There are few events in life that seem to carry as much pressure as the bar exam. Not only is the bar exam the culmination of years of focused study and loads of student debt, but for many people it validates their personal competency and serves as the final obstacle to achieving their professional dreams. In other words, the bar exam is a really, really big deal – both personally and professionally – to most students.
Because so much is riding on the bar exam, a disappointing result can feel absolutely devastating. For some students, failing the bar exam can feel so catastrophic that they actually need to mourn the result. Not to trivialize the loss of a loved one, but the five stages of grief associated with loss may be very similar to some of the emotions you may feel after receiving a disappointing bar result. Identifying these stages may help you manage your emotions in the days and weeks after receiving your results and eventually help you look toward the future.
When you don’t see your name on the bar exam pass list, you may initially be in a state of shock. You’ll probably check the results a few times because you may not be able to believe what you’re seeing. After all the buildup and weeks of hard work, it’s perfectly understandable that accepting a bad result will be difficult. The shock and denial you feel might be compounded as you hear about friends and acquaintances who did pass, particularly if you feel that those students didn’t work harder or put in more effort than you did. You may feel isolated and you’re probably dreading having to face all those people who will be asking about whether you passed. But try to remember that you are not alone – there are plenty of people in the same situation. Reach out to friends who also didn’t pass so that you have someone to commiserate with and find a way to accept the sympathy of your friends and family.
As stunned as you may initially be at your bar result, eventually reality will set in and you will recognize that you have to live with this result for the time being. With so much time, money, and effort invested in the bar exam, you may eventually start to feel really angry about not passing. You might be angry at the people who passed when you didn’t, you might be angry at friends or family who distracted you from studying, or you might be angry at the bar examiners. But most likely, you’ll be angry with yourself. It’s easier said than done, but try not to beat yourself up too badly! Yes, the result is disappointing, but you probably won’t gain much from being angry about it at this point. Instead, try to be kind yourself, evaluate what went wrong in your study plan, and redirect your anger into positive energy that you can harness for the next round of studying.
Anytime we experience a disappointment, we’re tempted to think that things would have turned out better if only we had done some something different. As you’re coming to terms with your bar result you may be thinking that you would have passed if only you had worked less hours, if only the essay questions had been on different topics, if only you had devoted more hours to studying, if only you hadn’t experienced a computer glitch on exam day, etc. Some of those things may be true and some may not have made much of a difference. While there is definitely value in rationally analyzing what you can improve for next time, there’s no point in fretting over what could have gone differently on the last exam. Do your best to find a balance between putting the past behind you while taking care not to repeat the same mistakes twice.
You’re probably going to feel sad, disappointed, and maybe even a little embarrassed that you didn’t pass the exam, and that’s okay! Take some time to feel upset and grieve this setback. It will probably be difficult to see other students celebrating their pass results, getting sworn in, and starting their legal careers. But sooner rather than later, you will have to gear up to start studying for the next test administration. So after you’ve spent the weekend binge-watching bad t.v., eating sugary snacks, and isolating yourself in your apartment, find some healthy ways to cope with your emotions and get yourself back on track. Reach out to supportive friends and family, exercise, and think about all of the people who failed the bar exam (sometimes more than once!) but went on to become highly successful people. Remind yourself that this is a temporary setback that you can overcome with perseverance and hard work.
Eventually, you will get to the point where you’ve accepted the result and learned to live with it. You may still feel disappointed in the outcome, but you no longer see it as a catastrophe. Failing the bar exam is definitely something that can be overcome, and when you do finally succeed in passing the test, the achievement will feel that much sweeter knowing that you endured some difficult challenges.
The most important thing to remember is that you are most certainly not your bar result. The bar exam is one test over a 2-3 day period and it often doesn’t reflect all of the effort, skills, or other positive qualities you possess. The real test may not be how you faired on this one exam, but how you choose to respond to a disappointing result. You may need to mourn a bar exam failure, and as you do you may feel some or all of the five the emotions associated with the five stages of grief, but as you do, try to remember that the bar exam does not define you.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Why Really Wanting to Pass the Bar Exam Isn’t Enough
- Nine Elements to Review If You Failed the Bar Exam
- Are You Feeling Like the Only Person Who Failed the Bar Exam?
- You Failed the Bar Exam, But You Can Still Be a Great Lawyer
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