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Taming the Toughest Bar Exam in the US

Taylor Fuentes and Kristen Arena

“Daunting” is a word that some law students have used when describing the California Bar exam.

Others call it “The Monster.”

But whatever nomenclature a student may ascribe to this exam, one thing remains universally true—preparation is the key to success in arguably the hardest Bar exam in the U.S.

Recent Bar-passers Taylor Fuentes ’18 and Kristen Arena ’18 agree, conceding different methods work for different people.

“I would tell California Western law students today to find what works best for you, and to stay in your own lane,” says Arena. “Be kind to yourself. Do not beat yourself up if you are not scoring as high as other students or you are not exactly where you want to be. Use all the resources around you, especially professors and the wonderful people in the Career and Professional Development Office,” she continues.

Fuentes counsels that procrastination should be avoided at all times. “Pay your fees early and print your test ticket early,” she says. “The same advice goes for studying. Do not put off that essay. Do not wait until the end of the week to catch up on multiple choice questions. The more you put off, the harder it will be to study at a reasonable pace.”

Fuentes chose California Western because of its commitment to pro bono legal work and its generous financial package—and she was not disappointed. “I left California Western with many happy memories,” says Fuentes. “The most lasting impression so far has been how supportive the professors and staff were and continue to be. That support system is essential while studying for the Bar and job hunting after Bar results are released,” she adds.

Arena always knew she wanted to be an attorney. “I have always wanted to help others, and a law degree is a powerful tool that enables you to do so in various ways,” she says. “I was drawn to California Western School of Law for a multitude of reasons—the most important being I believed it offered the most comprehensive hands-on learning experience and made its students practice ready.”

In preparing for the Bar exam both Fuentes and Arena used Barbri as their foundation, following the given schedules rigorously. “I kept up with Babri’s topic calendar and moved on from subjects even if I felt like I was not quite ready,” says Fuentes. “This was important because if I had waited until I felt ready to move on for each topic, I probably would still be studying today.”

Arena reveals that she constantly analyzed whether her study methods were effective, allowing herself to make changes if necessary. “Discipline was important to me,” she says. “I stuck to my rigid schedule during the week, and on the weekend, I would alter the hours to allow myself a little bit of rest.”

On taking the exam, Arena says she essentially played as she practiced. “Each essay I practiced during Bar prep, I tried to simulate Bar exam conditions,” she says. “I would put away my notes, give myself one hour, and attack the essay in a way that I would be comfortable attacking it on the day it mattered.”

With the multiple-choice portion of the exam pacing is critical says Fuentes. “I had already taken two full practice exams to perfect my pacing,” she says. “My method involved quickly reading the call of the question, reading the answer choices, and then closely reading the entire question. After this, I would determine if the question was answerable or if I needed to come back to it. If the question was one I needed to come back to, I put a big star next to the question and moved on.”

Fuentes says that with this method she finished 100 multiple choice questions with about 15 minutes to spare which gave her time to go back to her starred questions.

Since passing the Bar, both Arena and Fuentes have secured good jobs. Fuentes recently accepted a position with the Supreme Court of California as an attorney and Arena has been hired as a Deputy Public Defender at the San Diego Public Defender’s Office.

Both alumnae believe it is important to pay it forward in any way they can and see themselves involved with California Western in one way or another for the rest of their lives.

“I will always offer any insight I can to law students because I know exactly what they are going through,” says Arena. “Sometimes it is just nice to talk to someone who has been where you are.”

“The friendships I made during law school have also made a lasting impression,” adds Fuentes. “Nothing I have experienced so far brings people together like studying for law school exams.”

The responses in this article were prepared by Kristen Arena and Taylor Fuentes in their personal capacities. The responses expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not reflect the views of the Office of the Public Defender, the County of San Diego, or the Supreme Court of California.