Raising the Bar
Taking the bar is a big deal because it is the culmination of four long years in law school. If law school exams are tough, the bar exams are even tougher because of the vast scope and limited time to prepare. It is hard not because of the degree of difficulty of the questions. It is the whole process of initiation, the rite of passage, the nerve-wracking test of determination that makes the bar exams the most gruesome four weekends of a law student’s life.
KNOW THE ENEMY
The Philippine Bar Examination is the professional licensure examination for lawyers in the Philippines. It is the only professional examination in the country that is not supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission. The Supreme Court of the Philippines exclusively administers the examination.
The bar exam is not just a test of the examinee’s knowledge of the law. It is also a test of their character and determination. It is a rite of passage and a prerequisite for the practice of the most noble of professions. The examinations are held during the four Sundays of October every year at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. The examinations for the eight bar subjects follow a fixed schedule.
First Sunday: Political and International Law (AM) Labor and Social Legislation (PM); Second Sunday: Civil Law (AM) Taxation (PM); Third Sunday: Mercantile Law (AM) Criminal Law (PM); Fourth Sunday: Remedial Law (AM) Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises (PM).
The eight bar subjects are graded separately and each contribute to the general average in the following proportion: Political and International Law 15%; Labor and Social Legislation 10%; Civil Law 15%; Taxation 10%; Mercantile Law 15%; Criminal Law 10%; Remedial Law 20%; and Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises 5%. The passing average fixed by law is 75%, with no grade falling below 50% in any bar subject.
Examiners per Subject
The exams are prepared by examiners selected by the bar exams chairman who is an incumbent justice of the Supreme Court. The examiners identities are kept secret to avoid leaks. Law schools and their professors usually try to predict the questions depending on the hints on who the bar examiner is. An examiner is not allowed to teach the year preceding the bar exams he is to serve in such capacity.
The task of preparing questions and correcting the exam answer booklets (a notebook similar to a grade school notebook) is indeed very tedious. The examiners will have to read at least 5,000 booklets.
3-Strike and 5-Strike Rules
There is a Three-Failure Rule wherein candidates who have failed in the bar exams three times are not permitted to take another bar exam until they re-enroll and pass regular fourth year review and a pre-bar review course in an approved law school. In 2005, the Supreme Court implemented the Five-Strike Rule to limit the number of times a candidate may take the bar exams. The Supreme Court however recently lifted the Five-Strike Rule.
1. Know Thyself
Before starting the review do a self-assessment. Go over the bar exam coverage and identify your areas of strength and weaknesses. This will help you determine what subjects you need to give extra attention to. Tailor-fit your study schedule based on the result of your self-assessment.
2. Time is Gold
Time is not a luxury a bar examinee has. Imagine cramming four years of law school studies in a 4 or 6 month period! A study calendar is highly recommended. Based on your self-assessment, draw up a schedule and follow it for your review. Put time targets. Make sure, however that you have at least one day of rest.
3. Know the Basics
Your law school exams may be more difficult than the bar exams. Don’t worry too much about absurd questions. They might not appear anyway. Footnotes and little details may be asked during recitation in law school but are rarely asked in the bar exams.
4. Be Prepared
The Scouts’ Motto. Think, feel, act prepared. Be prepared mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
5. Think Positive
Negative vibes are counter-productive. Avoid them as much as possible. It would be good to talk to family, relatives, loved ones, significant others about what you are going through before the exams.
6. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Pacing is very important in preparing for and during the bar exams. After four years of law school, a law student deserves to go on a well deserved vacation before starting the review. If you rush in with your review, you might peak too soon. Don’t burnout.
7. One page at a time, one day at a time.
Read at your own pace. You will gain momentum eventually. Read your materials and read them again. Jot down notes. These notes come in handy during the pre-week preparations.
8. Write legibly.
The bar examiners will have to correct at least 5,000 booklets. This year, the Supreme Court is expecting a number of bar examinees. Save the examiners the trouble of reading terrible handwriting, for your own sake.
Practice how to write legible long hand or shift to short hand.
9. Write a Magnum Opus
Be conscious of grammar, conjugations and spelling. Learn to use a good legal writing style. Avoid too much legalese, contractions and using acronyms. Write neatly, observing margins.
Remember your answers must be clear, concise and complete. KISS – keep it simple stupid