The Legal Beat
Failing The Bar, And Then Owning It: A Nonconventional Guide
Posted on Tuesday July 02, 2019
One of the annoying things about the bar exam (and there are many) is what happens to you if you do not pass. Your name isn’t listed. Others look for your name and don’t find it. An entire quarter of a year might seem wasted. Time. Money.
But the worst thing that happens is the self-inflicted blow to your self-esteem. No matter how many times people try to cheer you up with “but Hillary Clinton failed the bar,” you realize you aren’t Hillary. And if you’re conservative, you might even be okay with that.
Regardless, the advice comes in droves: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Just study harder! Quit life and live in a cave to study! Give yourself a day to recover and then sing something like “Fight Song” as you start studying the next day! The problem with advice like this is that it fails to take into account that you do need to process your loss. So that it doesn’t sit in the back of your mind. The biggest obstacle to tack with retaking the bar exam isn’t your lack of knowledge in Subject X: It’s you.
With that in mind, here are some non-traditional tips to overcoming this temporary life obstacle, and perhaps learning something in the process about yourself.
Start with positive self-talk. And end with positive self-talk. The problem of failure is it creates a false narrative that you will forever be that exam score. Instead, remember things are temporary. Your loss is temporary. It is not a permanent state of you. It can be changed. Your mind will play tricks on you. Rather than say, “I failed the bar,” it will say, “I’m a failure.” No you’re not. But your self-esteem has taken a beating. It needs to be nourished.
The trick is to believe that you are successful, that you will be so again. Any time your inner voice says, “I’m going to fail,” stop. Literally say the word “stop.” It is quite empowering. You can tell yourself to stop saying negative things about yourself, and reframe it: “I’m going to win.” Start by saying that. And, believing it. There’s science behind this.
Next, remember that you are a whole person. That means recognizing there are things about you that are not bar-related. In your time of stress is the perfect time to practice gratitude. Thinking and writing out things for which you are grateful will actually improve your mood. And happy studying is good studying.
Avoid toxic people who say they are supporting you. Got a relative who means well but causes hell? One of those “well, why don’t you try med school” kind of people? Anyone who doesn’t want you to win (consciously or subsconsciously) has no place near you while you are studying for the bar exam. For your mental health, avoid toxic people. You don’t need to try to climb a mountain while you have a drama llama trying to pull you down from it. That includes the “first-timer boasters,” who offer you advice, but at the cost of them reminding you they passed the first time. Don’t get me wrong, some very sincere friends are trying to be helpful. But others may be there to elevate their own ego at the expense of yours.
Remember studying is not homogenous. An hour of studying is not a uniform unit of measurement. Certain types of study are more active and require more effort. The results will be greater understanding of your subject matter the greater your focus and the more active your participation. Distracted studying is the worst kind of studying. It is exhausting and unrewarding. Better to plan a time of happy distractions later in the day and focus on the task at hand.
The body disciplines the mind. If you aren’t exercising, if you are staying up all hours of the night, if you are burning the candle at both ends, or if you are just staring at books the entire day, understand you are engaged in behavior that will limit your chances of success. Sleeping is one of the most important studying techniques. Exercise primes the brain. I’m not suggesting you do a hard-core workout every morning and afternoon, but physical activity helps you stay on track.
Be honest with yourself. If you are avoiding a subject like the plague, it is probably your weakest subject. If you would rather watch videos than take a practice test, it is probably your fear guiding you down what appears to be the easy path. You’ve probably gotten some feedback as to where your weaknesses are, and your brain might seek to trick you into thinking you shouldn’t focus effort there. As I’ve said before, don’t be your own worst enemy.
Not that I agree with everything the Dalai Lama says, but this is true: “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’” That means that you have a great opportunity here to learn. I don’t just mean about the bar exam. I am talking about learning something about perseverance, patience, and your own inner strength.
You can do this. You will.
LawProfBlawg is an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school. You can see more of his musings here. He is way funnier on social media, he claims. Please follow him on Twitter (@lawprofblawg) or Facebook. Email him at [email protected].