“S” (who wanted her name private) passed the 2023 February California Bar Exam.
What else is new? No, I’m not tired of seeing my readers pass tough exams yet.
This featured passer:
- Passed an exam with a 32.5% pass rate
- (Makes for a good headline but do pass rates really matter? See point 5 below)
- Not a fan of her big bar prep company
- Studied while working
- Was an MTYLT reader (of course)
I love her story because it has several parallels to my own experience as a second-time passer. Both of us made the same classic mistakes that first-timers make.
Do you recognize them in your own preparation?
- Quick stats
- Before (first attempt)
- After (second attempt)
- Materials she used to prepare
- Lessons from how she studied to pass the California Bar Exam
- 1️⃣ Confidence comes from competence.
- 2️⃣ Competence comes from active learning.
- 3️⃣ Speaking of clarity, you need a study plan.
- 4️⃣ Most likely, you will ignore this lesson about predictions.
- 5️⃣ Realize that pass rates have no bearing on your own chance of success.
- Here’s S’s full story on how she passed the 2023 CA Bar Exam as a second timer while working
- Attempts: California Bar Exam 2 times
- Weakness: Essays and PTs
- Unique challenge: Low GPA making her feel doomed by the statistics, studying while working
Before (first attempt)
❌ “Trusted the process” and followed Barbri to a T
❌ Long hours watching lectures and absorbing nothing
❌ Low scores on practice essays and MBE questions
After (second attempt)
✅ Mapped out a detailed study plan that accommodated her work schedule and personal life. Bar prep is personal!
✅ Selective use of Barbri materials
✅ Focused on practical application. Practiced MBE questions, essays, and PTs (often neglected)
Materials she used to prepare
💬 “Best decision I ever made“
▶▶ Critical Pass flashcards
▶▶ Barbri’s essay grading and feedback feature
Lessons from how she studied to pass the California Bar Exam
Like me, S graduated bottom 25%, took the exam twice, and made all the mistakes that first-timers often make.
(One example: watching all the lectures and filling in the notes only to forget 99% of it…)
But also like me, S became conscious and deliberate about how she prepared the second time around.
💬 “That was my biggest regret. I wished I used MTYLT earlier.“
Here’s your chance to gain 20/20 FORESIGHT. Look through the crystal ball of how a second-time passer changed her approach.
1️⃣ Confidence comes from competence.
The point of bar prep isn’t to be confident.
The point is to become prepared, to become competent—and pass. After all, it’s your ability to answer questions correctly that counts on the exam.
The order is counterintuitive. Confidence born from motivational quotes, external influences, pep talks, etc… I don’t believe is long lasting. You’ll go back to feeling the same way after saying “I needed this today!”
Confidence is based on evidence. You develop it by doing and trying. Self-talk can boost your confidence, but at the end of the day, you can’t fake it with the bar exam.
Contrary to belief, confidence doesn’t have to come from success either. You can FAIL and STILL develop confidence. By putting yourself in the arena, you know what to expect. By putting yourself in the ring, you know what NOT to do next time. You have to kill a lot of plants to become an expert.
And if you’re overwhelmed and need to ease into it?
Go slow to go fast. (In fact, this is the first lesson in the module on tackling overwhelm in Mental Engines.)
Start minimally with ONE (1) MBE question. Expect to get it wrong. Wrestle with the explanation until you understand what’s being tested.
This is all progress. These are all experience points. Progress –> motivation, momentum, confidence.
💬 “My progress grew and my confidence increased.“
💬 “I was totally calm, and even finished early on MBE day (just to clarify, finishing early does not mean you failed or passed). I was so relieved and in slight shock that I passed when I got my results for the Feb bar.“
2️⃣ Competence comes from active learning.
Confidence is a side effect of competence. It’s like “motivation.” You can’t wait around for it.
Motivation comes from action. We established this in Hannah’s story.
Clarity comes from engagement.
See the pattern?
