In the binary world of bar exam results, the day the pass list is posted will either be a day of jubilation or a day of dread. If you get the bad news, the prospect of starting your bar prep process over again can be demoralizing. After the reality sets in, you will have to confront the question of when to restart your studying. How and when to reboot your studies can play an important role in improving your fortunes on the exam the next time around. Your goal should be to return to studying in a position of mental strength, rather than limping back to your bar prep materials defeated and anxious. The exact timeline will inevitably vary from person-to-person, but consider these steps as benchmarks along the way back to healthy, productive preparation for round two:
I. Come to Acceptance
The first hurdle is likely acceptance. Accept the fact that you failed, but also accept the reality that failing the bar exam does not make you a failure. Plenty of ultimately successful attorneys fail the bar for one reason or another. Remind yourself of your past successes. Although your bar exam performance may seem like the sole indicator of your worth at the moment, take some time to appreciate your academic successes before the bar. Among other things, you’re a law school graduate. That alone is a great academic achievement that demands not only intelligence, but mounds of grit. You cannot fake your way through law school. You took challenging courses, you passed scores of exams, and you wrote plenty of great papers. The bar exam presents a unique (and somewhat artificial) challenge that can be tricky to prepare for, so you have to move beyond overwhelming shame and just acknowledge that it got the better of you.
II. Analyze your Past Experience
Before you just throw yourself back into your bar prep books again, analyze your previous bar exam experience from your first day of studying to the final exam section. As Doretta McGinnis writes, “If you failed the bar exam, the last thing you want to do is re-live the experience. But in order to pass the bar, you need to examine your process of studying and exam taking from start to finish to identify what went wrong and what you can improve next time.” (Read Doretta’s post Nine Elements to Review if You Failed the Bar Exam for a great list of things to consider in your review). If it helps you focus and regain a sense of control, write up your findings in a sort of postmortem report. Although hard earned, having personal experience taking the bar exam puts you in a great position relative to first-time examinees who are going into the exam with all the unknowns you faced the first time around. Don’t dwell in the past, but focus on extracting lessons from your experience that you can use to your advantage.
III. Talk with Someone
After you have a analytically deconstructed your previous attempt, find someone to talk to about your bar experience who can help you honestly assess your previous attempt and help you to devise a plan of attack for the second time around. If you felt like you studied hard last time, you probably need to at least tweak your approach. Finding a bar exam tutor can be valuable at this stage. An experienced tutor can help you to make the most of your past exam experience and set you on a path to success. Besides being therapeutic, talking through your past bar prep and exam experience with a tutor will help you to get out of your own head and develop a new study plan that preserves your strengths, addresses your weaknesses, and sets a course for your renewed bar prep.
IV. Formalize your Plan
Once you have devised a general plan of attack for this time around, formalize your study plan. Whether you had a comprehensive bar prep plan and daily schedule last time or not, a solid study plan is likely even more crucial during your second prep period. Build it into your Google calendar. Type it up. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself focused on executing your study plan. It will keep you on track and mentally focused on completing your studies and preparing to pass the exam. If you make a good plan and stick to it, you will avoid common second-attempt bar-prep pitfalls like debilitating anxiety or exam-fatigue sloppiness.
V. Get your Head Straight
Before you start studying again, make sure you have convinced yourself that you can and will pass the exam this time around. Your experience in taking the exam is an advantage that puts you in a better position than first-time examinees. If you can think of your past attempt as a good thing that can help you, you are probably ready to get studying again. Mindset matters as much in bar prep as it does on the exam itself. You have to rebuild your test taking swagger. Once you are confident that you are going to be studying smart and believe that you will succeed, get back to work and go pass the next bar exam!