My name is Igbinosun Betha. I’m a graduate of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, and of the Yola campus of the Nigerian Law School. While writing this, I divided it into two parts; Grace and Race. The former essentially reflects the story of my bar finals, which in itself is a testimony, while the latter tells of the effort exerted, which was ultimately crowned with outstanding success.
I remember when I saw my law school posting – 31st October 2015. A friend had just updated her pm on BBM stating that she had been posted to Yola. I called her immediately to ‘encourage’ her, telling her how it could be God’s will and how she shouldn’t change it. Thereafter, I checked mine too and to my surprise, I had been posted to Yola; I was devastated. I mean, Yola hadn’t even been amongst my options; the farthest I had expected to get posted to was Enugu. It was very difficult coming to terms with it but then, I remembered that I had prayed for God to let His will be done in the posting, and how I had wanted to be posted to a place where I’d ‘thrive’. I got a confirmation of His word, and by that Wednesday, I was Yola bound.
Adjusting was really difficult in the beginning – the distance from home, terrible food, harsh weather – but in the end, I thrived. God was faithful to me throughout the session. I hardly fell sick, I never experienced lack, I had the best roommates with barely any drama, and I didn’t receive any bad news from home. All things indeed worked together for my good.
The week before the exams was intense because what ought to have been a revision almost turned into a full study, as certain things didn’t appear as familiar as they ought to have been and I remember starting my property law revision the morning of the exam. However, God was just faithful to me in so many ways, giving me a unique testimony on each exam day. For example, I usually don’t go over my work, but, during my Property Law exam, for some reason, I did and saw errors and was able to correct them. It was while going over one of my answers, for instance, that I realised my execution clause reflected only one party. In another, in drafting a will, I had used imaginary names for my witnesses, only to realise subsequently that actual names had been supplied in the question.
In the Criminal Litigation exam, Trial Advocacy (which I wasn’t a huge fan of) usually reflects as compulsory question 4, but while revising, I just felt led to focus on evidentiary issues such as confessional statements and the likes instead, and to my surprise, this constituted the entirety of question 4. I was even able to remember a case and its principle I last read in final year evidence in the university.
Sadly, my tab was stolen after the Criminal Litigation exam. I was so devastated that I wasn’t able to start reading for the next paper – Corporate Law of ALL courses – until about 2am of the next day, but God came through. Even though I didn’t eventually find the tab, He gave me double for my trouble, and it turned to me for a testimony. Revising for Corporate was hard! At some point, my brain felt blank. With all the procedures to learn, I was so tense! But God took control. The Holy Spirit helped me remember details from the last-minute revisions I did, even those topics I merely flipped through, and I was able to write enough.
For the Civil exam, the very last draft I looked at before entering the exam hall constituted part of a compulsory question, and during the exam, I just had this unique insight into the questions and required answers. The Holy Spirit brought to my remembrance even those areas I couldn’t particularly remember and had initially left blank.
For the Professional Ethics exam, I hadn’t revised my notes since the MCQs, and I couldn’t remember certain topics in sufficient detail. But, once again, God took control, and instructed me.
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is, my bar finals story is just a reflection of the grace of God. Discernment was everything. I’d literally be halfway through answering a question, and all of a sudden, I’d just know that what I had written wasn’t the required answer. I cancelled so much that I was almost scared, but I prayed fervently for favour, and God perfected it all.
It’s funny how God had assured me of my first class grade long before the results were out; in fact, He had already instructed me to write this story since September, even down to the grace/race division, but the closer the release date got, the more anxious I became. But God just kept reassuring me, and when I finally saw my results, I just fell flat in adoration. Only God made it possible.
I don’t know anyone who didn’t read for the bar exams. Even if they only started reading the week before, some level of effort was exerted, but, success, outstanding success, comes from God. Remember, it is not of him that wills (determines to succeed in his heart) or runs (exerts effort), but (ultimately) of God that shows mercy.
The truth is, the law school workload isn’t very easy; there’s so much to learn in very little time, and human effort won’t cut it. Chances are that you’ll burn out on your own. It can, and does indeed get overwhelming. You need God now more than ever, so trust in Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Faith without works is dead, and diligence is required to really excel.
My first piece of advice is you must know what works for you. For me, I’ve always formed notes, and even though it could be stressful in law school due to the bulk of work, I’d advise you to stick to the method that has always worked for you. There are also quite a number of e notes available; Kenneth’s note, Gabby’s note, Adaeze’s note amongst others, and some people found these sufficient, albeit with some additions due to the recently enacted ACJA. However, I’ve always preferred handwritten notes and so, I formed my personal notes using some of the e notes and textbooks. Try as much as possible to complete your notes before each class, or soon after, because it’s so easy for uncompleted notes to pile up and become overwhelming.
