By Bianca "Bee" Gay • May 16, 2014•Writers in Residence
Lately I’ve been asked about my experience taking the bar in light of the fact that I just passed the February exam (after studying for only 20 days max). What better place to write about that than here?
[Let me start by saying I don’t advise anyone to study for the bar exam for as little time as I did. My experience was due to circumstances beyond my control- it was not my ideal situation. What I do hope you’ll get out of this post is an appreciation for the power of positive thinking, determination when your back’s against the wall, and that this exam is really mind over matter.]
If you recall in my first post for Ms. JD, I failed the July 2013 bar exam by a few measly points. I’d spent last summer slaving away for 12 (sometimes 14) hour days, trading in fun family outings for BarBri lectures and multi-states. My summer was wake up, study, sleep, repeat. So imagine my “shock” when I did not pass the bar exam.
Never a quitter, I quickly (after sulking for a few days) got back on the horse and reapplied to take the February 2014 bar exam. I created a study schedule, whipped out my materials, and was determined to beat this thing once (again) and for all. But a series of unfortunate events rivaling those of Lemony Snicket kept me from focusing on the bar exam. Also plaguing me were thoughts of self-doubt. Thoughts like:
I’ve never been a good test taker, can I actually pass this thing? I mean I studied soooo much and I still failed.
Is failing the bar exam God’s way of telling me to do something else with my life? And if so, what? I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for more than half my life, I don’t have a Plan B.
Then on January 31st someone who’d been there, done that, and got the T-shirt told me that I shouldn’t take the bar exam because I will fail. And she had a valid concern. I hadn’t been able to study at all in the past few months, how would I be able to get it together to study for an exam that was 26 days away? Well, when you tell me not to do something because you think I won’t succeed, it only makes me want to do it more to prove you wrong. So on February 1st I began to study for the February bar exam. And as if sensing my apprehension, my friends and family encouraged me to go for it. So I did, embarking on “Operation: Pass the Bar Exam or Bust.”
Despite the long hours I put in, I realized that I really didn’t study enough last summer (crazy, right?). I wasn’t absorbing the material like I should be. So this time around I traded in my outlines for Critical Pass flashcards, and I ordered the “Kaplan Red Book.” I studied a subject per day until I knew the material forward and backward, did some multi-states (never more than 70 a day except for my 200 question “midterm”), and then retired for the day. I didn’t do any practice essays; writing has always been my strength, so I focused on my weakness. And due to additionally unforeseen circumstances, I couldn’t even stick to my new schedule. Consequently, I ended up studying for about 20 days. But in those 20 days, I answered questions faster, and I felt more confident about my knowledge of the law, and in my ability to represent clients.
Call me crazy, but I felt more prepared for the February bar exam than I did in July. And I was less nervous. Despite the fact that my train broke down on the way to the exam, I still remained calm and just reviewed some Civil Procedure. If I absolutely didn’t know the answer to a question, I picked answer choice B (for Bianca lol) and moved on to the next question. I left each section with at least half an hour to spare. But unlike when I left the testing room in July, this time around I felt like I’d passed.
Fast forward to the weekend of April 26th when I waited impatiently for the mailman like I was Stoop Kid from Hey Arnold!. When I finally opened my letter and got the news that I’d passed the bar exam I ugly cried like Nancy Kerrigan in the 90s.
In what crazy world does someone pass the bar after 20 days of studying? Aside from fulfilling my childhood dream, the best part was telling my “hater” that I passed! She was happy for me.
The morals of this story (followed by a slew of clichés) are first, do what works for you. Just because a bar prep program tells you to do XYZ a certain way doesn’t mean you have to. Outlines didn’t work for me, so I bought and made my own flashcards. I didn’t feel like I needed to do practice essays so I didn’t (I also didn’t write in IRAC form on the bar exam). Also, give yourself a break. Literally. Force yourself to get up and do some non-bar exam activity throughout the day. Have some lunch, hit the gym, have a beer, watch TV. You and your brain deserve a break every now and then.
Second, never give up on yourself or your dreams. Whatever you believe about yourself becomes true, so you might as well think the best thoughts possible. I walked out of the July bar exam thinking I failed. I walked out of the February bar exam thinking I passed. And guess what? Both times I was right! This test is designed to mess with your head, but it’s really mind over matter. You graduated from law school, so you CAN pass the bar exam.
You really never know what you’re capable of achieving when push comes to shove and your back’s against the wall. So when you’re faced with something seemingly impossible, and people think you’re crazy for doing it, DO IT ANYWAY. Sure, failing is an option, but so is success. And with odds like that how can you not go for it?