Reading bar passage rate news coverage tends to be depressing for prospective bar examinees. At least recently, these stories predictably report that bar exam scores and passage rates are down once again, bringing them to historically bad levels. For a few examples of the headlines – California Bar Exam Pass Rate Continues to Slump (CA), February Bar Exam Passage Rate Lowest Since 1971 (MD), These Bar Exam Results Are Horrendous (AZ), February Bar Exam Results May Indicate ‘New Normal’ (IN). If you are preparing or thinking about preparing for a bar exam, these articles can easily fill you with a foreboding sense that the system is broken and that you are doomed. This can quickly trigger a parade of horribles in your mind, co-opting your healthy, positive bar prep mindset. The best idea would probably be to avoid these articles altogether. But if you cannot resist or your “friends” cannot help but send them to you, here are some approaches to staying positive amidst negative bar exam news.
Get Motivated – Don’t Let Yourself Become a Statistic
One productive response is to get motivated. Push play on Eye of the Tiger and get to work. As Bar Exam Toolbox contributor Deborah Rummelhart stresses, the most important factor in passing the bar is commitment. Regardless of the year or the jurisdiction, the bar exam is going to be tough. If the latest news comes out that examinees have been performing poorly on the exam, resolve to not be one of those examinees. Use the statistics as motivation, not an excuse. Commit to success and let the statistics drive you rather than scare you.
Stay Focused – Ignore What is Beyond your Control
Just add it to the long list of things beyond your control. Part of the enduring challenge of the bar exam are the factors you cannot control. You will not know what subjects will be in the essay section, you will not know what skill your performance test will drill, and you will not know if the person sitting next to you at the exam will break out into tears in an alarming and distracting way. Focus on the things you can control. Make a study plan and stick to it. Whether you go with a bar prep service or a personal tutor, do whatever it takes to have confidence in your plan and then rely on it. Let it help you to stay focused and ignore all of the unhelpful noise out there. Having a firm preparation plan in place will at least give you a sense of control and build your confidence to take on the unknowns.
Aim High – Make Statistics at the Bottom of the Grade-Scale Irrelevant
Even in the states with the lowest pass rates, a lot of examinees pass. Be confident. Keep a positive mindset. Especially as you begin your preparations, don’t aim to just barely squeak by on the bar exam. If your score is high enough, how the statistics break at the bottom of the grade scale will not be your problem. Even if you were not in the top third of your law school class, aim to be in the top third of your fellow bar examinees. Keep in mind that law school performance and bar exam performance are two very different things, so avoid the temptation to project your class rank to your bar exam rank. If you work harder and smarter during bar prep, you can far outperform your law school rank. Put yourself in a position to not worry about the back of the bar-exam pack.
Take Heart – Others are Fighting the Fight
In most states, blue-ribbon commissions and armies of advocates are lining up to push for fairer exams and scoring standards. You can join the cause after you pass, but for now, find peace in the sure and certain knowledge that others are feeling your pain and fighting your fight. (Especially law school deans that have a vested interest their students’ bar exam success. For example, see UC Hastings College of Law Chancellor and Dean David L. Faigman’s recent op-ed.) Let others write the opinion pieces and bemoan the injustice of the system. During your bar prep, stay focused on being as prepared as possible and leave the political fight about the bar exam to others for the moment.
Think Supply and Demand – Lower Passage Rates Mean Less Competition
While it may not be the most altruistic reason to welcome low passage rates, your employment opportunities will increase if you pass and a smaller number of licensed attorneys hit the job market post-bar exam with you. The economics of the legal job market are undoubtedly complicated, but from a simple supply and demand prospective, you will be better off if you can survive the crucible and get to the other side as a newly minted, licensed attorney in a jurisdiction with a low passage rate. When you get to your job hunt post-bar, all of the hard work you put in to pass a tough bar exam will pay off in spades.