The First Law School Exam

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It’s amazing what you can learn in eight hours. At a friend’s wedding I learned that, no matter what your incredibly Catholic mom claims, it’s not worth wasting your open bar reception being pregnant. At the state fair, after my tenth trip to the ATM that seemed to be magically growing in a field, the “insufficient funds” message taught me that ATM’s are always connected to your bank account, no matter how unlikely the location. Every Sunday, thanks to Bravo’s endless SVU marathons, I learn that Detective Stabler never gets any less hot.

Good times, for sure, but unfortunately the lessons aren’t always so pleasant. Case in point: my first ever law school exam. It was an eight-hour take home, and by the end of the day I learned exactly one thing: I’m functionally illiterate. Oh wait, strike that, I learned two things. The second is that people make really weird noises when they are trapped in the library, taking a final and panicking. That was interesting too.

Now, I realize that there is a lot of evidence that I am proficient in the English language. After all, I’ve graduated from various academic institutions. I’ve performed well on various standardized tests. I wrote this. All signs point to literacy.
Yet it appears I was incorrect. The final started fine. I had studied and I felt good as I picked up the questions. There was a moment of fear when the registrar time stamped my test (apparently schools aren’t kidding about the eight hour time limit) but nothing major. I even checked out the questions on the way to the library, and didn’t see anything for which I hadn’t prepared.

So I found myself an empty cubicle, reasonably sure that the final wouldn’t even take the full eight hours, and performed some study area set up. Extra strong coffee, diluted slightly by the smallest amount of milk possible: check. Highlighters, for the purpose of doodling in vibrant colors on various pieces of scrap paper: check. Mechanical pencil, since I can’t deal with the permanent nature of pens: check. I did have a small crisis when I opened my laptop and saw that 26 of my “friends” had provided me with pointless and uninteresting updates on Facebook, but keeping my eye on the prize I closed the tab without reading a single one. With a sigh, I even signed out of Gchat. I was serious.

So I began working, and things seemed to be going smoothly. Somewhere around noon I finished my first essay and noticed that I was running a little behind on time. Accordingly, I cancelled my planned break to check FML, and got started on some short answer questions instead. Around 1:30, I took a fifteen minute “lunch break” to devour a granola bar, then got back to work. Then, right around the seven-hour mark, I breathed a sigh of relief as I finished my last essay. The victory, however, would prove to be short lived.

All my life, I’ve believed in editing. In college, my final papers would go through multiple stages. There was the first draft written in a flurry of caffeine and affected brilliance, and the second draft where I’d redo half of what I’d written because it was incomprehensible. Then there’d be the peer edit, where my friends deleted even more, followed by a faculty read where I’d pretend to understand such scary grammatical phrases as “hanging participles” and “gerund agreement.” I’ve spent years pretending to know what the passive voice is. Then, my final edit would follow a couple of weeks after the first draft was written, and I’d proudly hand in the polished copy. Law school finals don’t work that way.

Instead, with a mere 60 minutes to my deadline, I began to reread my fourteen pages, figuring I’d change a few words here and there for clarity and be ready to print. After only a paragraph the dread began boiling in my stomach. Well, I’m pretty sure it was dread, since I’d eaten barely anything all day. As I skimmed through the first few pages I realized that, on a scale of one to ten, Yoda could have written in clearer English. It was a disaster, which would need way more than an hour to fix.

Of course, in the moment I did what I could. I managed to fix my first essay, and part of my second. I placed my short answers in the hands of God. I hit print, handed it in and flinched as my second timestamp showed that I had taken a full seven hours and fifty-seven minutes to produce a pile of garbage. I wandered out of the building in a daze, trying to remember my name, address and/or astrological sign.

Outside I ran into a few classmates who were also milling aimlessly on the sidewalk. We compared stories, and I took heart that they were feeling similar, and we all consoled each other by pointing out that it was pass/fail, and good practice for the many more finals we’d face in the future. Which, in the long run, is true. My lesson has been learned (law school finals need to be coherent the first time around), and now that I’ve passed it along, I can only hope my next eight-hour experience is a little more enjoyable.

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