I don’t know about you but FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.
This post is about three simple things you can do to tremendously increase your ability to pass the exam.
I remember folks who failed. They were embarrassed, frustrated and exhausted. And they couldn’t move forward in life. They had to rinse and repeat while I went on to do what was next. And, for many of them, they had studied just as “hard” as I did. Their minds and nervousness messed them up and they hadn’t spent any time on that part of the preparation.
You, however, won’t make that mistake. As you will see when you watch a pro athlete. There is the ability to take the shot under pressure – the actual skill of shooting the ball which is a given. But it is their ability to keep their minds calm that will determine whether or not they will make the shot.
As soon as the proctor says “Begin”, your heart will race faster than your mind towards the finish line. How you train your mind will determine your outcome. And I don’t mean what you learn and how “hard” you study.
You remember the first year of law school, waiting for your grades. I sure do. When I was in law school in the late 80s, our grades were posted on a board in the lobby of my law school. They were not posted by name but by the random ID that was issued during my first semester and that changed each semester. I remember standing about ten feet away and saying to myself, “Are you prepared for a B or a C?” I got many As, some Bs and even a C in law school. But I kept moving forward.
The Bar exam is different. You either pass and go onto a job, an interview or the next phase of being a lawyer OR you FAIL and wait until the next bar exam cycle and START OVER. Do not collect $200, stay in jail. In other words, failure is NOT AN OPTION.
I passed three bars. Each the first time. I took New York and Connecticut first – in the summer of 1992. I waived in to DC (which was a waste of money and not necessary based on my multi-state score). I took and passed California in February 1998.
I took Bar-bri – and will assume that you have signed up for at least some course – and did the exact schedule they set out. BUT, I did two things (ok three things) differently that I am convinced made a huge difference.
Here they are:
Non-negotiables of Studying.
Here is the good news. Even if you have to work while you study for some of your bar prep time, there are many non-negotiables. Regardless of which course you take, and I assume that you are taking one of the courses, there is a schedule. This means that there are many things you don’t have to think about. Just do.
- Here are the non-negotiables.
- Sleep (and, do not short yourself on this),
- The course itself: mine ran from 9 am until 1 pm every week day.
- Food: three meals plus snack time
- Daily hygiene including bio-breaks.
- Study time after class.
- Make yourself a calendar now. Schedule everything in your calendar and adjust it once reality sets in. BUT, you will do yourself a huge favor if you have create a schedule and even if you never look at it again. I remember printing mine up and put it on the wall. It was like a permission slip because it taught my mind what every single day would look like AND I built in rewards.
- Here is a sample schedule.
- Note that I have added THREE potential study slots. I won’t have to stick with them or use them but they also become PLAY slots IF I finish my work early.
- Note that I added three potential exercise or relax slots during the day. Planning to exercise is key. If you do not have an exercise routine, then go for walks, listen to music while you walk but do something active.
- If there are two things you must learn to do, it is (1) learn to comfortably sit for two to three hour slots – which is the length of the bar sessions and (2) learn how to dissipate the anxiety and stress.
- As for Studying, it is a non-negotiable. Don’t ask them why, just do their schedule. Their schedules of what you study and for how many hours each day is pretty much science. If you do more, that is up to you, if you do less, you are fucking with science. And don’t think you can start studying four weeks into an eight-week program. If you miss a day or two that is one thing, but you cannot shovel a sidewalk clean during a blizzard with a spoon. Ok, that wasn’t the best metaphor but there is a lot of material and you will need to shovel (I mean study) every day for the most part to keep up with the storm.
2. The mental game.
The number one trick I learned about studying was visualization. I learned how to visualize myself successfully completing the exam in front of me. I learned it early in my studies and refined it but here is what I mean. In sum, you can increase your ability to pass this exam by literally envisioning yourself as precisely as possible finishing the exam successfully. And if you practice visualizing yourself there, starting now, even before you start studying, your mind will only know what success looks like. It has worked for me for almost thirty years. Give it a try. I cannot hurt you. PS. I did not invent this. Folks including Usain Bolt use this method to visualize their success.
a) Envision your exit.
As you sit here right now, can you envision where you will walk out of when your bar exam is done? I mean specifically, can you envision the building and the street and the neighborhood where you will walk out into when your bar is done? I could not.
