A Redditor (who wants to be anonymous) passed the 2023 July California Bar Exam on her 3rd try.
She was going through a difficult period in her life where people around her were passing away, and she had no money or job.
On top of that, she was being dragged down by her own negative thoughts about herself and from the past.
But she reframed obstacles and overcame her self-doubt. And with a proper approach to learning and retaining—and conquering her mental and emotional blocks—she finally blew the exam out of the water!
Despite her anonymity, she sent me a juicy story 🙏🏻 So let’s get right into it.
- Quick stats
- Resources used to pass the California Bar Exam on her third try
- Struggles with low statistical chances of passing the bar
- Facing mental health issues, anxiety, depression from bar prep
- Changes to her second attempt at the bar exam
- Changes to her third attempt at the bar exam (to pass)
- Future possibilities for future attorneys
- The full story
- Attempts: California Bar Exam 3x
- Weakness: MBE (especially Real Property)
- Unique challenge: Mental health, difficult period in life
Resources used to pass the California Bar Exam on her third try
▶ BarEssays [CA only]
▶ BarMD BLL Quick Sheets
This Redditor is working at her dream job now. And it’s because she did three main things:
- Conquered mental and emotional blocks holding her back. She didn’t believe in herself until she changed her thought process to master her mind and her situation. She even treated her past attempts like an ex-boyfriend and did something unconventional to move past it.
- Leaned into her fears and did MORE of what scared her. “Evidence scared the shit out of me, so I dove right in.”
- Discarded what wasn’t working for her and focused on doing what helped HER accelerate her learning.
There’s no reason you can’t live your dream too.
Struggles with low statistical chances of passing the bar
You don’t listen to dating advice from Brad Pitt.
You get it from someone like me. Someone who was in pain and had to learn.
I graduated with a 2.833 GPA. Bottom 11% of class (stacked with other scholarship recipients). But I eventually passed. This Redditor passed.
💬 “By way of background, I attended a Top 50 school and was in the bottom 25% of my class. I did everything my school suggested to ensure success in the bar exam: taking bar tested subjects throughout law school, complete as much as my bar prep course as possible, submit essays to be reviewed by professors who were past bar graders, and complete as many adaptibar questions as possible. The school constantly reminded me that because of my class rank (or lack thereof), I had less of a chance of passing the bar. This is important, so stay with me.”
They say that your class rank and GPA indicate your chances of passing the bar exam. You’re going to end up a statistic, they say.
If you can graduate from law school, you are capable of passing. The bar exam is a skill.
But just like pedigree-based thinking is outdated, the advice that schools give you is also out of touch.
Bar exams were easier 20 years ago, but “they” are still using the same outdated teaching techniques. Bar review courses are outdated even while charging thousands of dollars for the perceived value (of 1080p videos on demand that don’t always load) and marketing that incepted into you, since day 1 of law school, the idea that this is the way to go.
💬 “In the deepest part of my soul, I knew this was not working for me. However, I listened to my law school and the bar prep course who told me my success on the exam was tied to how much of the bar prep course I completed. I listened to ‘trust the process’. I listened to ‘things will click toward the end’. I listened to ‘just keep doing more adaptibar questions’. I listened to ‘you do not need to memorize the law until the end!’ Spoiler alert: they were wrong!”
It’s like being asked to work for the same salary for 20 years while rents go up. It’s exhausting to work with a shrinking gap. The world is changing, and so must we.
💬 “By the time bar prep started in May 2022, I was exhausted. I ended up studying all summer completely alone in my apartment, going weeks without speaking to another human being, thinking that this exam required my 100% effort, and thus, isolation. In retrospect, I had no business sitting down to study for that exam with the exhaustion I felt.”
Facing mental health issues, anxiety, depression from bar prep
💬 “My anxiety and depression were through the roof. I spoke to a therapist twice a month, but did not find him helpful. Each time I sat to practice an essay or some MBEs, my hands were shaking, my heart was pounding in my chest, and I kept remembering how much my school reminded me that I would inevitably have a harder time passing the exam based on my law school GPA. Overall, I had low self-esteem and did not believe in myself.”
People with top grades fail. People with horrific grades pass.
Sure, I’m pointing to anecdotal exceptions. And they’re statistically right about passing chances. But there’s realism, and there’s telling people they can’t.
They CAN with the right insights and tools. They CAN by being selective about the advice they take. That’s the advantage I aim to provide you.
💬 “I think it is important for people to know that you can do everything you are told to do, work really hard, and still not pass. It is simply a hard exam with many variables at play. There is some weird philosophy out in the bar prep world that you only fail if you do not put the effort in. Wrong. I put all my effort in, but I realized I was putting effort into a process that was not working for ME.
After not passing, I got let go from my job. It sucked. But I believe in destiny and things happening as they are supposed to. I held onto this tightly while I navigated how to tackle the February 2023 bar. I also reached out to you during this time on Reddit. You were literally godsent. You did not discourage me when I told you I scored in the 1200s. You heard me out, offered your thoughts, and made me feel like I could do this.”
This Redditor was putting all her effort in, but it’s gotta be placed into a process that works for the person.
People can certainly make big box courses work for them, which I have no problem with. Here are the issues I have with them.
So what did she do differently this time?
