The bar exam is over. Years of school and months of focused preparation came down to 2+ days. You did everything you could and now you have to believe it was enough. You’ve got a few months before bar exam results will be released so what are you supposed to do now?
Do not look back and wonder if you should have done more or done something differently. It won’t change the results. Do not dissect the test and assess perceived mistakes. It will only cause unnecessary worry. Do get back into *normal* life- socialize with family and friends, go shopping for professional work clothes, try out new restaurants and local entertainment, enjoy the wonderful summer weather.
Results will post soon enough and then you will celebrate formal admission into the profession. You can spend the next 2-3 months being miserable with worry or you can focus on moving forward.
It’s go-time. The bar exam starts tomorrow. Do not study today. I promise it is ok: you have been studying for years. Today is better used for re-charging and resting (or pacing around). It’s time to power up for tomorrow. Take a few minutes to reflect on how much you’ve accomplished. Three years ago it took you an hour to read one case because you had to stop and look up every other word. Now you discuss SCOTUS decisions as if the justices consulted you before writing them. Two months ago you had no idea what a PMSI was and now you use the term like a pro. You are ready.
All summer long I’ve been preaching to you about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. What you might not know is that I haven’t just been saying those words. I’ve been experiencing them. On May 26th I went for a run and I’ve run every single day since then (that’s 60 days for those of you who don’t do math).
I’ve been a runner for a few years so the actual running didn’t scare me. What made me really nervous is the every day part. I’ve read about people who have been on years-long running streaks but that is other people, not me. The ultimate goal was (and is) a bit daunting because I couldn’t make any excuses. How would I run on days where I had a packed schedule, traveling, or just incredibly tired? What if I got hurt? Sick? I could not answer those questions and this made me uncomfortable.
I’m always preaching that you have to trust yourself and keep moving. Now it was time for me to follow my own advice. Initially I was cautious because I was so afraid I’d get worn out. I quickly realized that focusing on the last day was not a good idea. I needed a plan to get there and I needed a little help. I downloaded a running app to provide some structure and coaching. At first I did the easy workouts and I had a great reason this: they are easy. But I’m a good lawyer so of course I countered my reasoning: you don’t get better if you don’t push yourself. I was being a hypocrite: I wouldn’t let you avoid learning a tough subject so I couldn’t avoid hard runs. I don’t like hills (especially the mile long one on Morse Rd from High to Indianola) but I can run them and I love the feeling when I push through and get to the top.
And I kept running. There have been days when a run was the last thing I wanted to do but then I thought about everyone studying for the bar and how many times I told you: “It’s 10 weeks, you can do anything for 10 weeks.” If you can study all day every day, I can run for 20 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that running every day is as grueling as studying for the bar, but there are a few similarities:
Active recovery builds endurance. Slow your pace instead of giving up.
There is rarely a good reason not to run but there are a lot of excuses.
If you don’t have a plan you’ll find yourself running at 10pm and again at 6:30am the next day.
A bad run is still a run and you will benefit from it.
You are the one who has to get out there and run but don’t underestimate the importance of friends and family cheering you along the way.
I’ve got 4 more days to run and as I have for the past 60, I’ll be thinking about you each step of the way.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Don’t consent.
Guest blogger Bryan Becker is a 2016 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of law, he now lives deep within the bowels of the school and can be spotted on stormy nights in a forgotten corner of the library.
I have been asked to provide some insight on how the bar exam prepares you to be better lawyers. For all of the criticism it faces, the bar exam remains the best possible tool for testing a law student’s capabilities and culpabilities of being a lawyer. Though it might not be clear to you now, you are actually learning skills that are the cornerstone of the profession. Such skills actually tested by the bar exam necessary for the practice of law include:
Before the Exam:
Time management: the test taker in the months before the exam must be a self-motivator when it comes planning how they should procrastinate instead of doing work.
How to watch youtube videos in public without others noticing.
Imaging that somewhere a colleague is doing better than you, and using that information to push you to work harder so you can later destroy that colleague.
Negotiating with hostile parties: you will argue with your personal grader about some point in Ohio criminal law in which neither of you are correct.
During the Exam:
How to exhibit complete and total confidence in an answer that the writer knows to be likely false and possibly against the laws of physics.
Managing nervous clients: the test taker will need to feign interest in their table mate’s predicaments before the test starts while actually thinking about tequila.
Having to be a technological troubleshooter as you are the only person under 40 in the room who cares about your computer’s problems.
Writing a legal memo in 40 minutes because you wasted too much time daydreaming about tequila.
After the Exam:
Impulse control: the test taker does NOT immediately turn over the table and break his or her chair after finishing the exam. The test take will instead wait for the proctor to finish instructions before doing so.
Driving in rush hour traffic.
Lamenting with the hotel bartender that you really don’t have to be here, and that you’re really just one or two characters away from creating a can’t-miss sitcom and asking “hey, how do people just MAKE sitcoms? How does that work?” which the bartender properly ignores knowing that you will soon move on to a different topic.
I talk about motivation every year around this time. That’s because we are at the slap-happy stage of bar prep. You’re getting the work done and haven’t lost all your drive but that laser-focus from the first few weeks isn’t there. A quick look at social media reveals lots of clever bar exam posts, photos, tweets, and hashtags. I’m not saying you need to go off the grid or avoid social media as it can be a wonderful way to find and share motivation but the key word is motivation. This is the psychological drive that compels you to a certain goal. It is intrinsic and comes from within. It means that you attribute success to factors under your control and believe you have the skills to reach your goal. So please stop with the those unstaged pics of you with caffeine, you about to study, or you workingreallyhard. Not motivational and so overdone. You can do better.
According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest will remain at rest. There is a natural tendency to do what we’ve always done. It’s called inertia. But taking even the smallest step is starts the momentum that keeps you going. Staying motivated is not always easy. But you have a choice- you can stay where you are or take action. The decision to act is a scary one but crossing the threshold is liberating.
Motivation and inspiration don’t happen to you. You make it happen by taking the first step. Although this ultimately has to come from within, sometimes you need a little external push to get going. Nothing wrong with that- just get going.
What does “get comfortable being uncomfortable” mean? It’s something I’ve been saying for years. When I coached swimming, I said it to my athletes all the time. In swimming, every hundredth of a second matters so when you’re five meters from the wall and you think you need to take a breath, don’t. You are less than a second from finishing and taking a breath (or lifting your head) creates drag which can mean the difference between winning the most Olympic gold medals ever or… not.
Getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable also means not being afraid to fail. Swimming great Katie Ledecky fails “spectacularly” and that is why she wins.
There’s no magic bullet…[Katie] doesn’t have this incredible wingspan. She doesn’t have webbed feet. You look at Katie, just like with Michael [Phelps], and you realize the differentiator is between the ears. And their hearts. Their appetite for competition, their unwillingness to lose, and their embracing the challenge. And not just the challenge on competition day, which is a huge part, but the challenge of the training grind.
– Bruce Gemmell, Ledecky’s coach
At the Rio Olympics Ledecky finished so far ahead of the competition that she spawned Chuck Norris-like memes.
So, what does this mean for the bar exam? It means that you push yourself past your comfort zone. It means you don’t quit when things get hard. It means you mess up, make mistakes, and fail. A lot. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable means you are prepared for and can handle just about anything. Things don’t have to go perfectly for you to succeed. You have learned how to adapt, adjust, and move forward. No one likes feeling uncomfortable but avoiding that feeling and being afraid to fail is exactly why people fail the bar exam. They are afraid to make mistakes and afraid to be wrong. They are afraid of what others will think and that their best isn’t good enough.
It’s week two of bar prep and the uncomfortable feelings are creeping in. You can avoid them and take a breath or you can hold on, push through and get to the wall first.
Bar Prep occurs in five stages. As a recent Bar Examinee, I will tell you what you’re about to experience.