I was studying for the New York bar in Philadelphia, where I went to law school. Because I was a non-resident New Yorker, I would take the New York Bar up in Albany. Even though I had been to Albany, I had no fucking clue where the building was or what it looked like.
So, I looked up the address and sure enough there was an image of the building up in Albany.
b) Envision what you will look like when you’re done.
The most important part of an exam is the grade but the next most important thing about an exam is finishing it successfully. I vividly remember sitting in the Connecticut bar and I remember the woman on my side of the table – there were two people to a side with a space in the middle. Connecticut had six thirty minute essays and they had to be written in order. The proctor would give you two essays in the first hour and then pick up the blue books after the first hour. So you had essentially 5 minutes to plan, 25 minutes to write or so. It was like sprinting. Well, the woman to my right put her head down after the first hour. She did not lift her head up until our first break and did not return. That was it for her. She was out.
So, for me, and for you, you will see yourself successfully finishing. You will envision your face, your neck, your shoulders, your whole body looking as you would look when you successfully complete an exam. Hard to envision right?
Go to a mirror. Stand there and look at yourself. Now close your eyes. Do you remember a time when you successfully kicked an exams ass? You knew it when you came out of the exam right? You were beaming, you felt great, you felt it in your gut, your throat, your face, your mind. You just knew. Now, open your eyes in front of the mirror. Do you see how you look now?
Is that what you look like when you feel success? If it isn’t then I want you to fake it. I want you to change your face by relaxing your brow, and your cheeks and your mouth. Relax your shoulders so they are down and take a deep breath. Smile. Look at yourself. Note every single detail of how you look. That should be how YOU look when you feel successful.
That image is the image you will refine and essentially visualize in your mind. It is not a fixed image. You can add to it and improve it. There is only one rule: everything you visualize, down to what outfit you wear must reflect SUCCESS. Not a single thing can be negative or doubtful. I pictured myself in a blue turtleneck and khaki pants and sneakers. That was my go to success outfit.
Let me know if you need help coming up with this image of yourself.
b) See yourself from the end to the present.
Here is the weird part. I used to visualize myself first at the end of the exam and then in the middle of the exam – seeing myself kicking its ass – and even visualize myself taking a bio break in the middle of the exam and catching myself (imagining myself) in the mirror and seeing myself “kicking its ass” and then visualise myself starting the exam as the imaginary proctor said “begin” and then finally see myself waking up that day and even the night before falling asleep.
I got so good that for two weeks prior to the exam, I could do my visualization in about 5 quick minutes with my eyes closed. I picked end, middle, beginning of exam points and the night before the exam. I pictured myself falling asleep seeing myself lying there “successful.”
If you take your mind thru this visualization effort once a day, every day while you study and all you see is yourself successfully completing the exam, then so long as you study, nothing mental will get in the way of you kicking its ass.
If you would be interested in learning more about how to visualize and calm the mind to kick this exam’s ass? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help you.
3. The essay game.
In the study materials, you will receive sample essays, and in California, you will receive sample performance test answer materials. If you received your study materials already, look for the sample answers. I am sure you learned IRAC. That is only half of the battle. For some, training your mind to answer the question their way – the way the Bar graders expect you to – is hugely important.
This seems like such an easy way to study the essays and is only focused on results. It is not focused on learning the material. You will learn how to be a lawyer when you work as a lawyer. Your goal now is to pass the exam.
I took each sample answer and after briefly reading the question, I wrote out, verbatim, the sample answer. I put each subject into a three ringed binder. Writing things out for me – as opposed to typing – helped my mind absorb the materials. Once you start studying you will find that the sample answers often analyze things a bit differently than even your teachers teach it during your bar course. Don’t question what is in the sample answer. I am sure you are brilliant and think you’ve found an error in the law or answer. Chances are you did not. Just write out the sample answer – ok type it – and organize each sample according to subject – Con law, contracts, crim, etc.
Sure it would be great for you to read the question and blindly write out your answer without looking at the sample. But why do that when you can read the question and practice writing out the correct, passing answer?
Reviewing your re-written sample answers will make a difference to how your mind gets use to simply writing out passing scores.
If you are interested in taking a free course to teach you these techniques and help you while you study, let me know. I only have room for 20 students.
Good luck out there.