On November 18, 2016 at 6:00pm, my entire plan for my law school education and career came to a screeching halt. I typed the numbers in once…and the name was not on the pass list. I tried it with leading zeroes…and the name was still not on the pass list. After a few different combinations, reality settled in. Despite working tirelessly for ten weeks and giving everything I had to studying for the CA Bar Exam, I had failed. It took a few days for the shock and sadness to wear off, but once it had, I was able to step back and see where I had fallen short.
The first time that I studied for the Bar, my approach was to memorize as much law as possible in the hope that this would be enough to pass. When I received my scores, it was clear that this was ineffective. Memorizing the law was one piece of the puzzle, but in focusing solely on this I didn’t dedicate enough time to practicing issue spotting and writing according to the IRAC format. It might sound unbelievable, but I knew more law on the July 2016 exam, which I failed, than on the February 2017 exam, which I passed. The bar preparation programs include such a large universe of law that seems impossible to digest, and it really isn’t possible to memorize it all. But beyond it being impossible, it’s also unnecessary to know all the law. Focusing on the whole picture is something that I did very differently in prepping for my second attempt.
Another huge component of bar success is balance and maintaining your routine. I heard plenty of times throughout law school and bar prep that “balance” was the key to success, but I still didn’t take this advice as much as I should have in prepping the first time. In prepping for July 2016, I didn’t take a single day off, and I stopped exercising in the last month because I felt too guilty taking even an hour off from studying. As someone who has consistently worked out at least 4-5x a week for years, this was disastrous for my stress levels in the final stretch. The extra hours I may have gotten from refusing to take breaks ended up being extremely detrimental. I went into the July test tense and exhausted. My brain hadn’t had a break since May, and I crashed at the worst time; during the 3 days of the July Bar. When I prepped for February 2017, I gave my body and brain time to rest. I took some days off, I didn’t stop exercising, and I spent time with friends. This allowed me to recharge during preparation and I went into the test at the peak of my knowledge and energy.
Overall, the stress and anxiety of this test is inevitable. It requires knowledge of an unbelievable volume of information, as well as stamina and strength to persevere through multiple rigorous days. What’s more important is knowing that the stress will come up, and knowing how to tackle it. However, the most important thing to remember is that this is just a test. Regardless of the outcome, it will be okay. If it doesn’t work out the first time, it will the second time. And if not then, it will all work out at some point after that. Keep pushing forward, and never let the difficulty of the test make you question yourself or your abilities.