August 08, 2005

Wellen: Get a D

by Guest Contributor

(Alex Wellen is the author of the bar exam memoir Barman. He welcomes your thoughts at

Let me start off by saying that like most candidates who have sat for the bar -- in my case, the New York exam -- I walked out feeling as if I had failed. In fact, as the Results Day loomed closer and closer, I became convinced of it. I was more certain that I had failed the bar exam than I was certain about half the MBE questions and most of the essays. I had this big gorgeous diploma from a wonderful law school, I had tens of thousands of dollars in loans, I hadn't missed a single BAR/BRI or PMBR bar prep course all summer, I had served my 1000 hours of studying, and what did I have to show for it? Squat. I had probably failed the bar exam and I was going to have to go through the whole God-awful experience again.

Then, come mid-November, two weeks before the results arrived, I was hit with an epiphany. It was a number actually: 55. The number 55 would liberate me; it would set me free; the number 55 would give me hope. To arrive on this figure, I would need to dust off my engineering degree, look back at my BAR/BRI notes, identify variables and constants, and employ formulas, calculations, and weighted averages. Indulge me if you will as I reverse-engineer that precious figure:

Back in 1997, for the New York bar exam, we had to complete five essays, and according to BAR/BRI, we needed to receive a score of at least 5 out of 10 on each (50%). Then there were the 50 New York-specific multiple-choice questions. Here again, BAR/BRI told us to shoot for 25 out of 50 (50%). Finally there were the MBE questions. This time we were expected to fare a bit better. If we answered 125 out of 200 questions correctly (62.5%), BAR/BRI assured us that we would be in decent shape. Back then the New York portion of the exam was worth 60 percent and the MBE portion was worth 40. A weighted average of the minimum scores needed to pass each part generated the figure 55. I needed a 55 to pass the bar exam. Even back in elementary school, a score of 55 was an "F." I needed to get an F. I could do that. I could get an F. In the days right before the results arrived, I concluded: "If you got a D, Alex, you’re a genius."

Yes, I realize that times have changed, that the format of the New York bar exam, for example, now includes the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and that every state has different requirements and minimum standards, but I believe the advice still rings true. You don't need to nail this exam; all you've got to do is pass, even if they round up your score to the thousandth place. This sounds like simple advice, but it means nothing until you embrace it completely. Right before you break the seal on that bar exam booklet with your No. 2 pencil, remind yourself: "Get a D and be a genius."

August 8, 2005 12:33 AM | TrackBack

Brilliant and true. My motivating device for the bar exam was mnemonic in nature: AFK. I simply reminded myself to look around the exam room once in a while and remember that all I needed to do was to beat the Average F***ing Kid.

Posted by: John at August 12, 2005 11:39 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Sitting in Review
Armen (e-mail) #
PG (e-mail) #
Craig Konnoth (e-mail) #
About Us
Senior Status