the desertion

it's hot and dry out here

Month: May, 2013

Bar Exam Mind – Day 5

Just as a reminder to my readers, I am reading a book by Matt Racine titled Bar Exam Mind: A Strategy Guide for an Anxiety-Free Bar Exam. The first time I took the bar exam, I felt that my Achilles heel was the failure to manage test anxiety and the stress surrounding the bar exam. This time, I am dedicated to eliminating anxiety and building self-confidence. I was just a few points away from passing and I truly believe that but for the anxiety, I would have passed. I would have had a clear and focused mind that would have enabled me to approach the exam questions with confidence.

Today, I did a series of actualizations. Actualizations are a way to crowd out negative thoughts and focus on positive ideas. Today’s exercise was as follows: write down these phrases 10 times.

I passed the bar exam.
[name], you passed the bar exam!
[name] passed the bar exam.

By writing this affirmation, you are looking at a positive outcome in three ways. In the first affirmation, you’re saying it to yourself. In the second, you hear others telling this affirmation to you. In the last, you hear others talking about you, affirming your accomplishment.

This was a great exercise. Filling your mind with positive thoughts doesn’t leave any room left for negative thoughts. I wrote these affirmations down with pen and paper. According to the Bar Exam Mind, If we write something down, it is much harder to distance ourselves from the statement memorialized in the writing.

Other positive affirmations I made today are:

    I deserve success and I have earned it.
    I am relaxed, calm, and focused.
    I study for the bar exam with ease.
    My mind stores and recalls information effortlessly.
    Each day, my life gets better and better.
    I am strong, healthy, and beautiful.
    I have a great and happy life.

Bar Exam Mind – Day 4

That would be a bad way to start off the afternoon.

Said the man who was almost hit by a car while he was attempting to cross the street on campus.

Then I opened my Bar Exam Mind book and the first quote for today was:

If thou may not continually gather thyself together, do it some time at least once a day, morning or evening.

– Thomas à Kempis

So the comment by the guy who almost got hit by a car seems as though he hits a sort of reset button in the afternoon. I don’t usually think of my days in terms of morning, afternoon, and evening. The way I live my day is just that – simply day, without delineating different parts of that day.

I think it’s a great idea to look at your day as distinct parts, like sub-days. Morning, afternoon, evening, such that each has a starting and end point. Like the Thomas à Kempis quote above, it is a great idea to gather oneself sometime in the day, morning or evening. By gathering oneself, one can look at a day in different parts and dismiss the bad and ugly parts of a day. Had a crappy morning? Gather yourself and start fresh in the afternoon, like the guy who almost got hit by a car.

Today’s exercise in the Bar Exam Mind book was probably one of the greatest ones yet. The exercise was called a “visualization.” Essentially, in very short form, you picture yourself studying, then packing your backpack, heading to the exam, performing your best, seeing your name on the pass list, and then attending the swearing in ceremony. I performed this exercise and recorded myself visualizing the entire scenario playing out. Reciting it all took about 15 minutes. I plan to play back this recording every day as a sort of meditation exercise.

Visualizing how I plan the bar process turning out was actually empowering. It was kind of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. I was in control of the entire storyline. I am always a negative nancy, a debbie downer. I am starting to see how visualizing the best case scenario can just simply feel really good. I should let myself get used to it.

Bar Exam Mind – Day 3

Today’s question is this:

What is the belief I think about myself that is allowing the fear of failing the bar exam to exist?

I thought about it for a couple of minutes, and tried to forget all of the extrinsic fears – fears that others would see me as a loser, that others would think I’m unintelligent, that I’ll never get a good paying job.

And then I asked myself again: What is the belief I think about myself that is allowing the fear of failing the bar exam to exist?

And then it came up.


I feel that if I fail the bar exam again, that I will be a worthless person. I would feel worthless. Valueless. As if I do not serve a purpose on this earth. The way I’ve set up my self-image has me believing that if I fail the bar exam again, that I’ll be worthless.

Now that I have discovered what it is that I feel that allows this fear of failure to exist, this book, Bar Exam Mind, states that I am now ready to clear it from my life and unblock my potential for success.

Figure out the source of the fear of failure, accept that I held this belief, and then say goodbye to it. I don’t need it anymore. It is time to succeed.

