Few things in your life will have the same sort of buildup and anticipation as the bar exam. The tension is only increased by the high stakes: you may have a job offer contingent on bar passage, you definitely have years of work and weeks of preparation invested, and you likely have everyone you know waiting to hear if you passed or failed.
With that amount of pressure, having a disappointing first-day experience can be demoralizing, to say the least. But as you walk out of that first day of testing, and especially if you feel like things didn’t go well, you absolutely must try to keep things in perspective.
Did You Really Do That Badly?
First, you probably didn’t do quite as badly as you think you did. You’ve just endured hours of grueling questions that tested your mental and physical stamina, not to mention your knowledge! You’re probably exhausted from the day and not accurately remembering every answer or fairly assessing your own work. Have some faith in your ability and the time you spent preparing.
There’s a Lot of Time Left
Second, remember that the bar exam is a multi-part endeavor. Although each day is important, you can compensate for a slightly weaker performance on one day with a stronger performance on another day. The first day of the bar exam is just one part of the process so don’t give up after a disappointing experience – there is still time to make up ground.
Avoid Dissecting the Exam
If you’ve had a disappointing day it is especially important to avoid dissecting the exam with other students. In an effort to reassure themselves or at least gain some company in their misery, students will often discuss specific questions with other students. But inevitably, this will just make you second-guess your answers and feel more discouraged. It’s best to spend your time after day 1 in a calm, relaxing environment (i.e. away from other stressed out exam takers). If you must socialize with other students, avoid discussing the exam and take any comments from others about their answers or how well they did with a grain of salt.
In the end, all you can do is try to stay positive. Worrying about your performance on the first day will only cause you more stress and make it more difficult to refocus for the remainder of the exam. If you truly feel like you bombed on day 1, to the point where passing the exam is nearly impossible, you should still get up the next day and try your best. At best, you’ll have underestimated your performance on the first day and end up passing. At worst, you’ll have gained valuable experience for retaking the exam the next time around.
You’ve come this far (and invested a lot of time, effort, and money into this process), so do your best to block any negative self-talk and motivate yourself for a strong comeback on day 2 and (for the Californians) day 3.
Best of luck! You can do it.