Changes to her second attempt at the bar exam
On her second attempt, she was drowning in self-doubt.
💬 “However, each time I sat before a practice essay, or attempted to do an Adaptibar practice set, I kept hearing a voice in my head saying I was not good enough/smart enough to pass this exam. Each time I completely messed up an essay, or bombed an MBE, this voice got louder. My brain used all of my mess-ups during bar prep to prove to me why I was not good enough.”
But she leaned INTO her fears.
💬 “I was actually doing MORE active studying this time instead of passive. . . . Evidence scared the shit out of me, so I dove right in and did as many evidence essay questions as possible.”
💬 “This time, I did not re-do my course all over again.”
💬 “I purchased a copy of your Magicsheets a few weeks before the exam and WISHED I had them when I first began studying.”
I talk about expecting and leaning into the hardship here. To handle stress, face it head on, embrace the suck, and don’t avoid it.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for her second attempt, although she was close to passing. She ended up with a good essay score.
She collected herself and found what was lacking on her second attempt. Here are some:
💬 “My mental health. I did not believe in myself. I did not know how to control my anxiety.”
💬 “Did not set much time for memorization of black letter law. (**I THINK THIS IS THE KEY FOR PASSING THE EXAM**)”
💬 “Although I wrote down my missed MBE rule statements in word doc, I never reviewed it.”
Changes to her third attempt at the bar exam (to pass)
She pivoted from “trusting the system” — from relying on Themis and tutors — to “trusting herself.”
(Yes, yet another instance of this.)
To be clear, she didn’t completely abandon Themis. She still used their workshops and handouts. It’s about using the course to your advantage to support your learning, not letting them drag you down.
💬 “Game Day: I took my Basick essay book with me, your Magicsheets, and the Themis essay workshop handouts. During lunch on day 1, I actually pulled up the Themis essay workshop sheet for Crim Law and your Magicsheets for the other topics I thought might be tested in the afternoon.”
I have nothing against tutors (except the ones who have a habit of shameless self-promotion).
We tend to think that throwing a ton of money into something means it will automatically solve our problems. But it’s really the work that we put in that makes a difference. So just consider exactly why you want a tutor before you pull the trigger.
💬 “I reached out to you, again, to share that I did not pass. You were encouraging, again. I asked you about hiring a tutor, especially after one told me that although I had passed the essay section with an overall score in the 1400s, it actually did not count because my essays were 60s and my PT was 70. YOU TOLD ME THAT THIS SHIT DID NOT MATTER, REALLY, BECAUSE PASSING WAS PASSING. You helped me save $7,000, haha. Thanks!”
💬 “Ultimately, after speaking with you and a few other people I trusted, I decided not to hire a tutor. It was a brave choice because I ultimately, again, became the dean of my studies (phrase from you, Brian).”
For this Redditor, the work that made the difference was memorizing and developing her skills of seeing issues within the fact pattern.
💬 “So unlike my prior attempts, I prioritized memorizing the black letter law. Another golden nugget she gave me was that almost every sentence in the bar essay has a fluorescent easter egg of an issue in it. Look for that fluorescent easter egg.”
The other instrumental part was the mental game. “Half of bar prep involves preparing oneself mentally.”
💬 “I finally changed my thought process. I started believing I could actually pass this thing. So whenever I fucked up on an essay or MBE, instead of berating myself, I said outloud “Oh! Good learning experience. Thank you, essay/MBE, for showing me what I did not know. I will get it next time!” I know this sounds so cheesy but it helped me rewire my brain connections.”
As I say, embarrassment is the best way to learn a lesson. It does rewire your neurons to make less of the same mistake.
💬 “Sit your ass down and do an essay on a subject area that scares you. If you messed up terribly, GREAT. You will learn so much more from that experience than hitting all the issues in an essay. . . . Don’t just go through MBE motions. Do the hard work in making sure you know BLL and that your analysis is correct.”
Lastly, part from your past attempts.
💬 “I literally had to sit down one evening with myself and treat the first exam like an ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about like, writing a letter digesting the score and letting it go, and moving on with my life. Telling it that it cannot be part of my life anymore.
But a few friends I know also felt similarly tethered. If any retakers feel like this, I really think it’s so important to let that first score/ past score go.”
This is actually pretty interesting and unconventional. We get attached to past regrets. It’s hard to get past them. But this Redditor managed to MOVE FORWARD.
In Passer’s Playbook, I talk about avoiding letting your identity as a repeater become a status quo identity.
In the full story below, there are other tangible things she did differently the third time, her four-step approach, and her approach on game day. Check it out.
💬 “Most of my advice is for retakers, although I told my first-time exam taking mentees during summer to start doing closed book essay exams ASAP. They passed and thanked me for offering this tip to them because they thought it was key.”
Future possibilities for future attorneys
Ultimately, passing the bar flings the gates wide open. It’s the final hurdle standing in your way.
Everyone who passes the bar can fulfill their dreams of becoming an attorney.
💬 “I am now in my dream job and will be sworn in in a few weeks. Sometimes ‘failures’ are redirections.”
Way to go! She overcame difficult emotional and mental challenges and became an inspiration to other repeaters and first-timers alike.
How would you reframe the difficulties you’re facing now?