If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you’re afraid that you failed the bar exam or you recently found out that you did, in fact, fail the bar. So I want to say right from the start that it’s going to be okay. Failing the bar exam can be devastating, but in the grand scheme of things, this is only a temporary setback. You can come back from this! If you’re having trouble moving past your bar exam results, here are 5 steps to help you build forward momentum and prepare to pass the next time around.
1. Take Time to Feel Disappointed, But Not Too Much Time. Whether you were expecting this result or not, there’s no getting around the fact that failing the bar exam is a huge disappointment. You invested a lot of time, money, and effort into this exam, so not passing is going to hurt. As the initial shock changes into somber acquiescence, try to be kind to yourself. Remember that this result is not a reflection of your qualities as a person or your likelihood of having a successful career. Give yourself some time to process your emotions and feel disappointed, but don’t wallow in self-pity for too long. At some point, you’ve got to pick yourself up and move forward. Which brings us to step 2!
2. Re-motivate and Rebuild. After you’ve taken some time to grieve your disappointing result, it’s vital that you get in the right mindset for retaking the exam. You must dig deep inside yourself to rekindle your internal motivation and rebuild your confidence. As we all know, preparing for the bar exam is a tedious, all-consuming grind. To make it through this struggle, you must have the will to prepare and a genuine belief that you will ultimately be successful if you put in the hard work. If you’re struggling to re-motivate, try reading about some of the highly successful people who initially failed the bar exam or connect with students like you who overcame a bar exam failure.
3. Evaluate What Went Wrong. Once you’re mentally ready to take on the bar exam again, you need to start by thoughtfully evaluating your past performance. If you do the same things during this attempt as you did during your previous attempt, you’re putting yourself at risk of having the same result. Be honest with yourself about your study approach and your exam day performance. Did you have a good study schedule? How many hours a day were you actually studying? Did you procrastinate? Did you complete practice exams? Did outside factors like childcare, employment, or health issues affect your ability to study? Were you eating and sleeping well leading up to the exam? Was there one area of the test that was more difficult? If it’s available in your jurisdiction, get a copy of your exam score to help you isolate any subjects, skills, or test components that were particularly difficult for you. Once you’ve identified the things that had a negative impact on your studying, you’ll be ready to start fixing them in step 4.
4. Create a Plan. You need a concrete, detailed action plan to help you take on your next attempt at the bar exam. Of course, your plan needs to include a study schedule that details what you will study and when you will study it. Your study schedule should include opportunities to review the substantive law, take practice essay exams, and complete multiple-choice questions. Your study schedule should also detail when you will study particular subjects and provide for breaks to allow your mind to rest. But your plan needs to include more than just what and when to study, it also needs to include strategies to help you resolve any problems you identified in step 3. Plan, in advance, the strategies you will use to minimize outside distractions, put a stop to procrastination, take better care of yourself, be more efficient in your studying, or address any obstacles you encountered during the past exam. And don’t just think about your plan, actually write it down and keep it posted in a visible location. If the process of identifying past problems and creating a plan overwhelms you, reach out to an academic support professional at your law school or start working with a reputable bar tutor. Having an expert to guide and support you through the process, in a very individualized way, can have a big impact.
5. Get to Work. Now it’s time to actually sit down and do the work. Oftentimes, the most difficult part of the process is simply getting started, especially if you’re repeating. If you’re intimidated or overwhelmed by the preparation process, just take it one day at time. Don’t think about the weeks of studying that are ahead of you. Instead, just focus on getting your first assignment completed. Once you’ve started, you’ll likely fall into a routine and find it a little easier to start studying each day.
Failing the bar exam is a bitter pill to swallow, but dwelling on that disappointment will do you no good at this point. Instead, focus on how sweet success will taste after you’ve overcome this setback and conquered this challenge.
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