What Is Taking The California Bar Exam Like?

Are you wondering taking the California Bar Exam is like?  Check out this post written by one of JD Advising’s tutors who took the July 2019 exam!

What Is Taking The California Bar Exam Like?

I took (and passed!) the July 2019 California Bar Exam in Oakland, California.  In this post, I describe my experience with this exam!

Traveling to California

The exam took place on Tuesday, July 30 and Wednesday, July 31.  I chose to travel to California from Michigan on Monday, July 29.  Although some people may have wanted to arrive in California sooner to adjust to the time change, I knew the time change would work in my favor.

The exam lasted from about 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time the first day and 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Pacific Time the second day.  Because I did not adjust to the time change, 5 p.m. California time was really 8 p.m. in my head (Eastern Time).  So, by not giving myself time to adjust to the time difference, it was almost 9 p.m. in my head as I was finishing the exam for the day.  However, I know that I do not get tired throughout the day (and I often work better in the evenings), so I was not worried about adjusting to the time change.

The exam was offered at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland, CA.  I stayed at the Oakland Marriott City Center, which is attached to the Convention Center (more on that below).  There are some other hotels within walking distance if you don’t want to stay with everyone else who is staying at the testing center.

As an out-of-state taker, I had the option of choosing between Oakland, CA and Los Angeles, CA test centers.  Several of the other testing locations (Sacramento, San Diego) were only available to California residents.  I received no indication that location selection was on a first-come, first-served basis, or that there was any type of “request” for a location.  Rather, I was simply able to choose the location I wanted.

Packing a bag for the test

The State Bar of California has a list of permitted items for the bar exam.  I definitely overpacked for the first day of the exam.  Although I did not bring a pillow, footrest, or back support, I did bring a book stand with me (which I did not use), paper clips (which I also did not use) and a clock, along with my pens and highlighters.   There are no clocks in the room at all, so it was helpful to have a clock.  However, about half of the people taking the exam had a personal clock. So, if I hadn’t brought one, it would have been easy to see the time on the clock of a person sitting near me.

I opted to take the test on my laptop.  I was slightly concerned that nowhere on the list was “power cord” included as a permitted item.  Nonetheless, power cords are permitted, and there is a power strip for each person to plug into.  Laptop cases, however, are not permitted and the proctors were very strict about making anyone with a laptop case leave that case in a box in the hallway during the exam.

Having stayed at the hotel connected to the convention center, I only brought exactly what I needed into the exam.  Many people brought additional items including bags and backpacks.  They were permitted to leave their prohibited items in the hall outside the testing area during the test.

The Testing Center

The test was administered in one giant room, with rows and rows (and rows) of tables set up with folding chairs for each student.  As indicated on the State Bar’s website, there are no clocks anywhere in the room.  The State Bar indicates on its website that tissues and water are available at the test center.  These items were actually in the hallway outside the test center, and there was only one area set up with water and tissues.  So, depending on where you were sitting in the room, it might take you a couple of minutes just to walk to the area where these items were located.  There were also bathrooms in that area.

Rows of tables (not individual desks) were set up in the test room.  Everyone faces the same direction, with seats spaced out enough that there is plenty of room to spread out as you are taking the exam.

Day One: Writing

The July 2019 exam will be notorious for the time the State Bar of California leaked the essay topics.  I thought there would be a lot more pandemonium surrounding the leak. However, truth be told, people weren’t really talking about it at the exam.  I think I only heard 2 or 3 people mention it.

The instructions on the first day took a long time to read.  I sat down in my seat around 8:15 a.m. I don’t think I started taking the test until about 9:30 a.m.  As indicated above, I did not end up using my book stand or paper clips (which someone suggested to me could be helpful to mark things in the file and library of the performance test).  In reality,  I only used my pens and highlighters.

I spent nearly the entire allotted time writing.  I marked on the top of each essay question the time at which one hour would expire and so, if I had any additional time before that time came, I edited the current essay I was working on before moving onto the next one.  Ultimately, I finished with about 10 minutes to spare.  Examinees were permitted to leave the room if they finished early, but only if they finished with more than 15 minutes left (so, if I had finished with 20 minutes to spare, I could have left early).  I, therefore, stayed in my seat until everyone was finished, all the materials were collected, and everyone was dismissed together.

Having stayed at the hotel, I just went back up to my room during the lunch break.  I was fortunate enough to take a family member with me to the exam. She went out and got my lunch while I was in the morning session and it was waiting for me when I arrived back at my room for the lunch break.   Because everyone in the exam room was dismissed at the same time, and many people were staying at the hotel, I did spend a lot of time waiting for the elevator to get back up to my room during the lunch break.   However, the lunch break was long enough that I did not feel too rushed when I finally got back to my room.

The lunch break lasted a little over an hour.  Then it was back to the test area for the afternoon portion of the exam.  This consisted of two essays plus a performance test. So, it was a little longer than the morning session (3 ½ hours instead of 3 hours).  Again, I spent the entire allotted amount of time writing and stayed seated until the very end.

Day Two:  Multiple Choice

The list of permitted items in the test room is different for day two than it is for the first day.   On the second day, you are not permitted to bring much, other than some pencils and a clock.  Again, the proctors were very strict about making examinees take prohibited items out to the hallway.  Interestingly, no pillows or footrests are permitted on the second day.  Many people had things like pens and paper clips that had to be taken out of the testing room on the second day because they were not permitted.

I am a very fast test-taker, so I did finish both sessions of multiple-choice questions early.  I was thus permitted to leave the testing room early and did not have to wait for the entire group to be dismissed.

Waiting for results

They made multiple announcements at the exam about results being released on November 15th.  They also gave reminders about the information that would be needed to access the results.  I had heard rumors that results might come out early, but they came out right on time – 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, November 15th.

I hope this post on what taking the California Bar Exam is like is helpful!

  • Looking to Pass the California Bar Exam?

    You can read more about our California Bar Exam services, including private tutoring, one-sheets, and essay feedback here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.