So I survived my first pass at law school exams. Sorta. Or, said precisely, I survived exams but not without incident. In fact, the incident was a major, end-of-the-world mental breakdown. And I hope sharing my experience may help someone else. So, here we go:
Like a lot of law schools Profs, my Torts Prof stressed again and again that our take home exam could NOT be late under any circumstances. In fact, I believe the syllabus said we would be counted off 10% for every MINUTE the exam was late.
Now the concept of this late pentalty didn’t phase me, at first, because my Torts Prof also said that we would have 6 hours to complete an exam that should only take us 3 hours. So, why stress about a deadline that I’m sure to beat?
Then the exam rolled around. I studied with my study group for anywhere from 20-30 hours in the weeks before the exam. I felt ready. I wasn’t nervous, per say, more like excited.
I popped open the take home exam starting the 6 hour time clock and got to work.
I worked my little heart out. The exam was two questions. The first was your typical, crazy Torts fact pattern where everything that could go wrong would go wrong. The second question was a policy question (not uncommon in a Torts exam).
Now, you’re probably thinking, “two flipping questions? You lost your f’ing mind over two stinking questions?”
Yes. I did.
And here’s why:
I spent all six hours on the first question. It wasn't intentional. I simply didn’t manage my time well because I thought I’d finish in three hours (like the Prof said) and I wouldn’t even need to manage my time.
The first question completely kicked my ass. It was two and a half pages single spaced. There were a boat load of legal issues and a ton of potential litigants.
This question was at least twice as long as the hypos we ran during our study session (btw, E&E's are fab). Not only was the question longer, but it was more dense. It was just packed with crap.
I spent at least one of the six hours OUTLINING my answer!!! Now, for those experienced in the way of law school exams you're thinking, "okay, an hour to outline? That's amateur hour. You must have chased issues that weren't actual issues." And you'd be correct. I'm owning that 100%.This was my first attempt at a law school exam. I prepared but I didn't really know what to anticipate.
But none of that worried me. I was calm and steady and went about my business detailing the issues and rules affiliated with intentional torts, negligence, and products liability. I raised defenses and tried to argue the points of law from both sides.
When I was nearly done with my first question I looked down at the clock and realized I had THREE MINUTES LEFT TO FINISH THE TEST AND UPLOAD IT TO THE SITE.
Cue major freak out!
My hands started shaking. My heart erupted into a thunderstorm of flutters and palpitations. I felt dizzy.
How did I let this happen? Where did the time go? What could I do?
I typed with trembling fingers a few bullets under question 2 (policy question) and hit save. Then I tried to log back into the electronic blue book site (aka the devil’s website) and that’s when the real panic set in.
I couldn’t log in.
I had 60 seconds to upload my exam or it would be late and I COULDN’T GET IN!
I started hyperventilating. My ears were ringing and my eyes swamped with tears.
This wasn’t happening, I thought. This must be a nightmare.
I took a deep breath and tried again. Still couldn’t get in. I tried again and again….nothin.
I was locked out of the site.
At this point the clock said I was thirteen minutes late. THIRTEEN!
That would mean I would get 130% deducted from my exam for being late (remember when the class stressed a 10% reduction in grade for every MINUTE it was late.)
I literally screamed. I wailed. I howled. I was devastated.
I had just flunked out of law school because of a stupid mistake!!!
Cue vomit. Literally.
That’s right. I threw up. I started crying hysterically and basically lost my mind. I tried again and again to get into the web site with no luck.
I remembered that if we had IT problems we were supposed to email the registrar….but I didn’t have their email address. So I set out on the web to find their email info.
Now you may be wondering why I didn’t just email the prof and explain my situation to him. In law school all grading of exams is anonymous. We aren’t allowed to discuss our exam tragedies with our profs.
I found the registrars email address and phone number and began calling. My calls went to voice mail. I left 4 hysterical voice mails (not intentionally, mind you, I was just that flipped out) and pleaded my case. I explained the mistake and the situation and that I wasn’t trying to pull one over on anyone. I cried.
Inbetween phone calls I sent emails. Broken, choppy, typo-filled emails with trembling fingers pleading my case. Nothing. No response.
I calmed down a bit – the horrible reality and crushing embarrassment settled over me (OMG I FLUNKED OUT OF LAW SCHOOL!) . I called the registrar again. This time, calm. And started repeating my case. Calmly.
But by the end of the message I was hysterically crying again.
I was a disaster.
Finally, about an hour and a half AFTER the exam was due I received an email from the registrar.
I assumed my career in law was over. Done. Just like that. In a blink of an eye. In a moment. All the possibilities were burned to the ground. All because of a dumb mistake.
My muscles hurt. My throat hurt. My face hurt from throwing up. I was shaking like a leaf and I sprawled out on the bathroom floor because it was cool on my flaming hot skin.
It was over.
I imagined telling my family that I failed. I pictured the disappointment on their face when I explained how and why I failed. The stupidity of everything.
And then I pictured telling my coworkers at my Day Job. And my friends.
Tears streamed down my face but I wasn’t shuddering with sobs anymore. I ached all over and lacked the strength to sob.
I literally thought my dream was dead.
But then my phone dinged. It was an email from the registrar. She said not to worry. That they have a handful of kids every year who can’t upload to the site and just to email her my exam.
But I also explained that it was now almost two hours late and I was going to fail because of the deductions for being late.
She responded saying not to worry, that they don’t count off for lateness if the exam is late due to technical difficulties.
And just like that, in a two sentence email, all my crying and hysterics were wiped clean.
I wasn’t going to fail (necessarily). I wasn’t going to get penalties for being late. I wasn’t technically late.
I worried and lost my shit for nothing. NOTHING.
Sure, I spent all my time on the first answer and didn’t actually answer the second question. But that didn’t mean I would fail. Even with that major blunder I could still ride the curve to success.
In the course of eight little hours I had: poured my brain into an exam answer, lost my mind, imaged the worst, cried until I threw up, and then was told not to worry – that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
It was like the clouds parted and a beam of light shone right on my face. I was going to be okay. I frantically researched the minimum passing grade in order to not have to repeat the class (D, btw). And then I searched for the curve distribution from the previous years. Only 3 people get D’s. No F’s.
That means even if I get the lowest grade in the class I will get a D. That’s not failing. And as unpleasant as receiving a D would be it’s not all bad because: I will not have to repeat the class!!! (God I love the curve)!
And when grades came out I was pleasantly surprised to receive a grade much higher than a D.
So, why share my humiliation an pain?
Because so much of law school is about competition and being the best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you aren’t on top you must be failing and the world is ending. It’s simply not true.
You can get low grades and still pass. You can think you did poorly on an exam and still do well.
Law school isn’t easy. It’s meant to be hard.
Embrace the hard --Embrace the journey--and don’t lose it over the little stuff.