An Acquaintance’s Advice Regarding the Bar Exam

I have an acquaintance that I chatted with regarding my bar exam failure. These are some of the thoughts he shared with me.  I candidly shared with him my feelings about failing the bar exam, and his responses were some of the most insightful nuggets of truth that I have heard throughout this entire experience. I wanted to share them with you because maybe they will help you, too. Here they are, a few conversations worth of copy-and-paste:

One thing that really, really helped me was getting a set of Barbri books and using those to drill and drill and drill. I can’t remember what I paid for Barbri (a few grand probably) but it was worth it for me if only for peace of mind, i.e., feeling like I had some structure to my study. I wrote a lot of practice essays and then I’d sit with two of my friends and argue points with them…not so much to point out wrongness…but to argue for inclusion of additional arguments in our essays (I always found in law school that arguing against inclusion of points was less-effective than arguing for inclusion of points. In other words, if someone disagreed with me using one argument, I’d prefer that he just skim over that and lobby for me to use (in addition to the one I’m using) another argument. That way, it doesn’t matter who was right, I’ve now included both points in my essay and will likely get points for including either or both. I don’t know how good that reasoning is…but that was my approach and it worked for me. I did okay on the multiple choice and I smoked the essays.

Hey, don’t sweat it (I say that even though I know I’d be sweating it if I was in your shoes), but you know what I mean. When I used to teach defensive pistol classes (I wasn’t the head instructor, I was just an assistant), I’d tell the people the conventional wisdom of being in the moment, feeling fear, turning that fear into a useful emotion–anger–and then using the anger to motivate oneself to action, i.e., bad guy comes, fear, anger, draw, fire. Anyway, the parallel here is to turn your frustration, disappointment, discouragement etc. into resolve and then prepare for your retake. It’s a bummer…but it’s a temporary setback only. One of my good friends from law school who failed the bar on the first time around, passed it the second time and is now a head attorney/recruiter at some big company. It’ll happen…

What time are you able to devote to study? When I did my month, I devoted about 10 hours a day, five days a week to study. I would have liked to have done two months at 5-8 hours a day, five days a week (I think that would have been less stressful).

My gut is telling me that stress alone was your Achilles heel. I’ll bet that it’s the one factor you must remove in order to be successful with the bar. Did you study the night before the bar? I didn’t…I went out to the desert and shot a few hundred rounds with my AR-15 as a way to relax. It was great to come home tired from something other than stress and to wake up refreshed and ready for the test. I caught a ride up to the venue with my buddies and our rule was that we weren’t allowed to talk to each other about the test until it was all over. That was a good rule for us and it helped us stay calm. (That was kind of our approach during law school too…instead of standing around the carrels and arguing over what each other wrote on the tests, we’d grab our guns or golf clubs and dig out for the rest of the day.)

I’m sad you feel embarrassed and ashamed, but I understand. I hope, though, that you will recognize that it’s only a pit stop on the proverbial road of life and that a year or two from now, this will all be a distant memory and no one will remember what rest stop you used or when. Use this pit stop to refuel, get some goodies, and then get back on the road and resume the journey. I think you’re right in your assessment of Barbri regarding its seemingly unorganized approach. I consumed the material at my own pace in the order I desired and that seemed to work for me. I think your plan to give yourself a lot of time to study is wise not only because you have more time to absorb the material, but because you’ll have a little extra time to tweak and adjust your system.

I kind of alluded to this earlier, but I like your recognition that for you, the “all-in” approach may not be best. I was, either by choice or by force of circumstance, able to unplug every day after study. Meaning…I didn’t “live it”. That really helped me detach emotionally from the stress of the test and begin to approach the whole thing with a “just-another-day-at-the-office” attitude.

Sounds like you’ve already begun to develop a plan. That’s great! I have to admit…sometimes I enjoy the smugness that goes along with having a solid plan and executing it with grim determination while everyone else is busy running around like chickens with their heads cut off or busy blowing sunshine up you-know-where. This is similar to my weight loss approach. I just keep plodding along, confident that I’m making progress, while I watch others flare up and then flame up. A lot of my friends who are also trying to lose weight are people who I’ve kinda identified as plodders. I feel that they’ll keep inexorably marching toward their goals regardless of circumstance–and their examples reassure and inspire me to do the same.

Regarding “all in” v. “unplugging”, I think it’s cool to chat about the test subject matter in the car, or over dinner so long as my mind is still getting a break at some point. I guess you just have to be aware of whether or not you’re sinking into mental turmoil or comfortably riding a mental wave. Studying a lot can be good…until it’s not. I remember someone explaining the phrase “easy tension” to me and using as an example the practice of tying up large ships in dock. If the lines are too loose, they may, with the motion of the water, loosen further, become undone, and the ship will drift away. If the lines are too tight, they may, with the motion of the water, snap from the strain or the tie-downs on the dock or in the ship may be damaged, and again, the ship will drift away and be lost. The solution, then, is to fasten the lines at an “easy tension”…neither too tight nor too loose. Perhaps that’s a good image to keep in mind as you prepare.

