8 Steps to Getting Better at the Bar Exam

Listen, the bar exam is not going to be easy no matter how you slice it.

Not to mention all the preparation that goes into it, day in and day out. Not everyone is going to make it out either.

Your fancy degree can’t save you now. The good thing is that you have the power to differentiate yourself with your skills. You learn not just what to study—but how to study for the bar exam.

From yourself. From the community. From me.

Of course, there are many ways to go about it. You have the innate talent. I only try to empower you to head in the right direction so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

This is a primer on how to use your innate talent to prepare for and get good at the bar exam.

1) How do you get good at anything (such as bar exam preparation)? By doing it and practicing every day.

This will lower your anxiety and increase your confidence.

If you don’t try, you’ll never taste failure, but you’ll never taste success either.

In contrast, if you don’t follow through with something you said you’ll do, you’re telling yourself that what you say doesn’t matter. Over time, you lose confidence in yourself.

“Easy for you to say! I’m like this because I’m not confident about this in the first place!”

You say as you sob grossly. Ah yes, the classic catch-22. Can’t get job without experience, can’t get experience without job.

Being coddled isn’t going to make you confident either. It’ll just make you complacent. I don’t want to make you complacent like when your friends hit “like” on your generic selfies for no good reason.

2) That said, confidence is not the end result you’re looking for. Complacency is what made me fail the first time.

Instead, we want competence. And we’re all capable of minimum competence at least.

At some point, you don’t need more substantive strategies from me, like identifying issues, memorizing rules, approaching the MBE…

Those are table stakes, a cost of entry, just the basics. I talk about these things elsewhere.

I want to move beyond fundamentals and toward things that affect your day to day: dealing with uncertainty, embracing the mentality of embarrassment, reframing your expectations, etc.

Now the folly of “confidence.”

Confident preparation only gives you a feeling of confident preparation. It doesn’t translate to a confident exam experience.

Why?

The actual exam experience is different from the simulations. The questions will be similar, sure. The finality and the weight of your actions won’t be similar. Your heart will shake uncontrollably. Your body will summon adrenaline and bullshit to try to rescue you.

Confidence goes out the window. Seeking confidence is a trap. A band-aid for the moment to cover up the real issue.

Competence gives you a confident exam experience.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

When you’re actually on the hotseat, you’re 30 to 50% less good at the things you’re normally good at on a day-to-day basis.

Dig the well before you’re thirsty instead of confidently assuming you won’t be thirsty later. Fall to the level of your training.

That should be your “motivation”—in case you’re wondering “how do I get motivated.” I go into practical strategies on making lasting changes to your mental/emotional mastery in Mental Engines.

3) How to deal with having to be CHOSEN by gatekeepers (bar exam graders, employers, clients, etc.).

I’ve done some dumb shit. And I always found myself doing things the hard way.

  • Ate sliced bread for lunch to save up for law school. I didn’t know you got free grants if you’ve already spent your money.
  • Manually briefed each case and endnote instead of doing things that would get the grades.
  • Met and networked with a bunch of people I don’t talk to anymore.
  • Put too much effort into publishing a law review article, and turned down a paid offer to continue my summer internship because of that.
  • The shock of failing the California Bar Exam. The hubris in thinking I must have passed. I’d fallen into the TRAP of SAFETY and CONFIDENCE and didn’t know what I didn’t know (why I keep warning you about relying solely on theory).
  • Almost got fired because I sucked so much as a junior patent attorney and my boss hated me (but things got better immediately after she left).
  • Got two interviews and got rejected for both. Sought brutal feedback from my interviewers, and then…
  • Got interviews again at three law firms and almost an offer from each… Or in one case, actually got one, negotiated it, accepted it, then LOST it via a one-line email because of a potential conflict they found a month after I withdrew from another interview process and moved apartments that cost me more than double the rent and commute for over a year. They refused to reimburse me for moving expenses. Knobbe Martens is lucky I haven’t tipped off Above the Law (yet).

Basically I’m stupid and tired of having to be CHOSEN by someone else.

This is the position you’re in, too. Your bar authority will shake the sieve and deem a certain % to be qualified. Solve these riddles, and you may pass.

Granted, something good came out all this because there was one thing I did right…

The art of progression.

Your degree can’t save you. But your mistakes tend to decay. Keep going.

The combination of my experiences taught me to do better. Take away the crutch, hit the bottom, and you have little choice but to figure things out.

More important, what does this mean for you?

4) What are you supposed to do if the first thing you think when you wake up is “shit, I’m so behind. I don’t know anything at all”?

“What can you do” is far more relevant than “what do you know”

You can always get better. It’s always a work in progress. No pressure, no diamond.

You’ll never feel fully ready for the exam. If you do, you probably aren’t.

You might still spin your wheels and get stuck even if you put in the work. Effort does not necessarily lead to results. But your effort is not wasted.

It’s about the process.

One question at a time. Steal something away from each one you try to solve. You either learn or succeed.

Each question is an opportunity to validate or learn something new and get better. Each step you take is step toward competence. I hope you’re willing to stumble over your feet now so that you won’t on the real thing.

5) What you’re feeling is not special. People have gone through this. History will repeat itself.

Like everyone else who ditched the path of fear and instead built something for them… you have it inside of you to make this your last time, too.

Even if you fail the bar, it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to stay in the same spot, while you keep getting closer and closer like a predator moving in on a prey. That’s the scariest thing about humans.

Therefore, passing is inevitable.

6) It’s easier said than done, though. Just remember when the end of the world comes, it’s not credentials that will save you.

It’s your willingness to get into the weeds, your determination, your FOCUS when you’re preparing to face the beast.

personal qualities not measured by the bar exam

OK great, but you still have to pass the test.

The bar exam doesn’t measure many of these flowery traits. It’s not the real world. But it does measure, among other things,

Concentration
Task switching
Juggling a large amount of information
Handling high-stakes pressure
Attention to detail
Ability to learn

All skills involved in lawyering.

Doing is hard, but it’s also wonderful. Doing makes sense of nonsense. Isn’t that something to look forward to?

You have control over yourself. So you can do it.

Figure out what works for you. Listen to yourself. Trust in yourself. Choose yourself.

(Magicsheets and Approsheets can help you learn the material more efficiently and effectively.)

7) You are capable.

I’ll never say that “you’re going to dominate the bar!”

Rather, if you can graduate from law school, you are capable of passing the bar. That’s all I can say.

We all start at different places, but we can also climb up using our own strengths. You have your own strengths. You have the potential.

And let’s say you don’t pass the bar this time. I know firsthand how sickening it is to fail and have raw reality shove itself in your face. What’s the WORST that could happen?

The worst thing that could happen is that you never take the bar again. This actually sounds like the BEST thing to happen because you can leave this hellscape and begin anew.

But I also encourage you to do your best. I know it’s exhausting and concerning when the world is on fire. At least you won’t have regrets if you do your best.

If you’re struggling, I feel you. It can seem like you’re the only one falling behind, especially when you’re working so hard. But I assure you that many thousands have gone through and are going through the same thing and you are not special.

And you actually don’t want to be special. Get in, get the points, and get out.

8) Study your failures. Understand and remember the correct answer. Don’t go for the wrong answer.

Now go get after it. The easiest hard part is going to be over soon.

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