July 26th, 2005

little blue dog

lessons in grace II

This morning, my buddy is one of a few hundred would-be attorneys sitting for the Oregon State bar exam, which is administered twice a year over a two-day period. It takes place in a convention facility at the Holiday Inn near the airport.

It's common for candidates to stay at the adjoining hotel during the two days of the exam, even those who live in Portland. Since just about everyone who takes the exam is stressed to the breaking point, staying at the hotel supposedly avoids a bunch of concerns such as transportation, traffic, timing, etc.

So, my buddy X (that's actually what I call him) came up from Salem yesterday to check in, and I took him to dinner last night.

The first day of the Oregon exam includes nine essay questions on any of a bunch of different state-specific topics. When I took the exam, there were probably about 20 or so topics, including a bunch of mainstream topics (such as crim law, torts, property law, etc.), and a slew of curveball topics (like admin law, commercial paper, secured transactions, etc.). A standard curriculum of classes in law school covers most of the mainstream topics, but not a lot of the curveball topics ... but all are covered in a bar review course (if you take one).

The upshot is that you can count on most of the essay questions addressing the mainstream topics, with maybe one ot two curveballs in there. The bar review course people keep track of which topics have been tested in the past and how often, so you can make the call accordingly on how much time you want to devote to preparation for each topic.

The second day is two 3-hour sessions of answering multiple-choice questions in six topics, all mainstream. The topics never change, and there are always the same number of questions per topic. Thus, the multiple-choice is a lot more predictable in terms of what you're going to get.

When I took it, I was a total wreck on the eve of the first day. You can't prepare for everything, and so you hedge a bet that some of the curveball topics won't show up on the exam, and you might not study them at all. Everyone does this, almost out of necessity. But I freaked out in the hotel room and decided to do some last-minute cramming on the subjects I'd avoided. Normally I'm pretty chill, but I was panicking like I never had before. I was actually afraid that I'd have a meltdown or something and be unable to take the exam. I hardly got any sleep at all.

Of course, all of the essays turned out to be on the mainstream topics.

Last night when X met me downtown for dinner, he walked up like he didn't have a care in the world. I've known him for probably 12 years or so, and I've seen him stressed, and he showed no sign of it, on the night before one of the most crucial days of his life. I know him well enough to know that he wasn't displaying false confidence, either.

We had dinner and chatted. The Hang had joined us, and she was asking questions about the exam, which didn't seem to rattle X at all. Throughout the meal I was astonished at his calm ... truthfully I was a little irked by it, as if his serenity somehow mocked the amount of anxiety I'd experienced in my last hours of preparation.

I'm always amused at this feeling, when I see someone else accomplish something that I personally found so difficult, but with such grace and aplomb. I actually think it's kind of funny that it makes me feel jealous or envious. There's just no reason for it. I try instead to let it calm me, and take it as evidence that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, as long as I maintain the discipline and determination to do it. Then, if I'm the one that people look at and think "wow, he's really got this under control," so much the better.

I gave him a hug but didn't think it necessary to wish him good luck. I know he'll succeed with no problem.

X continually inspires me. I think our dinner last night was more positive and centering for me than it was for him. :)
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