Common Traits of Bar Passers & Why Mental Fortitude Is Important for Bar Preparation

They say knowledge is power (and you can never have too much power).

But why is it that with all the information out there, we don’t always get to where we want to go? Why do 80 percent of New Year resolutions fail by February? (Remember those? LOL)

“If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

Knowledge applied correctly is power. Knowledge is potential energy. It’s what we DO with the knowledge and the desire, not the fact that we have them, not the fact that we simply declare our desire.

But even then, the top hurdle that I’ve encountered with people taking the bar isn’t skills or knowledge.

It’s, uh, mindset. I lowkey hesitate to use this term because it’s sometimes associated with impractical woo-woo and things like visualization.

But the point remains: The hurdle is often internal.

If you have the raw material but can’t bring yourself to make a sand castle, if you can’t turn that potential energy in your mind into kinetic energy, what’s the point?

"half of bar prep involves preparing oneself mentally"
"the bar exam is all about your mental fitness and your ability to retain a crap ton of information without going crazy. Take care of yourself this time around."

It’s getting harder to pass the bar exam…and that’s exactly why you should go for it.

It’s not going to get easier. But when the bar is set high, it’s actually an opportunity to stand out more.


If you take the time to observe people who have passed the bar exam, you can kind of tell why. There’s something about their behavior:

1. They don’t get stuck on perfectionism.

They don’t write the perfect essay before moving on to the next. They don’t wait for perfect knowledge or to “get their ducks in a row” before starting.

They do now what they’ll be doing on the exam.

This doesn’t mean they simply go through the motions. They learn and correct course along the way. They wade through the discomfort instead of staying in the shallow end of the pool. Actions are purposeful and deliberate.

Next. Repeat. Again. 

Success is boring, not sexy.

2. They are proactive. This shows that they’re serious. They do the research, but at some point, they focus on implementing (one example). 

Failing the bar exam changed my life.

I had enough of doing what they told me to do. I focused more on doing my own research, seeking specific guidance, and learning invaluable lessons by reflecting on my experiences.

But be careful about getting trapped into being an information junkie.

According to Jeff Bezos, “Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.”

So you have to curate advice as well, not just tools. There’s a cost to attending every free workshop and study group: You’re lowering the signal-to-noise ratio.

If you find someone whose viewpoints you value, pay more attention to what they have to say. But also, take only what you like, and leave the rest. Advice is never one-size-fits-all.

Then do something with it. Don’t be like guys who fail to make the first move, stuck with regret wishing you could have done something.

In the end, you attain the result you want by your own hand. There’s no way to “hack” your way to passing.

3. Perseverance. 

The next attempt may very well be the last!

They keep doing what’s working. They change what’s not working.

The last part is key. Some talk about repeating the same exam for years. But that’s not a badge of honor, nor does it make you a martyr. There’s a difference between perseverance and refusal to adapt to reality.

I was forced to accept reality. There was no time to worry about whether I was going to fail again, until after the exam. Darwin said that it’s not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that survives but the one that’s most adaptable to change.

4. They stay sane and optimistic. 

They prioritize and make the time needed, and manage their responsibilities.

They enjoy the process or at least take it in stride one day at a time. My parents said I looked much happier on my second attempt. No wonder because I wasn’t getting exhausted sitting through lectures and transcribing notes all day.

Some choose to do this by engaging with others going through the same thing, or writing out and organizing their thought processes. Focus is critical, but so is releasing steam.

Some choose to shut up and silently focus on the work in their own world. 

5. They do not “freak out.” 

They may be taken off balance but keep composure. They are not easily confused or overwhelmed. Mental Engines is my mini-course that can help with this.

If you’re discouraged and emotionally exhausted through this process, though, that’s very common and normal. That’s why I want to share two different ways you can think about this situation you’re in.

Mental reframe 1: the $50,000 project

Imagine someone wanted to pay you $50,000 for a big three-month project. Wow!

Are you going to get distracted or make sure you get it right? Because that someone is you and the project is bar preparation.

If we assume for simplicity that your attorney salary is going to be $100,000/yr, every half year you delay entrance to the bar could mean losing out on $50,000 you could direct toward your student loans, new home, wedding, trips, etc. And naturally, the earlier you start your career, the more your salary grows.

Not only that, delaying passage could mean you CONTINUE to pay for testing fees, courses, supplements, etc. like a subscription.

In other words, the earlier you pass the bar exam, the earlier you’ll be set for life.

If you don’t pass the bar exam this time, the next time you’ll find out whether or not you passed will be sometime within the next 7 to 11 months (from July or February).

That is a haunting length of time.

Another 9 months of your life spent waiting for results to gestate, simmering in anxiety and uncertainty, is no joke. It puts not only yourself in limbo—but also your friends and family who may not fully understand why you’re still doing this “bar thing.”

That’s what’s at stake with the bar exam. It’s not just a career. Professional abeyance limits your life and relationships from reaching their full potential. You’d be squandering the only things in life you can’t get back: time and relationships.

Damn. But let’s not only use a fear-driven “stick”…

Mental reframe 2: What could go RIGHT?

In a job search, if you had to face a number of rejections before you land your dream job, how many interviews would you go on?

If you had to go on 100 dates to find The One, would that make up for the other 99?

As a kid, you didn’t think your way to your passions. You played with different things. You kept trying and evolving, like some kind of artificial intelligence.

After 51 failed games, Rovio created the mega-hit game series Angry Birds.

If it were going to take x number of failures to succeed, how excited would you be to take the L on that essay or that MBE question?

As I always say, if you graduated from law school, you are capable. It’s only a matter of time.

I understand there will be unbelievably humbling moments during this process. But strength blooms only in adversity. You must fail in order to grow. Bar preparation is emotional preparation.

(More here on the concept of emotional preparation and how to turn your emotions into something useful.)

Instead of letting adversity pull you down, you can lean INTO it and take a forward-looking view, anticipating that your biggest growth is ahead of you.

I share these ways to turn the prism of your mind because…

If you’re anxious, stressed out, or overwhelmed, that has a direct and inverse correlation to your energy and drive.

Low drive ➞ no work gets done ➞ low improvement ➞ panic ➞ overwhelm ➞ low motivation ➞ resignation ➞

“Oh well, maybe next time.”

No, don’t accept a repeater identity. Don’t give in.

Think back to law school. What was going through the minds of those classmates who were always great at everything? What’s their thinking? What’s their process?

I don’t know about you, there were these subtle scents or auras around them. Somehow, they were calm, they took things in stride, and they were smiling.

Wouldn’t things go better for you too if you were relaxed, calm, and focused… maybe even having fun?

If you’re feeling this way, you can CHOOSE to change your mind.

Because it’s our mind and our heart that drive us. If you’ve ever been heartbroken, you know how difficult it is to stay productive or do anything.

But if you can change your mind, you can change anything. It’s not always easy to do that, but I hope the above reframes made you a bit more optimistic and inspired you to rewire your thinking.

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