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The 2022 Bar exams are on. Topnotchers share wisdom, advice

By NICK GARCIA Published Nov 08, 2022 5:21 pm Updated Nov 09, 2022 11:10 am

November is the season of the Philippine Bar Examinations, the tests that determine who the next lawyers of the country will be.

This year's exams will be held on two Wednesdays and Sundays: Nov. 9, 13, 16, and 20. The 2020 to 2021 Bar exams, the first edition to be held digitally and locally, took place last February—following several delays brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 Bar exams will sustain the momentum of the unprecedented February exams. It will be held digitally and locally in 14 testing centers, five of which are in Metro Manila.

There are no hard and fast rules in passing the Bar exams, moreso passing them with flying colors, but several officers of the court have shared nuggets of wisdom and pieces of advice to future Filipino lawyers.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who headed the 2020 to 2021 Bar exams, gave examinees a checklist of what they can do to prepare for the Bar:

  • Take a deep breath;
  • Sleep well;
  • Eat well;
  • Exercise the day before;
  • Make peace with your gods; and
  • Re-examine your purpose.

"Always remember, the bar exam is one of the hurdles for you to be able to serve the people in a different capacity," Leonen added.

The loved ones of the bar takers must also support them in the coming weeks by making them smile and giving them pancit the night before the exams, he said in another tweet.

Leonen also reminded who passed the 2020 to 2021 Bar exams that it's their turn to pay it forward.

"Help those who will follow you. You know what it was like," he said. "Serve the people."

Emilio Caedo, an excellent passer of the 2020 to 2021 Bar exams (the Supreme Court removed specific rankings already), urged examinees to trust the initial answer that comes into their mind.

Caedo noted that multiple readings of the same question would lead to recollection of other details or information—and trigger analysis paralysis.

"Your first guess more often than not satisfies the underlying legal issue involved, and so you should always use it as a baseline or point of reference," he told PhilSTAR L!fe. "The reason your first guess is your first guess is because it's the answer that immediately fits the question. That means that this question is one you've seen before."

Nadaine Tongco, who placed sixth in the 2018 Bar exams, said the best answers are short and sweet but cohesive and meaty.

"If you are uncertain of your answer, ensure that there is a sensible legal reasoning to it – if it doesn’t make sense to you, it will not make sense to the examiner," Tongco told L!fe. "Another trick that worked for me is to take a quick bathroom break if you feel like you’ve hit a dead end," she added, saying a fresh view of the question "may trigger something in your memory and will allow you to look at the question from a different perspective."

Julia Chu, excellent passer of the 2020 to 2021 Bar exams, reminded examinees that while they may have different dispositions toward the exams—such as considering it as the judgment day, the light at the end of the tunnel, or something they just have to get over with—they must take heart whatever it takes.

"This is not your moment of truth, but rather, your time to shine," Chu told L!fe. "This exercise of putting pen to paper (now, figuratively) is the culmination of all your hard work and your opportunity to show that you have what it takes to become a member of the legal profession."

For Fiona Lao, who placed third in the 2016 Bar exams, a social media detox can be an effective strategy to lessen distractions.

"Your mind is your greatest enemy. Hence, stay calm and focused. Block the noise," Lao told L!fe, adding that aspiring lawyers shouldn't waste their time checking the previous Bar exams. "Move forward."

Jebb Cane, who placed ninth during the 2018 Bar exams, urged aspiring lawyers to "visualize" the venue days ahead of the exam proper, as it can help them focus—which can subsequently help them recollect all the things they've studied. 

Kenneth Manuel—a certified public accountant who placed sixth in the 2019 Bar while working full-time as a college instructor and accountancy review center reviewer—said aside from being knowledgeable about the law, it's important to believe in one's self in taking the exams.

"Knowledge of the law is one thing, but having the confidence and the determination to take the Bar is another," Manuel told L!fe. In any case, he said the exams shouldn't be underestimated, as it's a "mental and psychological battle."

