Tom goes from many-time repeater of the California Bar Exam to passing after changing the “how to” principles of bar preparation (while working full time)

Tom* sat for the California bar exam several times—many times. He didn’t have any particular strengths when it came to essays, the MBE, or performance tests. It was an overwhelming ordeal from the start.

“I struggled with all of them because I think the whole process was overwhelming. In law school, they told me that if you wanna pass the exam, you need to lock yourself in a room and don’t think about having a relationship. . . . I kind of believed it and subconsciously realized I’ll never be able to do that, and I think I struggled on all facets. That’s from a psychological level.”

At the same time, like many bar takers, Tom was also working to support himself while preparing. This is a common obstacle among success stories. (But as you’ll see below, it isn’t a handicap as much as you might think.)

“I was working two jobs and doing some consulting work back when I took in July of 2017 and just missed it. I worked one job in February and July this time. But I’m working full-time. I mean I don’t have a lot of time.”

On top of that, he also had dad duties. But he decided to focus on what moved the needle.

“I have an autistic son, but mostly it was the working. I had to put 110% at work, and do that with the practicing. I use the word ‘practice’ because to me ‘studying’ is counterproductive, which you describe that in [Passer’s Playbook 2.0] about not wasting too much time.”

More specifically, “practicing” paid dividends for Tom.

“When I use the word ‘practice’ in my mind, it helped me consciously . . . because I feel like every moment I’m spending is valuable and it’s giving me dividends. It’s repaying me. Whereas if I just keep going over the definition, it’s meaningless. But if I’m going over an issue in an essay and I see how it’s tested and I reverse engineer the question, or I go over an MBE question which also helps with the essays as well, that’s beneficial.”

Everyone preaches practice, but what does “practice practice practice” really mean? Tom stacked several principles that finally resulted in his passing the 2018 July California Bar Exam (which had the lowest pass rate on record for July exams in CA: 40%).

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How a repeater with a 9% chance of passing crushed the California Bar Exam… while working full time

Samantha V was a “threepeater” who took the California Bar Exam three times: 2017 July, 2018 February, and 2018 July. She wasn’t sure she’d pass. To say that the odds were not in her favor would be an understatement.

“I wasn’t confident at all. I was a hundred percent certain I had failed it. . . . I went to a non-ABA accredited law school. Our regular pass rate is like 16% and for retakers is like 9%.”

Her Achilles’ heel was her low MBE score. On top of that, the California bar exam had increased the weight of the MBE to 50%, making it that much harder for Samantha to kind of overcome the challenge with the MBE.

“My essays were 1570 and my MBEs were 1280. And then the second time, my MBEs came up by 20 points, but my MBE raw score breakdowns were awful both times.”

She knew practice was important. It’s not all about the quantity, though.

“The first time I did almost 5,000 MBE questions. And I failed, and it was awful.”

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This foreign attorney who struggled with essays passed the California Bar Exam with the lowest July pass rate (40%)

Lars was a Canadian attorney taking the California Bar Exam. He took it once in 2018 February. Then he passed the following July.

“I took it twice. The first time was in February and I got 1393, and then I wrote again in July and passed the second time.”

Lars was decent enough on the MBE and the PT thanks to his existing lawyering skills, but he needed help with the essays.

“I came really close on the MBE the first time. I think I missed one question but I struggled with the essays. I did well on the PT, the first time, which I think I can attribute to being a lawyer.”

Unlike the MBE and the PT, essays force you to work your “origination muscle”—to come up with words to write (instead of filling in letters) based on what you’ve memorized. We can break it down to a three-step process: Memorize the law, be able to recall it, and able to apply it.

“I kind of thought going in the first time, I would be able to just sort of manage the essays better than I could. . . . As a whole, the issue with the grading of the papers, there is a real issue where I don’t feel like a lot of the graders are grading equally.”

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