First day at the Bar exams » Manila Bulletin News

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J. Art D. Brion

By J. Art D. Brion (RET.)

 

They came at the break of dawn, in rented buses, by private cars, or by public transport; some who had taken temporary residence nearby simply walked. Mostly they came in groups, seeking solace in similar company, although a few came alone or with companions who bid them goodbye at the school gate.

Inside the gate, they formed two lines somberly trudging towards their designated buildings in the campus. Their mood matched the gray early morning gloom that last night’s rains had left behind.

Some of those in the lines noticeably held notes close to their faces, still attempting to read in the meager light of the breaking day. Many others simply walked, lost in thought or preferring to quietly talk with those walking with them. No one laughed or showed gaiety; their demeanor exhibited a solemnity that bordered on piety.

Some of them were clearly beyond the usual school age and could be mistaken for parents bringing their children to school, but many others were relatively young and still looked like the students that they had been. If they carried common identifying marks, this was in the identifying tags that hung from their necks.

They also commonly carried transparent bags, be they knapsacks or simple tote bags, that could easily be examined for their contents. These bags contained their tools for the day – their multiple pens, exam permits, other identification requirements, and the notes that they hoped they could still read at the last minute. Food could be seen from the bags of a few, with a bunch of siopao standing out from one examinee’s bag.

They were the Bar examinees on the first day of the Bar examinations given by the Supreme Court last Sunday. As pre-registered, there were 7,237 of them – the largest number of Bar examinees in our history. Their two lines took one full hour – from almost 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. – of slow walk from the school gate before the tail ends arrived at the exam buildings.

Smiles of confidence and some gaiety appeared in the examinees’ faces for the first time that day as they approached the main building of the campus; for, waiting for them at the adjoining pedestrian lane were their law school deans who had guided them through their law studies and who now greeted them with hugs, handshakes, thumbs-up signs, or shouted wishes of encouragement and good luck.

The deans themselves appeared happy that up to reckoning time, they were there to contribute to their students’ quest. More than anybody else, they know the significance of the first Bar exam subject – Political Law. This first exam may set the tone for the examinees in the exams to come, by easing the built-up tension and through the confidence that a well-written exam may generate.

Beyond the line of deans, was the security inspection line manned by Court security personnel and the regular police and their dogs. They inspected the candidates’ bags and person for items the examination rules prohibit. Possession of cellular phones in the exam rooms, for example, is an absolute prohibition; an elderly candidate was in fact disqualified when the phone she slipped through the security line, rang from within her pocket during the exam.

Past this line, stood the examinees’ assigned buildings and rooms. Invariably, a sense of solitude fully engulfs the Bar candidates as soon as they take their assigned seats. For each one is now alone with his thoughts, with his knowledge of the subject for the day, and with his private prayers and supplications to God. Each candidate must face the test alone, under pain of immediate banishment from the examination room and possible disqualification from future exams if the rule on honesty is violated.

Within the exam rooms, the examination watchers – a head watcher and his four or five assistants – assumed lead roles. They are the unsung heroes of every Bar exam. They checked the physical arrangements of the rooms, including the air conditioning, the lights and the examinees’ seat assignments; checked their IDs and exam permits; distributed the notebooks that matched the examinees’ assigned numbers; handed out the exam questionnaires; and gave instructions on the minutiae of how the Bar candidates should conduct themselves during the exam until they submit their test booklets and leave their exam rooms.

A bell signals the start of the exam: the Bar candidates – as instructed – can now begin reading the Bar questionnaire heretofore lying face down at their desks. The questionnaire starts with the exam’s general instructions at the first page. Beyond this page are the exam questions that the examinees are encouraged to first cursorily examine for the number of questions the exam poses and for its other characteristics.

Bar guides have considered this cursory reading critical as some past exams have looked deceptively short; they only had ten questions numbered in Roman numerals. Each number though carried subdivisions, with each subdivision still divided into further sub-questions. Thus, it was important for the examinees to have a sense at the outset of how much time they could devote to each question in order to finish the exam on time.

After these initial considerations, the examinees proceed to the individual exam questions, reading each one closely and in earnest, in the order they are posed. They then write the answers that would determine whether they would succeed or fail in their quest for Bar admission. This process though is not always as simple or as straightforward as this bare outline depicts, and in fact abounds with interesting stories worth telling about the Bar exams.

An event familiar to many Bar watchers is the request of many examinees for permission to go to the wash room. These requests are in fact good precautionary moves before answering begins, to avoid being disturbed by personal calls of nature thereafter. The examinees take their turns as each one is accompanied to the wash room by a watcher.

Noticeably, many examinees return to the wash room time and again during the exams in response to the continuing tension they feel. These responses vary among individuals: tension may manifest in some through uncontrollable shaking or facial twitching until the tension dissipates; others may suffer an opposite reaction – through temporary paralysis particularly in their thought processes, rendering them unable to immediately formulate their answers.

In its continuing attempt to handle all contingencies, the Court assigns a full complement of medical personnel to the Bar exams, ready to respond to medical and other emergency cases and to refer them to the nearby UST hospital, if necessary.

The Court’s medical preparation came to good use in last year’s Bar exam when a pregnant examinee gave birth in the middle of the week, in between exams, and insisted on pushing through with her Bar exam the following Sunday.

The Court respected her wishes and she was allowed to continue under “special exam” conditions, i.e., in an assigned special room under the watch of the Court’s medical personnel. To everyone’s relief, she finished the full Bar examination without any untoward incident and justified her insistence by passing the Bar! Unfortunately, the Court has no record of how she named her Bar baby.

Every subject in the Bar is allotted four examination hours, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon for the morning subjects, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the afternoon ones. While the exams can be finished in less than 4 hours, many examinees exhaust almost the whole 4 hours to review their answers before finally and irrevocably submitting their test exam booklets.

One examinee practically brought this observed practice to ridicule when he consistently submitted his finished exam booklets after only about 2 hours of exam time. His unusual behavior caught the attention of the Bar administrators who singled him out for special observation.

The precaution turned out to be for naught as the observers found nothing amiss or irregular in the examinee’s conduct during the exams. The Court after the exams nevertheless still informally asked him to explain his uncommon behavior, and ended up satisfied with his explanation.

The examinee explained that in his law school, exam questions are usually lengthy (sometimes a page long) and have to be dissected and analyzed for the relevant facts and the issues that have to be tackled for a complete solution to the ultimate problem posed.

In comparison, the Bar exam questions he encountered were short and mostly to the point in terms of the given facts and issues posed. He therefore simply answered the questions as directly, as concisely and as fully as he could and, with nothing more to add, then submitted his exam booklet. True enough, his answers were as he described and he passed the Bar exams with ample points to spare!

I end this column without adding more to these stories as they are simply too many for a column article to cover. I do hope that at some future time, a writer will research and compile these stories, not purely for their entertainment value, but for the lessons that they may impart to our future Bar candidates so that these exams will no longer suffer from their horrible statistics of failures.

 

Readers may contact the author at jadb.legalfront.mb@gmail.com

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