Hey…I believe you can do it. I’m not just saying that either; from our few conversations and from your description of what happened then and what you plan to do now, I feel that you’ll not only do fine, you’ll do well.

The Bar Exam Mind – Day 1

This weekend, my best law school friend came to visit me. She lives in the Desert, but in a different city. We spent time talking about my bar exam failure, what I did wrong, what I should do differently, and so forth. One of the major possible reasons for failure was my inability to manage my anxiety and stress.

My friend gave me two books that she felt were very instrumental in managing anxiety and stress. One is called Bar Exam Mind: A Strategy Guide for an Anxiety-Free Bar Exam by Matt Racine, and the other is called Daily Reflections for Bar Exam Study: An Inspirational Companion for Law Students and Experienced Attorneys Taking the Bar by M.G. Groepler.

I started out with Bar Exam Mind because it seemed like it would help get my mind in the right place so that I could be off to a healthy start with my studies. The book has a 21- day program to create a “mind capable of calmly and efficiently preparing for and succeeding on the bar exam.” This sounded like something I needed to get started on right away.

The first chapter in the book discusses two methods to rid oneself of bar exam-related fears and anxiety so that these two things won’t impede studying. The goal is to acknowledge these anxieties and fears and to put them to rest.

And now for today’s exercise in the 21-day program to achieving a Bar Exam Mind.

Method one: Stoic Method

Step 1 – Visualize all of the worst case scenarios and feared consequences of failing the bar exam (again, in my case).

  • My family will think I’m a loser.
  • My sisters will laugh at me and think that they are better off than me in all areas of life.
  • My husband will think I’m just a trophy wife.
  • My non-law school friends will think I’m a loser. They never really even saw me making it through law school anyway.
  • My law school friends will talk behind my back, but act with sympathy to my face.
  • My law school friends and other colleagues will think I did poorly in law school.
  • Everyone that finds out I failed the bar exam will think that I am unintelligent, lazy, and undisciplined.
  • I’m going to be stuck with some crappy job at some unthinkably low hourly rate.
  • Said crappy job will not even be law-related, so the three years I busted ass in law school was just a colossal waste of money and time.
  • Sorry, Sallie, don’t have any money for you.
  • I will have to move somewhere else because I can’t pass the exam here. I don’t want to live anywhere else, I want to live here.  Unless that somewhere else is San Francisco. Which means I would have to take the bar again. Which I am not willing to do. So failing again can’t happen, because leaving isn’t a really good option.
  • I’ll probably have to take the test a THIRD TIME. If that happens, I’d rather get eaten alive by sharks. Because if I have to take this exam a third time, all of the above fears will intensify by 1,000. I’ll freak out and have a nervous breakdown.

Now, contemplate all of these fears and visualize each of them actually happening. Great, this book wants me to have an anxiety attack and nervous breakdown.

Step 2 – Determine all the things I can do to minimize the concerns on this list from coming to pass.

