Getting Up After Failing the Bar Exam

If you failed the bar exam, do not let this set-back deliver a blow to your self-esteem. Most people I know who failed the bar exam are far from slackers-they put in as much time as the next guy. Moreover, the people who failed the bar are just as intelligent as anyone who passed. In fact, anyone who has the intelligence to get through law school can pass the bar exam.

The difference between passers and retirees is generally not a difference in hard work or intelligence. Although it may sound a bit pollyanna, my experience in the bar prep field shows that retakers really need a healthy dose of confidence and an attitude adjustment-what those in sports training like to call the mental edge .

Face it, the law school experience can really leave people feeling bad about themselves. For example, I worked with a woman, I will call her Morgan, who had failed the bar exam. After chatting with her a bit, I realized that she was a bright and hard-working student whose attitude had damned her on the exam. Prior to taking the bar, she had reasoned that, if 40% of test takers would fail the bar, then she was certainly associated with that failing group since she was a below average student in a law school with a mediocre ranking. Even more, the poisonous atmosphere of law school itself had left her feeling terrible about herself. She had always somehow felt less prepared than her fellow students and nervous about talking in front of her peers. She felt thrown off by the competitive mind games and the bravado displayed by some students.

If you failed the bar exam, you might also have some of this psychological baggage. Trying to study and really learn with this type of baggage is like driving with your parking brakes on; progress is stilted and the ride is bumpy!

While it is beyond the scope of this article to delve too deeply into psychology, there are some simple steps you can take to shake off some of the psychological hang-ups and improve your focus and concentration.

First of all, change and improve your environment. If law school was a nightmare for you, find a different place to study. Discover new spots on campus or in town and create some new, positive associations. Stay away from people who bring you down. (I remember a loudmouth guy at my law school talking about how he had the MBE down and could now move into the state materials.) Study alone or find some focused, calm students. Be a hermit if you want-it is just for a few months and it is really easy to fly solo with bar exam study. Law school was about sharing notes and case briefs and outlines; this is different, since even a basic bar review course gives you most of the materials you need.

Setting and meeting your own short-term study goals is another great way to build both confidence and momentum. Every day of studying, you should have a goal of learning something concrete. Perhaps it is reviewing a few outlines and memorizing the major headings. Sometimes it is answering a set of sample questions, carefully reviewing your mistakes, and making flashcards to remember what you have learned. Set smart goals and stick to them like glue; focus intentionally on your personal study goals and shut-out anything that brings you down. As you find yourself making and keeping these daily commitments, you will find your self-confidence soaring.

Finally, view this taking of the bar exam as a fresh start. It does not matter what your grades were in law school and where you went to school; as each year passes, you law school experience will become increasingly insignificant. It does not matter that this is your second (or third. Whatever.) Go around on the bar. What matters is that you put the bar exam behind you so you will be armed with a JD and a license to practice law. Do you know what they call someone who graduated at the bottom of the class? A lawyer. Do you know what they call someone who graduated from Just Accredited Law School? A lawyer. Put whatever is holding you back from the past in the past and move on.

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