"However, difficulty is not tantamount to impossibility," he noted. "Kinaya ninyo ang law school, kinaya ninyo ang review. Kakayanin ninyo ang Bar, kaya ninyo ang Bar."

With students spending at least four years in law school, Katrina Gaw, who placed fifth in the 2018 Bar exams, told L!fe that an aspiring lawyer should trust the process. Gaw noted that they have more or less encountered potential Bar exam questions, and examinees have higher chances of recalling what they already know if they build enough self-esteem.

Chelsea Dauz, excellent passer of the 2020 to 2021 Bar exams, also highlighted the importance of taking sufficient rest after burning the midnight oil.

"Even if you were not able to study the entire coverage of the Bar Exam syllabi, you will be able to answer if you know the fundamental legal principles," Dauz told L!fe, adding that one must be as concise as possible in answering.

Mae Diane Azores, a certified public accountant who topped the 2019 Bar exams, told L!fe that aspiring lawyers must bear in mind the main reason why they want to become a lawyer.

"You have prepared your whole life for this, you are ready; claim that you will make it, and it will be yours," Azores said. She's also hoping for future lawyers to become passionate and kindhearted, noting it's what the Philippines "desperately needs" at this point.

Sean Borja, who topped the 2018 Bar exams, told L!fe that it's important to believe in themselves.

"At this point in the game, I think it’s all about 'tibay ng loob, kapal ng mukha,'" Borja said. "Most, if not all, barristers have extensively and exhaustively prepared for the grueling Bar exams. So more often than not, they already have it in them to pass."

Lorenzo Gayya, who placed sixth in the 2018 Bar exams, also reminded examinees to not "romanticize" the Bar exams, noting it's a regular process they "just have to go through."

"Life goes on after the Bar," Gayya told L!fe, adding that the exams are not an end but a means to an end. "Trust your preparation, don't second guess yourself, and during the exams, don't overthink the questions,"

Chel Diokno, Free Legal Assistance Group chairman and De La Salle University College of Law founding dean, shared in a YouTube vlog last Jan. 20, 2022, that Bar takers should try to turn negative thoughts into something positive.

"Araw-araw iniisip natin iyon, 'Naku, papaano kung mablangko ako?" Diokno said. "Immediately replace that thought with, 'Excited na ako! Sa exam, ipakikita ko ang kaalaman ko.'"

Diokno also urged examinees to read the questions carefully before answering so as to not miss out significant parts.

"Try to visualize the facts (of the question) and try to consider the significance of each fact," he said, adding that examinees must also outline their answers first. They must also answer the main question first before expounding.

Time management is also key in passing the Bar exams, according to Diokno. "It will not be good for you to spend so much time on one question, when there are other questions that have the same or even more points allotted."

In a story by The Philippine STAR on March 21, 2000, 1999 Bar exams topnotcher Florin Hilbay shared that he listened to Mozart and Gregorian chants while reviewing, noting that classical music stimulates the brain. He also spent at least an hour daily to meditate.

"You have to be in control of your emotions, to be calm deep inside or you will lose your sanity," said Hilbay, who served as solicitor general from 2014 to 2016.

His then girlfriend Karen Caparros, who placed seventh in the 1999 Bar exams, meanwhile said she read at least six hours a day, and "occasionally danced" all by herself to release the tension.

In a video message shared by Twitter user @eiferantipuesto, Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, who chairs the 2022 Bar Exams, also wished examinees three Gs: grit, grounding, and grace under pressure.

"The road that led you to today may not have been easy, but nothing that is worth anything ever comes easily to us," Caguioa said. "In the coming days, try to quiet any fear, anxiety, insecurity, or self-doubt. Breathe. Focus."

(with reports from Brooke Villanueva and Alain Robredillo)

(Editor's Note: This Nov. 8, 2022 story has been updated on Nov. 9, 2022, with the responses from Julia Chu, Fiona Lao, Jebb Cane, Sean Borja, and Lorenzo Gayya.)