  • Tell my family what the bar exam is really like and how difficult it was the first time around. Tell them the pass rate, so that they see that not everyone, and not even “most” bar sitters passed.
  • I don’t really have a lot of communication with my sisters, so what they hear about the bar exam, they’ll have to hear from my parents. I have to come to terms that my sisters will think whatever they want, but they are in some pretty awful situations that they brought upon themselves. I may have failed the bar, but at least I have the wherewithal not to get myself into the problems they face. To each her own.
  • My husband has seen how hard I studied the first time around. I will talk to him about this fear of being a trophy wife and hope that he sees me as his equal.
  • My non-law school friends generally do not know about my first failure, and I see no reason to share it with them. We live very far away from each other and we’re not up on the details of each others’ lives right now. They have their own issues to occupy them. One is pregnant with her first child and the other one is struggling in her relationships with her family and husband. I am pretty sure they don’t care that I failed the bar. My other girlfriends are kind of just doing their own thing. Just as I’m not up in their business 24/7, they aren’t all up in mine. I might be able to sidestep discussing the topic of my first bar failure by just simply stating that I am taking it now. They won’t know whether this is the first or second attempt. I know this isn’t a head-on approach to dealing with the topic of failure so I should probably come up with something better. So, I’ll probably give them the same run- down I’m going to give my family.
  • I have already seen some of my law school friends in person since the bar. They all acted with some level of sympathy, and all offered some good suggestions as to what I can do to improve. The conversations did not surround sympathy, but were more focused on strategy and techniques for improving studying, test taking skills, and managing anxiety and stress. I have never talked poorly about a friend failing the bar, so I just have to hope that the company I keep is a reflection of myself. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be friends in the first place.
  • While I did not graduate with honors, I was never on the brink of academic defeat. All my law school friends know I was on law review, student bar association, and a number of other active club memberships that showed my dedication to my school and studies. While my class rank is not public information, I just don’t think there is anything I can do to stop other people from thinking that I may have been a poor student. I am starting to realize that this may be a silly fear.
  • I am not unintelligent, lazy, and undisciplined. I was disciplined enough to study and score high enough to earn a passing score in a few jurisdictions. I just didn’t make this jurisdiction. To show the world, and more importantly, myself, that I am not unintelligent, lazy, and undisciplined, I will become licensed in one of those other jurisdictions. And I will sit for the bar exam again in this jurisdiction, and do the best that I can to pass it.
  • Get in touch with law school friends and other law colleagues and let them know I’m looking for work. Also, I can start drafting that business plan for that business I have been dreaming about starting. At least I will know enough about corporations at that point to form my own business entity.
  • My husband makes enough money that I don’t need to settle for a non-law related job. I can take the time and put the energy into finding a job in an area of law that I actually like. He has even told me not to settle for a job I don’t want. I am lucky to have that luxury.
  • I already got Sallie to back off. I applied for income-based loan repayment and was approved. My loan is now at a very manageable monthly payment. I won’t even have to give up getting a monthly manicure and pedicure.
  • Under no circumstances will I take the bar exam a third time. Twice is plenty. I won’t take it a third time because it is not necessary. Either one or both of these things will actualize – I will pass the bar exam in this jurisdiction, or I will already have my license in another jurisdiction where my score qualified for passing. Either way, I will have a license so there is no reason to bother taking a third time. This second time is just to see if I can get those couple more points. If I do, great! If not, no big deal, I’ve already got myself covered. And I won’t have to move away to another state. No need to have a nervous breakdown.

Step 3 – Come up with a resolution chart listing all of the steps you would take to recover if any one of these awful things did actualize.

  • Failing the bar and having to move to another state – move forward with that license in another jurisdiction. Do not take the bar exam again. That license should be good for some types of law practice right here in this state.
  • Not getting a law-related job – get started on that business plan and become the business owner I have always wanted to be, ask law school friends to help me find a law-related job, or maybe take the time to start a family.
  • Ridicule from friends and family – distance myself from my family, and get new all new friends.
  • Not having any money –  move forward with starting my own business, have friends help me get a law-related job, have a yard sale, get back into extreme couponing, apply for food stamps if the circumstances require it.
  • Having a nervous breakdown – become proactive about mental health now, write about my thoughts, talk to a counselor or a therapist, exercise, eat well, spend some time each day in meditation and prayer.

I’m glad I wrote this. I will have to revisit it and add to it as I see fit. I will read it over and over again to acknowledge my fears and realize that I can proactively prevent them from actualizing. I am leaving this post feeling quite shaken up.

Yes, I FAILED the BAR.

I studied the night before. I was so worried about the essay topics that I couldn’t put the book down. I was studying in bed. I don’t know what last minute studying really gets you. 

I think stress really was the problem. I didn’t manage it at all, I just kept going and going, thinking that if I took a moment to rest or relax, I would be guilty of being lazy and that de-stressing was going to cause me to fail the bar. I would have nightmares almost every night about the exam. I had the type of nightmares that caused me to wake up in tears or with what I call, “the terrors,” out of breath and like a deer in headlights. People say that guns are a stress reliever. Being from the Big City, I don’t know the first thing about guns. But I do have some friends here who are really knowledgable. I think I’ll ask for a gun lesson sometime between now and the test. 

I definitely didn’t do anything to “unplug” each day after studying, unless going to sleep counts, which I really think it doesn’t count for that. Last time, I was living in a small apartment with one other person who was also studying for the exam. That meant that every minute of every day had something to do with the exam. My study partner’s approach was an “all in” approach – every waking minute of each day. He lived it and breathed it. He quizzed me while I was in the car on the way to the library or even when I was cooking dinner.