The second point I’d say is that you have to manage your time. Have a daily schedule/routine and stick to it. Whether its library immediately after class, hostel after class, then library afterwards, whatever works for you; just ensure you work this out quickly, before the workload gets really intense.
Next, don’t read topics in isolation. Read and then attempt questions touching on the topic. That’s the best way to decipher if you have a good grasp of the topic or not. Many have failed the bar exams not because they didn’t read, but because they didn’t understand the questions asked, and consequently, failed to provide the required answers.
Group discussions. Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of group discussions and I only joined a past questions solving group. However, some people thrived with that, and it worked out well for them. It’s advisable to identify potential members of your study group and work out something early. For effectiveness, I’ll advise you have a maximum number. The number of people in the official designated class groups are usually quite a number, so it’s better to have a number you can manage.
Also, make very good use of your Christmas break and your externship period. Don’t get carried away by the seemingly long duration; time has a way of flying away. Chances are you’re not going to be able to read as much as you need to while school is in session, so utilise these periods to complete any outstanding notes and study them in detail, particularly as the MCQ examination is usually a week after resumption from externship.
Try not to have a ‘favourite’ course. While some courses are admittedly less technical than others, don’t neglect them at the expense of the more technical ones; balance it all out because your lowest grade determines your result. Start getting familiar with your corporate law procedures as early as possible so that you’ll be familiar with them when exams are closer. Learn your property and civil drafts early enough too.
While you should have a general idea of all the topics, read smart. You’ll find that some areas are more ‘examinable’ than others. Law school is mostly practical; let personal opinions and lengthy writing end in the University.
For the MCQ exams, which constitute 20% of your marks, while speed is key, accuracy is also as important. Don’t dwell on any question – if you don’t know the answer upon the first or at most second reading, move on! For me, I divided mine into three phases. In the first stage, I would read through the questions and answer the ones I was 100% sure of, making sure it was more than half of the total number of questions. Next, I would then go through the questions a second time and answer the ones I was somewhat sure of, leaving just a handful of questions whose answers I wasn’t so sure of. Lastly, I would do a bit of elimination and settle for the most likely options.
For the theory exams, don’t be unduly hasty; take the time to read AND properly understand the questions before proceeding to answer. I found myself making silly mistakes and having to cancel because when reading over, I would realise I had veered off midway. Upon a first reading, I’d advise you make some jottings beside each question for quick reference when you begin to answer, because you may forget a few key points along the way.
If you don’t know the answer to sub questions of a main question, leave some space and move on; you can return to address these at the end. This is because if you dwell on such questions, you’ll lose valuable time trying to figure out their answers, and the eventual marks awarded to that particular sub question may end up being very minimal.
There’s also the issue of scope. How long is too long an answer and vice versa? Here, discretion is very important, and the words employed in framing the question usually serve as a guide; words such as examine, discuss, outline, and list, all mean different things, depending on the context in which they are used. Commenting on the propriety or otherwise of something requires an evaluation and an informed conclusion. As a last resort, I believe it’s better to err on the side of ‘‘surplusage’’. Better too much than too little!
Also, endeavour to present your answers as logically as possible. I often repeated the questions as the prefix to my answers for coherence. Do whatever works for you while ensuring you answer intelligently. Depending on the question, balance out your answers; not too lengthy, not too short. Don’t be afraid about the brevity of your answers, as some questions require one-line answers.
Furthermore, please, shy away from discussing the exams afterwards – move on to the next! Most of the time, I would leave my question paper behind in the hall after each exam because I wanted to resist the temptation of going through them afterwards and possibly identifying errors, as was the case in the university. The exams are back to back for 5 days straight and, trust me, you don’t want anything interfering with your mental state during those crucial five days.
In conclusion, the bar finals aren’t very hard. In fact, the entire examination is one of the easiest ever. The issue is, you’re taught a lot, and are required to read a lot, but the questions asked are very narrow and direct; you either know the answers or you don’t. There’s no ‘almost’. If you’re asked about government bonds and you write about corporate bonds, you score a zero; it’s immaterial that both are bonds as no mark is awarded for effort. There’s no writing all you know about the subject matter, expecting the examiner to distil the relevant answers from the irrelevant ones in your script and award you marks, as was the case in the university. So, be very sure of your answers, ‘free-styling’ won’t help at all.
IGBINOSUN BETHA .O.
If you have further questions or need further clarification, email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S Betha graduated from the University of Lagos and the Nigerian Law School with a First Class – Double Honours.