We just wrote a post for those who pass the bar exam, so here is a note to those who fail the bar exam. Several states have already found out results but many have not yet found out results. It is better to read this post, and the last post before you find out results so that you can consider them more objectively.
Right off the bat, we want to say we are sorry you didn’t pass the bar exam. It can be very hard to handle when something you have worked so hard for does not come to fruition. It certainly can be a difficult and emotional time.
Before I tell you a good plan of attack for conquering the next bar exam, please permit me to say something that you probably won’t believe and give you an honest and different perspective on failing the bar exam.
A New Perspective for Those who Fail the Bar Exam
Many students who fail the bar exam feel a sense of isolation, and they begin to doubt their abilities. They also tend to only think in the short-term. They do not consider how far they have come and they do not consider how soon the future of lawyering is (a few more months away!). It is very easy to be short-sighted and not think about the big picture when you fail the bar exam. Chuck Palahniuk says, “The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” Amen.
So let’s step back for a minute. Even though it may seem like it, failing the bar exam is not the worst thing that can happen. Look at it for what it is. You didn’t die or suffer some horrible tragedy. You literally just did not pass one of the hardest tests out there. And, unlike other things in life, you also have the opportunity for a do-over. This will not affect the rest of your life. It affects the next few months. (And let’s be honest if you failed the July bar, it won’t be nearly as bad cooped up, studying with a cup of hot chocolate in the winter as it was studying for the bar exam over the summer.) You will also not be “starting from scratch.” You will still remember a lot of what you learned in your course. (It will come back quickly!) Students who fail the bar exam often have to see this to believe it. But you will find, it is true!
Also, know that you are not alone. Nobody advertises it to the world (or Facebook) when they fail the bar exam. You don’t see hashtags about having to take the exam again. Quite the contrary, when people fail the bar exam, they delete their social media accounts and do not talk to anyone. So you may feel alone, but you are not. Believe me.
Another thing that you might not believe right now: You will be surprised at the good things that come from failing. I honest-to-God received a text message from a student two days ago that said “I’m so glad I failed the bar exam….”
It wasn’t sarcastic. It was real. And it was not unusual. I hear that from a lot of students. They tell me, “I never would have thought I’d ever say this but I’m really glad I failed…” Why do they say that? Because blessings and burdens always come as a package deal. You might not see the blessings right away. But you will see them in the future. Sometimes it is the skillset you get from studying for the bar exam, the new law you truly learn, the resilience you develop, a job opportunity that came along at just the right time for you to pass the next exam, a person you would not have met otherwise.
If nothing else, you will likely increase your confidence and your ability to overcome obstacles. The philosopher Seneca says, “If you have strength to tackle any one aspect of misfortune, you can tackle them all.” In the future when you encounter an obstacle or misfortune, think about your strength and courage now – and how you did not let the bar exam get you down and how you were able to develop a plan of attack for the next time around and conquer the exam. The skill set and strength you nurture now will serve you well in the future.
Who am I to give encouragement about failing the bar exam? Honestly, I have never failed the bar exam. However, I have helped countless repeat takers pass every single administration. I hear countless stories about changed perspectives and hidden blessings. And, I have seen it for myself—my students becoming more resilient, stronger, and more grateful. I have heard stories about how going through the process of the bar exam another time has made them realize a lot about who they are and what they truly desire.
When you think about it, it is not surprising that students grow and learn so much about themselves during this time. Dark times are the best teachers. You do not learn much when things are going smoothly. You do not live life to its fullest when you get everything you want.
Think of your next few months as a journey across the ocean. Your path now is uncharted and to pass the bar exam, you have to really want it. You are the captain of your own ship but you don’t have to steer it alone. Load up your ship with everyone who is supportive to the journey and ignore how fast or slow other ships are going. The ocean can be scary because half the ships have reached their destination and moved on – but this also gives you space to help you see things more clearly. You have time to think about where you want to go and envision your future. Pick your course and stay it. And, if possible, try to enjoy your journey. Small victories every day. Rewards. The worst thing that can happen isn’t failing the bar – it’s giving up on your vision.
It sometimes helps during this time to think about bad things that have happened to you in the past that ended up actually being good – the job you lost that opened a door to a new opportunity, the break-up that you were devastated about that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to you. Think about the things you learned and the perspectives you gained in any dark time in the past.
I’m not saying that failing the bar exam is going to be the best thing that ever happened to you – but I am saying:
That bad circumstances are usually surrounded by a plethora of blessings.
That perspective is reality.
That resilience is an art form.
And that you can turn this experience around, change your perspective, be courageous, act boldly, gear up to conquer the next exam – and you will look back at this time in your life later and be proud of what you accomplished.
So how do you get there? How do you chart your path to success?
The first thing you should do is just let yourself be sad, annoyed, angry, depressed. Eat your favorite comfort food. Hang out with friends in the same boat as you. Go ahead and speculate as to how the hell so-and-so passed. Feel whatever you need to feel, do whatever you need to do, and see whoever you need to see. Do not start studying the day you find out you fail. Just let yourself be for a little while. Give yourself some time to process everything.
But, don’t dwell in this stage too long. A few days, maybe. A week. Then make it a point to move on. Figure out why you failed. There are several reasons why smart people fail the bar exam. Some of the most brilliant people I have met are people studying for the bar exam after they have already failed it. So really take some time to sit down and think about why you failed. Was it because you did not study enough? Maybe you simply need more time. Was it because you didn’t understand a lot of concepts? Maybe you need a tutor to explain things to you once. Did you not practice enough questions? Maybe you need a new approach. What is the true reason you failed? Thinking about this up front can save you a lot of time and energy down the line. (If you would like a step-by-step approach of questions you can ask and different options you can take, please see this detailed post on what to do if you failed the bar exam).
You should also consider watching our webinar on what to do if you failed the bar exam! (Available live and on demand!)
Once you figure out why you did not pass, come up with a plan to do it differently. Don’t do the exact same thing you did last time and expect to get a different result. If Barbri didn’t do it for you last time, don’t expect it to work for you this time. And, if you didn’t have enough time to study last time, figure out what you can change to make it happen this next time. If you don’t know where to start, feel free to call us (248-228-5547) or e-mail us ([email protected]) for questions, advice, or a free consultation.
I recommend that you come up with a plan of attack sooner rather than later. You may not realize it, but you are actually at quite an advantage for the next bar exam because not only do you have one bar exam under your belt, but you can also start studying well before the traditional study period to give yourself more time to do what you need to do. Take advantage of this extra time—do not start studying in January!
Good luck on your upcoming journey. Remember that things will get better, the waves will calm down eventually. Keep your ship pointing to the prize in the distance but stay focused on the waters you’re in to stay afloat and get there. And don’t forget to look up in the darkness for the stars. They are always there even if they are hard to see sometimes.
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