I want to try this “just-another-day-at-the office” attitude. Also, this time around, I want to do at least one thing a day that is totally non-exam related with non-exam related people. Today I am getting a facial. Yesterday, I did a 6-mile workout with two older ladies that haven’t the first clue about what the bar exam is like. It was kind of refreshing to have conversations about other things like travel, sports, and childbirth. 

I need to develop a sort of “Fight Club” mentality with regard to the test – Rule #1: Don’t talk about the test. Even in law school, I always hated re-hashing the contents of a final exam. It’s like beating a dead horse. I’d always tell my friends to stop talking, or I’d think of some excuse and walk away just to avoid feeling bad if they mention an argument that I’d left out in an essay. 

This morning, I created a study schedule for myself for the next month. When that month is up, I will re-assess and create a study schedule for the remainder of the time before the test. I have definitely decided that Barbri’s study schedule is not for me. Their schedule is all over the place, and I want to take my studying one subject per day and not 3 or 4 subjects per day, and certainly not multiple choice and essay in the same day. The real bar doesn’t have two exam formats in one day, why does Barbri?

I guess it’s true that when you’re out there in the legal world after you get your license, no one asks you how many times you took the bar before you passed. It’s just something no one really talks about. Or at least I hope no one talks about it. 


I knew I’d failed right after I left the exam. I actually cried more after the exam than when I didn’t see my name on the pass list. I blew it on the multiple choice. My essay came out close to target with what Barbri said I’d need for the best chances of passing, but the multiple choice was short. 10 more points and I would have passed high enough to be admitted in the Desert. Those MBE 200 multiple choice questions are really rough. I’m not a very good standardized test taker at all, especially when it comes to multiple choice.

I feel so sad that my classmates are moving forward with their lives and I’m not. I feel like I just got left behind. I’m also ashamed and embarrassed that I failed. What’s worse is that I feel like everyone in the whole world knows I failed and is looking at me like I’m just a stupid, unintelligent idiot who hasn’t a clue what the hell she is doing.

Another thing that really pisses me off is that people who weren’t really great students were able to get a pass and I wasn’t. I was on law review, student bar association, active member of a bunch of clubs, etc, etc. Meanwhile, people with lower GPAs who did the absolute bare minimum to get by were able to pass and I wasn’t. Better students failed and crappy students passed. I just don’t see the justice in this, but I need to make myself get over it somehow. If only I could figure out how.

I took Barbri and followed the course as closely as I could. I don’t how anyone could study for the bar without the Barbri materials. However, Barbri’s study schedule is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to bar prep, and it just wasn’t for me. The materials were great, and I’m using them again to re-study for July’s exam, but I have to create a whole new approach to studying. Their study schedule jumps all over the place without any time to really digest Property before moving on to Contracts and so on. I was just trying to shove knowledge into my brain without time to process it and organize it in my mind. Concepts were flying all over the place and I just didn’t have a handle on all of it.

Additionally, I was SO nervous and had the worst anxiety throughout the entire study process. I cried almost daily and I had nervous breakdowns once or twice a week. Out of our study group of three, just one of us passed. The pass rate this February was kind of abysmal: 66%.

I am doing Barbri again, but this time I’m reorganizing their study schedule so that I can spend enough time on one subject before moving on to the others. I am also skipping the lectures this time and focusing more on drilling memorization and creating my own outlines. I was just told that if you don’t create your own outlines, you don’t give yourself a chance to properly integrate the material in your own mind with your own thought processes and logic. I can now see how that is true. I never did flashcards before in my life but I just started last night and I can now see why people make them. The first time around, I spent 10-12 hours per day, 7 days per week for 2 months. This time, I am going for 2 1/2 months, 8 hours per day, 7 days per week. I actually think I need to study LESS per day but get better quality studying done. I spent so much time spinning my wheels trying to sort all of the material that I felt the 10-12 hours per day was not worth as much as it seems. This time, I need to also integrate some normal people time. What I mean by that is, spend time doing things normal people do, like exercise, take breaks to watch a little TV or a movie, just as a way to ease the stress and anxiety. I took no breaks last time, and went hard from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I can’t even tell you how many showers I skipped and how many dirty outfits I repeated time and time again. I will not do that this time. I was so “all in” that it just added to the anxiety and nervousness.

With being just a mere couple of points away from passing, my sadness, nervousness, and anxiety is really now starting to turn into anger. I am mad those little points are what held me back and I am becoming more and more determined to not let this happen again. The repeater fail rate is higher than one would imagine. I asked one of the faculty members at school and he said that what holds people back on the second try is that they let the stigma of failing affect them. I am trying to stay strong and not let it bother me.