Feeling Stuck and Burned Out with Bar Prep

It seems like time is continuing to expand along with the universe—agony stretching as bar examiners keep pushing exam dates back like a girl who isn’t really into you.

Isn’t more time good, though?

What do you do when you’re frustrated with your progress?

Are you even acknowledging the frustration, or are you actually dismissing it?

I was having a conversation with a coaching client for the California Bar Exam. Here’s an excerpt:

For non-CA takers, each CA essay is scored out of 100 raw points. 65 is considered on track to pass the exam and a target benchmark. 70 is solid. An 85 is rarely obtained.

To summarize, here are his issues:

  • Practicing essays takes too long
  • He feels he wastes time by overwriting the analysis
  • He wants to write in his own way and limit the analysis

What would be your feedback here? Think about it before I share my suggestions on getting clearer on an approach you may be taking as well.

Here’s my response (edited for clarity and formatting):

Thanks for the update. A few comments. None of this is meant as a psychological attack or anything. I want you to pass, and that sometimes requires setting aside the ego and managing the overwhelm (good thing since we have more time). The mind is half the battle here.

I understand this process is overwhelming and frustrating. However, there is a thought that can keep people stuck until they change it: “I know this already.” 

I notice you say the phrase “I know…” a lot. Not just in this email but ever since we started talking.

“I know the law.”
“I know how to write.”
“I know the basic format.”

These may all very well be true, and I don’t expect anyone to stick to a strict sentence structure or whatever every time, but I want to challenge you to be truly honest with yourself.

As I get older (which may sound funny to you coming from a 34yo), I find that I’m starting to prefer the known elements. I find myself balancing the line between new things that may help and sticking to what ain’t broke. This is my biggest feedback and suggestion today.

Are you looking the other way, or have you pinpointed the real issues you’re having? Do your scores and the input of your counsel ([Tutor] et al.) reflect that?

I don’t know and may never know; that’s why I’m nudging you to make an honest assessment—to yourself at least. 

Re-reading more carefully during practice than on a real essay appears to be the purpose of preparation.

You’ve written plenty of essays already, but spending more time on reviewing and analyzing your work is not a bad thing. Something to keep in mind if you feel like you’re wasting time.

Your effort is not wasted. “Aha” moments where you break through a plateau may be rare, sudden, and nonlinear, giving you the impression that your efforts are going nowhere.

There’s a distinction between essays that need 3 lines vs. 10 lines.

This is more applicable to California bar essays.

For broad questions, the focus would be shifted more to identifying all the issues. For narrower questions, a deeper analysis would be warranted. Please consider this as you try to hit the 65 mark.

A good example of a broad question would be something out of a PR essay (Professional Responsibility): “What ethical violations did Lawyer make?”

An example of a narrower, targeted question would be something out of a Civ Pro essay: “Did the court rule correctly on its motion to X?” X is the issue to dive into.

Just tips and suggestions from my perspective. As always, it’s up to you to evaluate the insights you get from everyone and decide what to apply, as you’re the dean of your own studies.

In other parts of our conversation, he asked about the lowering of the pass score in California:

I am curious as to why you feel it may not be good news? Do you feel that as a result the grading will now be harder? Or the curve will be higher?

My answer:

Because we don’t know if they will adjust the scaling formula or grading standards to make it just as difficult to pass. Not bad news but yet to know if good until results come out.

We will see, as always.

We also discussed burnout in view of the rescheduled October test date for the CA bar:

I am writing out essays and MBE short essays. I’ve done about 1,300 MBE questions and I’m around 75%. Done a PT but need to do more work on that. Experienced a little bit of burn out because I’ve been studying 2 to 3 hours, 7 days a week since late March.

My answer:

May be good to pull back a bit, [Name]. Burnout is real.

The big concern that I repeat with everyone is burnout. More time (another extra month) is not necessarily better. So I’d think about how to incorporate downtime (days where you do little to no studying) into your study plan.

You wanted to start slow and ramp up as we get closer to the exam, but it looks like it’s taking a toll on you already. I imagine having this new certainty released some tension in your mind and the stress caught up with you.

Maybe 1-2 hours a day alternating through MBE, essay and PT until you recover? Or even taking a complete break to reset your mind.

I used to advocate for a habitual daily regiment (i.e., studying every day), but with the virus that shall not be named, norms are out the window.

You now have 12 weeks until October. Speaking of which, I had a Playbook user send me a 12wk schedule…may be worth reviewing (also now in your Passer’s Playbook files).

And now we come full circle to the note in the beginning of this post.

👉🏻 What would you say to someone in light of the new dates and formats of the various bar exams around the country? There are talks about a 100-question MBE…

Let me hear from you in the comments.

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