An Acquaintance’s Advice Regarding the Bar Exam

by thedesertion

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.