Taking the Bar Exam, Mom-Style

March 11, 2013 by Jennifer Carsen

Two weeks ago, I took the New Hampshire bar exam. Why, you may ask? It’s a reasonable question.

It’s a long story, but the short version is that I had an offer several months back to become part of a thriving local law practice, which I wound up reluctantly turning down; the commute was just too long.

I am admitted to practice in Illinois (where, unhelpfully, I no longer live), but I’ve been out of active practice for so long that the only way to get back in here in New Hampshire is by re-taking the bar exam.

Currently, I have no immediate plans to start practicing law again, but the job offer had landed me squarely in bar-exam-study mode, and it just seemed to make sense to go ahead and take the damn thing already. As Winston Churchill famously said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Which is how I wound up in our state’s capital in the middle of a snowstorm for a few days the last week of February with a pile of freshly sharpened #2 pencils. It was, to put it mildly, a very different experience than taking the bar exam in Chicago as a brand-new law school graduate back in 1999:

Bar prep then: I am 25 years old and spend my days studying the tiniest minutiae of every conceivable area of testable law, and my nights at Chicago’s finest bars and restaurants. The Great Big Law Firm at which I have an offer is paying me handsomely to devote myself full-time to my studies for two months. I know everything cold, backwards and forwards.

Bar prep now: I am pushing 40 and skim outlines for broad concepts during breaks at my full-time job and when my kids are sleeping. I glean the general gist, more or less, of what I need to know. My nightlife consists of two-for-$12 bottles of red wine and attempting to stay up past 8:30.


Bar nerves then: The bar exam is the single biggest thing in my life. I am a bundle of nerves and sleep poorly for several days before, during, and after the test.

Bar nerves now: My children are the single biggest thing in my life – and far more physically and mentally challenging than anything you can study for. The prospect of filling in 200 little circles on a standardized test now holds no particular terrors for me. I sleep poorly only because that’s what moms do.


The day before the test, then: A frantic flurry of flashcards, mnemonics, and prayers.

The day before the test, now: A trip to the pediatrician with my six-month-old in response to a pinkeye scare at daycare (diagnosis: negative. My eyes are actually far more red and goopy than Nicholas’s, but we’ll deal with that later).


My fellow test-takers, then: Competition, all of them.

My fellow test-takers, now: Those poor stressed-out kids! Resist the urge to hug the girl at the end of my row, who has bags under her eyes the size of Cleveland.


Test fatigue then: By the end of the second day, I am a puddle of mush, physically and mentally.

Test fatigue now: Having spent two nights in a quiet hotel room away from my children, I am more rested than I’ve been in months. By the end of the second day, I feel ready to scale a mountain.


Test conditions then: Two days in a completely silent room is both stressful and unnerving.

Test conditions now: Two days in a completely silent room is delightful. Wonder if perhaps I should have signed up for California’s three-day bar exam instead.


Test conditions then (cont’d): Slightly annoyed at the requirement that a proctor come stand over my test every time I need to get up and go to the bathroom.

Test conditions now (cont’d): Am simply happy that the test proctor, unlike Lorelei, does not insist on coming inside the stall with me and being in charge of the flushing.

Update, 4/26/13: I passed!


  1. Hello! I’ve been reading your web site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  2. Kerrie says:

    Hilarious. What a different perspective

    • jcarsen says:

      Thanks for reading, and for your comment! It was definitely a different experience this time around.

  3. Jennifer Busick says:

    “Wonder if perhaps I should have signed up for California‚Äôs three-day bar exam instead.”


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