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.”
Finding the time (making use of her time)
Samantha’s MBE score wasn’t the only thing holding her back from passing the bar. She was working full time while studying, with barely any time to spare.
“For the first one, I took off, I wanna say, three weeks before the bar. The last two, I only took off one week before the bar. But for the most part, yeah, I worked forty-plus hours a week.”
It didn’t stop there. She had a stack of other responsibilities to juggle while studying, not to mention a 12-year-old to take care of.
“My stepdad, I’m his primary caregiver. . . . In the middle of all that, I’ve had him decide to rent out my childhood home. So I’ve been going through renovations with contractors and getting loans and basically remodeling an entire house.”
But it’s not uncommon for bar takers to get more out of their time when they have a time constraint. Constraints actually force you to get creative and efficient with your time, to focus on the more important things that move the needle. Samantha did just that.
“I studied less this time than I did the other two times, but I studied smarter.”
Finding the right resources that worked for her
Samantha had consulted several bar-preparation resources during her bar quest. A tutor, a bar course, and then a self-study approach that would encourage her to do what worked for her.
“My first bar, I signed up with Paul Pfau and did his thing which was interesting. The second time, I signed up with Celebration Bar Review. That wasn’t helping me, and then I talked with you after the second one. ”
To improve her MBE score this time, she went with Strategies & Tactics for the MBE, which contain past MBE questions selected across a broad range of tested issues and excellent explanations, all on paper.
“I got the Emanuel [Strategies & Tactics] books with the real MBE questions.”
It’s not about the tools themselves but how you use them. Samantha found various resources and made them work for her, not the other way around.
“I might actually have read your book [part of Passer’s Playbook 2.0] cover-to-cover. That was helpful for me, and I think mostly it was because your whole approach, you don’t blow sunshine up people’s asses. It’s like, this is what happened, this is how I did it, this is how maybe you can do it. It’s not like you’re saying, my way will guarantee work for you, but here are some other approaches to take which were kind of helpful for me.”
Finding the learning style that worked for her
Not everyone is an auditory learner. But Samantha made use of her limited time by listening to the voice that stuck with her. She absorbed the information by “codifying” it with her own voice.
Although she may not have remembered the exact wording of the rules, she knew how to apply it. This was especially advantageous for the MBE where she didn’t have to write anything out.
“There were certain things I probably just couldn’t recall but know how to apply it. . . . So it was just really picking what I had but being able to pull it out in the moment I needed it.”
Auditory learning made even more sense for Samantha because of her limited time. She made efficient use of her time by playing back her voice while driving to work, for example.
“I had a cheap little voice recorder, and then but I could play it back, like when I was sleeping in bed. I drive a lot for work. So it was handy. And it was weird because I could actually start picking up what the next point was because I was like looking for the weirdness in my own voice.”
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Incorrectly attributed to Abe Lincoln) Samantha prepared for her preparation, using the action steps and scheduling resources from Passer’s Playbook 2.0, and examples of real California essays.
“I did go through and fill out some of the little forms that you had, answering the questions about what to do. I used your schedule study template. And I went through some of the other exams that you had one your website that you had uploaded besides mine for different things so I could see other approaches for stuff.”
In the end, Samantha had just 30 hours of active study time once she formed her schedule.
“I mean thirty hours total. It was like my hands-on time. The rest of the time, I was just listening to myself, repeat the words over and over again.”
Finding a way to manage and retain her knowledge and skills
She found that my blog articles and emails also hit home. Being able to recall (not just memorize) rules and issues is part of the skills needed for the bar exam.
“You know what’s funny, you had one and I tried to look it up. It was about remembering the neighbor’s name and tricks to remembering things. It was big enough that I saved it in my email. You talked about issue checking, and that one really hit home for me. And your 20/10 rule made sense.”
If you (like me or Samantha) have to go through the bar exam experience multiple times, you can figure out what was missing previously. If something isn’t working or didn’t work before, change it or discard it.
“Even though I have done the bar twice before, I felt like I didn’t really understand the experience. You walk everyone through everything [in Passer’s Playbook 2.0], from the grading to the approach to how you did it, how you stayed at home one time versus going to a hotel. You threw a lot of other things in there. To me, it’s like I needed to have those questions or ideas answered so I could focus.”
For essays, Samantha learned how to approach them by focusing on the issues. Knowing the rules and how to use the rules is only dependent on being able to identify the issues in the first place.
“You talk about essay cooking and talking about spending 20 to 30 minutes [per practice essay]. I didn’t quite do that. I would read a fact pattern and write down words that I needed to talk about. Maybe spend like five minutes. And then I would take your Magicsheets and go through it with each issue to see what I forgot. But I mostly used your Magicsheets just to memorize and then I could hear it all in my brain later.”
Finding her Free Life
As Samantha said, she wasn’t sure she’d pass. You don’t need to be confident! Confidence (or ease) isn’t something we should be fixated on when preparing for the bar. Rather, strive for competence. A side effect of that is a bit of confidence and lower anxiety.
“I didn’t check my scores ahead of time. I was waiting or my letter because the time from when you find out that you didn’t pass to the time you found out why hurt more than not knowing. The register for the law school sent me a text with all emojis of like champagne and like sparklers and confetti. I texted back, ‘I don’t emoji. What is this?’ And she calls and goes, ‘Hey dummy, you passed. You’re on the list.’ And I went, oh my God!
Lo and behold, Samantha finally made this her last time. Her last time studying for the bar. Her last time juggling everything in her life. Her last time putting aside life, her career, and people she cared about. And, by the way, 2018 July had a pass rate of 40%, the lowest it’s been for a July bar exam in California.
“I actually just sat down with our 12-year-old and my husband . . . when the text came in. . . . I almost cried and all, but all I kept saying was, ‘Oh my God! I don’t have to study for this fucking test again.’
Passing the bar meant she could step into the future. Opportunities and doors started flinging open once she cleared the final hurdle (and the same will happen to you). It was her ticket to a Free Life.
“I was offered a position with the law school for one day a week as an assistant professor for their elder law clinic. . . . I had a wills-and-trusts attorney approach me, asking me if I had any interest in possibly becoming a fiduciary. . . . I deal with the federal government with alcohol permitting and licensing, but instead of necessarily always having to work under an attorney, I’ll be able to offer those services directly.”
Helping herself allowed her to help others she cared about.
“I can go back and actually help and volunteer. . . . I get to go to all the events and help underprivileged kids and travel the world and I get to go back to doing this stuff I love. . . . My two dogs get more time with me.”
Best of all, Samantha’s Free Life means she could fully enjoy the holidays at her own pace, go on vacations guilt-free, and take on the work that she wanted to do. She’s no longer stagnant and stuck in limbo. The possibilities are endless once you pass the bar.
“I’m like, I can write out Christmas cards; I can go Christmas shopping; I can decorate this year and not try to cram it in two days. We can go on vacation. I have two trials in February; I don’t have to turn down.”
Keys to her success
With the bar exam behind her for good, Samantha has a few pieces of wisdom on what she would do differently, particularly about the MBE.
“I would have started with you and not paid $2,500 to one and $700 to another. I would forgo the electronic MBEs and do the paper version. I agree with you about using the real MBE questions, not fake ones. Although to be perfectly honest, I swear to God that the MBEs that they have now are nothing like even the ones that they’ve released.”
Lastly, it’s never too early to prepare for the bar exam—or prepare to prepare for the bar.
“If people could somehow harness your knowledge early on while they’re in law school, I think studying for the bar would be easier.”
Congrats, Samantha! You can listen to the entire interview: