So I took the First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSE) in June and now, six months later, I’ve finally had enough time to recover from the trauma to write about it!
Several attorneys had told me not to worry about the exam. They told me that if I made it to and through UC Berkeley, then I must be good enough at taking tests to pass the FYLSE. But I have to admit that, a week before the exam, when I found out that the pass rate for the exam hovers around 15 to 20%, I worried. A lot. Despite having studied a little bit every week for months and my last minute intense cramming after I saw those pass rate numbers, I did not pass the exam.
The exam is very similar to the actual bar exam except that it only covers three topics: criminal, contract, and tort law. The full California Bar exam covers those topics and nine others. The multiple choice section is full of questions that ask you to pick the “best” answer, when there are 2 or 3 generally seemingly appropriate answers that I would definitely use to argue a client’s case in the given scenario. But a good argument to make in front of a judge or jury is not sufficient for the FYLSE. The Committee of Bar Examiners expects you to know what’s “best.” Additionally, in the three areas of law on the FYLSE there are many rules, exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions, which are all tested. There are also some terms in Latin and some other languages, which only lawyers use in the English-speaking world, and which describe relatively simple concepts that have commonly understood words in English. But you need to know some foreign terms to be a lawyer, I guess.
If you want to focus your apprenticeship on subjects other than criminal law, contracts, and torts, then studying those topics for the exam might feel abstract and trivial. I found it difficult to motivate myself to study until a few weeks before the exam. Even then, I was mostly motivated by the fact that I wanted to pass the exam and be done with it so I wouldn’t have to spend $705 again to re-take it.
You can take the essay portion of the exam on your own laptop if you pay an extra fee to install software on your computer to use during the exam. I chose to do that because I can type much faster than I write. I got a zillion emails from the software company in the weeks before the exam regarding instructions for using the software, which made the software seem more complicated than it actually is. That was more stressful than actually studying the material, at least in my experience since I’m not quick to learn new software programs! But the software is actually really easy to use and not worth worrying much about.
Note that there are lots of silly rules about what you can bring with you to your desk during the exam. Items such as wallets, cell phones, water bottles and maybe even pencil sharpeners are prohibited in the exam room.
In order to prepare for my next attempt at the FYLSE I’ve been meeting up every week with the other Like Lincoln apprentices to hold ourselves and each other accountable to our plan to study a little bit every week. Now that we are less than 6 months away from the next FYLSE date we have decided to meet up 3 times per week for group study sessions; some structured exam review time and some unstructured time that we’ve just set aside to read and discuss our study materials. We each bought copies of Examples & Explanations and Emanuel’s CrunchTime books on each of the three exam topics and we made a plan to read 90 to 160 pages per week together. Being a part of a group of other apprentices with a solid, well-paced plan is making me feel a lot more confident about the next time I take the exam!