Any difficult process begins the same: we all deny it’s happening. With the bar exam, the denial occurs passively as other big things happen in your life. You just finished final exams and graduated. Or you just relocated. You just got engaged or married. You recently had a child. You are looking for a job.
These major things will cloud your vision. You know that bar prep is around the corner, but you are not ready to accept it.
The next stage is nostalgia. You will begin your studies in earnest. You will go to classes, watch videos, take notes, etc. on topics that you studied way back at the beginning of law school. Contracts, property, constitutional law, torts, and so on.
You will have energy and your familiarity with these topics will put you a bit at ease. You will strangely feel like this is not going to be so bad.
This stage lasts for about a week—maybe two, if you’re lucky.
After a brief period of something resembling okay-ness, you will descend into discomfort. You will realize that the exam—and your preparation—will cover many topics only some of which you are familiar with and others you have never encountered before. You will feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
You will write your first graded practice essay and feel a jolt of unease as you fail to recall from memory any rule statements or legal propositions. You will feel very bad about yourself and very uncomfortable with your studies.
You will start to shift into new topics before you feel solid on the old topics. You will be tested on three topics in one day and you will forget that you had already covered the first topic that seemed so familiar only recently.
The multiple choice sets you complete will be harder than you expected. And you will struggle to hit your targets.
But here’s an important piece of information to hold onto during this time: your discomfort during this stage is the reasonyou will pass the exam. Your discomfort will drive you to study hard and focus. You will not be distracted by seemingly endless number of other, better opportunities happening in the early summer.
And here’s another important piece of information: do not let your discomfort dictate your study schedule. Follow the schedule your bar study program has for you. Do not study constantly or sprint ahead of the program. Slow and steady and uncomfortable is the path to success.
And if you are feeling especially overwhelmed, use your nervous energy to prepare in simple low-energy ways after you complete what you need to for the day: make flashcards of key terms and phrases; print out example answer essays and organize them by topic; organize yourself. Do mindless things that will help you study down the road.
I would like to tell you that things improve after ‘Discomfort,’ but I’m here to tell you how it is not how you want it to be. You will feel worse. Sometime after the Fourth of July (assuming you are taking the July exam), you will start to panic.
You will notice that there are only a few weeks until the actual exam begins. You will genuinely believe you cannot pass the exam.
You will nervously talk to friends, family, peers, and professors about the exam, about rumors about the exam, about crises arising among the ranks, and other disaster stories.
Here’s the thing: if you have been following your program and working slow, steady, and uncomfortably—and you have not been afflicted with a major medical emergency or family tragedy—you will be okay. You just have to have put in the work, keep putting in the work, trust the process, and be good to yourself.
I cannot stress this last bit enough: be good to yourself. Go see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend, get enough sleep, exercise some, watch some TV, breathe. If you put in the time and effort to study, you can take a moment to do something fun and relaxing. In fact, you really should.
In the final couple weeks before the exam, you will enter the ‘a lot’ stage. In this stage, you will feel many intense emotions. You must anticipate and prepare for this inner tumult to prevent it from torpedoing your efforts.
About two weeks out, make sure you have all the items you will need for the exam and all the logistics are worked out.
Your car is running (or whatever transportation you need to the exam)
Your computer is functional and test-ready
You have proper identification and documentation to enter the test area
You have pens or pencils (as necessary or required)
You have comfortable and test-acceptable clothes and footwear
Doing all of these little things in advance will help you control your headspace come the days of the exam.
Finally, identify the two or three topics you are most afraid of getting essays on and make attack outlines covering the major areas within those topics. And read them, study them, and memorize them. You may not get tested on these topics, but you will not be afraid of being tested on these topics during the exam.
Treat bar prep like a full-time job. Study slow, steady, and uncomfortably. Make progress each day and review topics that trouble you. Take your studies seriously, but do not allow them to consume all of your waking hours. Take time to breathe, relax, and care for yourself.