✅ DON’T do what S (and I) did the first time:
💬 “The long hours just watching lectures and absorbing nothing didn’t stick with me, and it showed because I would always score pretty low on essays and practice multiple choice questions.“
💬 “I followed it to a T and was so blindly loyal to its ‘process’ (‘tRuSt ThE pRoCeSs’, my ass). I used Barbri, which I’m not a fan of, in case it wasn’t obvious.“
✅ Instead, engage with the material actively, especially toward the middle and end of prep.
Personally, I was much more relaxed and happier studying for the second time. Turns out the origin of my first-timer stress was useless passive activities that didn’t help me become capable of answering questions correctly (watching droning lectures, taking meticulous notes, etc.).
I knew how to write beautiful rule statements, but I didn’t know how to write passing essays.
I was reading the outlines religiously! But I got 55% on my mock MBE.
I trusted the wrong process.
💬 “I took time out to really think about what I could do differently and make the process worth my time and effort. I was done with Barbri, and didn’t want to use it again because I know it didn’t work for me.“
💬 “Every day of practice, I started by doing 34 timed MBE Qs on Adaptibar and did at least 1-2 essays. I also did a practice MPT every week after Week 7. This process really worked for me because I saw my progress grow right in front of me, and it was easier to identify my weaker areas and attack those sections.“
✅ And like Hannah, S did what was uncomfortable. You are in charge, not your fears.
💬 “I forced myself to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The only way for me to be successful was to tackle my weak areas, so I did a lot of essays for my weak subjects and started memorizing as soon as Week 1.“
3️⃣ Speaking of clarity, you need a study plan.
See if you know the answer to this question:
Do you know what you should be doing to study today?
If not, create a schedule or a plan. Or use one made for you already (like one of many in Passer’s Playbook, including sample “scramble” schedules for the final month). A bad plan is better than no plan.
💬 “I sat myself down and mapped out a detailed study plan on my calendar for the next three months until February. . . . During the 14-week process, I gradually increased my study hours since I couldn’t afford to take 2-3 months off from work again. I continued this study process while working.
During weeks 1-4, I was working full-time and committed 4 hours a day.
For weeks 5-10, I increased to 6 hours of studying a day and dropped down to part-time at work.
For weeks 11-13, I studied 8 hours a day and took time off from work. For the final week 14, I used it strictly for review.
I studied like this every day, including weekends and holidays (I did take every other weekend off to stay sane). The 14 weeks was a long, slow process. I had a lot going on between my work and personal life.“
4️⃣ Most likely, you will ignore this lesson about predictions.
💬 “For the July bar, I caved and looked at essay predictions (served me right lol). For the second time around, I totally ignored the predictions.“
The allure is too powerful, so I don’t expect anyone to resist.
No one comes to me saying gambling on predictions was the key to their success. No one ever calls it a strategy. It’s simply the foolishness of humans to think they can predict an outcome.
5️⃣ Realize that pass rates have no bearing on your own chance of success.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there about falling pass rates.
Let’s reframe: Pass rates represent how other people did. It doesn’t affect the probability of your passing.
Your own anxieties and fears hold you back. Your own preparation and training determine your outcome.
You could still fail a test that has a 90% pass rate if you don’t prepare for it. Likewise, you can pass a test that has a 32.5% pass rate if you prepare sufficiently.
How did they beat the overwhelming odds? Who the hell ARE these people?
Well, they are just regular people who studied the exam (not just the law) and learned how to learn. Often using MTYLT resources.
Those doom-and-gloom statistics are completely irrelevant if you find the right strategies that work for you. If you believe everyone is failing, you give yourself an excuse to be stuck.
In reality, lots of people are passing. Sorry (not sorry) to burst your bubble. But you can be one of them, too.
Audit and change the story you tell yourself. Your mind is half the exam.
💬 “I really felt that I could relate to you, because I also graduated in the bottom 25% of my class and my GPA upon graduation was a 2.9. I felt doomed by the statistics, and wasn’t that surprised when I failed the exam the first time. However, the statistics were not destiny. It was totally up to me and in my control how I spent my time for the Feb ’23 bar.“
Great job, S! Here are the resources she used again.
Here’s S’s full story on how she passed the 2023 CA Bar Exam as a second timer while working
Tell me if this inspires you to think about your own approach.