stump a lot of people on one question. I know because, however much we were told not to, Robert and I and the group we sat with at bar review couldn't resist going over our general impressions afterward.

The 27th was the Multistate Bar Exam, the multiple-choice part I had been a tad more nervous about. In the three-hour morning session, I got hung up on a Contracts question I felt like I should know but didn't, and that shook my confidence for a while. But overall, it felt like most of my practice runs: several questions I was certain about, a few where I had no clue, and a lot I could narrow down to two answer choices but then had to guess. Since a passing score often involves only half to two-thirds correct answers, this seemed all right. After sandwiches at nearby café for lunch, the second half felt different - fewer questions I was certain about, but a lot more where I was more than half sure - but equally fine. Driving home afterward, Robert and I both said we felt like we did what we needed to do: in his case, get a score high enough to balance out a weaker essay section the next day, and in my case, get a score that could be balanced out by better essays.

The 28th was my best day by far; not only were the essays bound to be my strong suit anyway, but I also felt like the examiners didn't throw many of the curve balls they could have. On two different questions, I couldn't remember an important part of the topic being tested, and then the question turned out to skirt that part completely, so I could give a super complete answer without it. On others, I couldn't remember ever learning a particular legal test and had to make one up based on the facts that seemed to be important in the question. But we'd been told this would be necessary on a regular basis and that the examiners would weigh our reasoning and organization much more heavily than our memory for actual law, so that was no cause for concern.

Leaving the exam site that day, shaky with relief, I was so happy to be ending on that high note. After a few hours decompressing at home, Russell took Robert and I to a pub downtown for fried pickles, burgers, and (in my case) too many prickly pear margaritas. We shouted a lot of things about having shown the bar examiners who was boss. It was excellent.

So then the exam was over, and with it my time as a student, the most important role I have played every day of my life so far. Russell and I knew this deserved some commemoration, even though we lacked the budget (and I frankly knew I would lack the energy) for anything so exotic as the trips to Asia, Turkey, Peru, and who knows where else my classmates had planned. So we booked five days at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, which is just outside Bastrop State Park, about an hour drive from Austin. We just got back, and oh my god, the time we had!

The first night we watched the resort's excellent choice of family movie, Mulan, outdoors on the grass with free popcorn. The first full day we went rock climbing and zip lining at the neighboring McKinney Roughs Nature Park, then lounged by the gorgeous pool and floated the "crooked river" tube ride to our hearts' content. The second day, we took advantage of the free bicycle checkout to explore the grounds, including meeting some adolescent alpaca and miniature donkeys in the pasture (too cute to be true.) We threw horseshoes, spent more time by the pool, and then watched another outdoor movie, this time Finding Nemo. The next day was probably the best: after riding bikes again, we took a 3.5-mile kayak trip on the Colorado River, beginning upstream from the resort and winding up on our own doorstep. It was the most beautiful combination of sun, water, trees, and wildlife I'd seen in a long time. And after a little recovery time back in our room, I headed - you guessed it - back to the pool. Followed by a foot treatment at the nearby spa. Followed by room service and a movie with Russell. Followed by our last night of blissful sleep without our feline alarm clock going off every few hours.

It was hard coming home from all that, and I can't recommend the place enough to anyone wanting a vacation in Central Texas. Combining just enough relaxation with just enough adventure, it was the perfect way to celebrate our return to this beautiful state and kick off this next phase in my life. I'll miss so many things about the last phase (not the most recent few months, obviously), but mostly can't wait to get going on the new one.


Michael said...

well done you! :-)

Legal Eagle said...

Well Harvard must be a great experience and law school is only three year so, enjoy your time at Harvard because that is the last three years you can enjoy your young adulthood before facing the real world.

friv juegos said...

I can understand what you share, the given problem and what can be resolved. Everything related to each other and the logic.