So, You’ve Failed The Bar Exam

 

And if you’re wondering why that really annoying mouth breather in class passed and you didn’t? Much of it is just dumb luck. People that fail the exam don’t fail by huge margins – it’s unlikely you scored 45% and the mouth breather scored 85%. I needed 660 to pass the New York bar exam. I was exactly 4 points short.  That’s 0.6%. Less than ONE PERCENT!

On Friday evening, I received an email from a friend letting me know that she passed the California bar. (Congrats Maggie!) I wasn’t so fortunate – I didn’t pass my first bar in New York. Despite the fact that this happened over a decade ago, I can still remember every detail – like being unable to fall asleep the night before, getting up at 6:00 AM and waiting anxiously until 7:00 AM when I could log onto the New York Bar Examiner’s website to check the results. Finally, 7:00 AM rolled around and after couple of tries, I saw the words I was not ready for:

Your ID number does not appear on the pass list.

I sat there for what felt like hours. I felt dizzy. The floor felt as though it was spinning rapidly, and I remember thinking “breathe!” because I felt as though I was about to faint.

If your name also didn’t appear on the pass list, there’s not much anyone can say or do to take the sting out of the situation. You’re probably feeling as though life as you know it has come to an end (at least I felt that way). I remember thinking over and over “I don’t fail exams!” And, this is true. Throughout my academic years, up until that point, I have never failed an exam that I studied for. Certainly never failed an exam that I studied really really hard for. You can read my bar failure story here. My husband also didn’t pass the bar on his first try. He passed on his second try and later went on to be an apprentice grader for the California bar.

 

Here are some things I wish I knew 12 years ago when I failed the bar exam.

1. It’s just an exam

The bar exam is just that – an exam. It’s not a reflection on how good or bad of an attorney you’ll be when you’re a practicing lawyer. (See list of famous people who didn’t pass on their first try.) The exam is an antiquated, residual hazing ritual that probably should be put to rest but it is a gatekeeper – designed to keep over 50% of the bar takers from becoming lawyers.

2. You will get through this!

Yes, it feels as though this is the most awful thing that has ever happened to you (and perhaps it is) and it’s hard to imagine life a year, or a decade later but trust me – you will get through this!

As the saying goes:

This too shall pass.

3. What do you need?

Everyone will offer advice or try to diagnose reasons for why you didn’t pass the exam. They’ll tell you things like “You just need to practice more PT questions. That’s how I passed.” Advice is fine but remember these words from Mary Schmich:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Of course, this includes this post! There’s a temptation to overdose and follow all advice – start doing 200 MBE questions per day and write 5 essays plus 2 PT! Or whatever the “magic formula” is. But more so than anyone else’s advice, what you should trust is your gut instinct. You’re going to know yourself the best – how you study, how you learn and the best ways to accomplish that. This isn’t to suggest tutors or others can’t be helpful but I am suggesting that you not blindly follow other people’s advice without gut checking.

4. Take time to process and practice self-care

I spent at least a week moping around, feeling sorry for myself and feeling angry that I was moping. No amount of self-criticism or self-hate is going to magically get the bar examiners to say “Oh, nevermind. We changed our mind. You’ve passed.” So, take some much needed time to process, decompress, unfriend all of your friends on Facebook that passed the bar exam, scream, dance, cry, or whatever it is you need to do.

5. A little perspective

46.6% of exam takers passed the exam, which means more than 50% failed! And if you’re wondering why that really annoying mouth breather in class passed and you didn’t? Much of it is just dumb luck. People that fail the exam don’t fail by huge margins – it’s unlikely you scored 45% and the mouth breather scored 85%. I needed 660 to pass the New York bar exam. I was exactly 4 points short.  That’s 0.6%. Less than ONE PERCENT! And guess what? This is extremely common. So, the mouth breather just happened to get four lousy points more.

Of course, it’s also possible you failed by a larger margin, in which case, it’s probably a good idea to look at those areas you didn’t score well on more closely.

Finally, I’ll close with this. It’s easy to waste precious time, mental resources and deplete your energy engaging in self-loathing. This isn’t the time for this. You have slightly over 3 months to get your act together, buckle down, and study to pass the February 2016 exam. And you’re going to need people who are going to support you, love you, and stand by you. But the most important person you need in your cheerleading squad is yourself.

Now, go and crush the bar exam! You’ve got this.