Ceren passed the 2023 July California Bar Exam on her second try after giving up midway on her first try.
But to her surprise, she got very close to passing on that first try!
Here’s how she approached bar prep as a foreign-trained lawyer from Turkey on her first try and on her second successful try.
- Attempts: California Bar Exam 2x
- Unique challenge: Needing time for general logic of American law to sink in as foreign-trained attorney, studying while working full-time
Resources Ceren used to study for the California Bar Exam
▶ Critical Pass flashcards
▶ Ed Aruffo’s Bar Exam Essay Rules
▶ Barbri’s extended U.S. bar prep for foreign lawyers
▶ Reddit for emotional support
How Ceren turned the tables after almost giving up on the California Bar Exam
Ceren actually had no reason to take this bar exam, let alone twice.
She was already working as a foreign counsel, but she wanted to prove that she could pass the bar in America.
💬 “I’ve been practicing law for over 16 years, and wasn’t thinking about requalifying since I had been lucky enough to get great opportunities as in-house counsel internationally. . . . After moving to the US, even though I registered as a foreign in-house counsel in New York, I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes to pass a bar exam in the US. I was actually going for ANY bar, but California is the only US bar which permits foreign, civil law qualified lawyers to take the bar without requiring any US/common law education, so I had to build up the courage to take the CA bar exam :)”
This meant that she had to work while studying. Not only that, her work consistently required travel.
For her first attempt toward the February exam, it made sense to start studying fairly early and enroll in a bar prep course for foreign lawyers.
💬 “I decided to take the February 2023 bar exam, and for that I started studying in October 2022. I was not only working full time, but had a role which required a lot of travel – I would be on the road at least a week – ten days each month. I purchased Barbri’s Extended Bar Prep for foreign lawyers.”
The course would prove unwieldy but also helpful as someone who needed context for American law.
“I know a lot of people don’t need bar preps, and the videos are extremely long, the resources voluminous. But for me, it was US law 101, and honestly, I benefited a lot from the videos. I finished all MBE subjects and actually learned basic concepts which were not the same as what I was trained in.”
This goes to show that bar courses can and do work—for certain purposes! It’s about how you use it.
Attempt 1: Challenges of letting the law sink in, juggling work and study plans, and persevering when plans are derailed
As a Turkish attorney, American law was rather foreign to her. The MBE was about nuances and exceptions. This is where even American law students get tripped up too.
💬 “I finished all MBE subjects and actually learned basic concepts which were not the same as what I was trained in. But quickly I found out that the MBE part of the bar is not an exam on the rules, but rather on the exceptions.”
💬 “To understand nuances (which Barbri did not help me grasp), I used Mary Basick/Tina Schindler’s book, Reddit’s CA bar subreddit (an AMAZING resource for both tips and tricks and – maybe more importantly – emotional support) and went through the explanations of every single MBE question I solved, regardless whether I got it right or not.”
Ceren was going to proceed as planned toward February…
💬 “My aim was to only do essays for a bit over a month, and then solve essays and MBE mixed sets.”
But of course, life got in the way. Her work needed her to travel all around the world. Plans to prepare for the essays fell through. Internally, she gave up (though she had amazing moral support from her mom).
💬 “Well, as always life didn’t go as planned. Early January 2023, I had to travel for work (unplanned!) for a total of 3 weeks – first the West Coast followed by London. All of my essay studying plans went down the drain – and I felt so defeated because things hadn’t worked according to my plans, so I gave up. I felt I’d never be able to pass, so barely wrote any essays, and decided I’d retake in July. To be fair, I felt so defeated that my mom got worried and flew over from Istanbul to be with me for the remaining few weeks, and even accompanied me to Sacramento where I took the exam! I still studied, but I didn’t put my heart into it – there was no way I’d pass. I was sure I had no chance. I purchased your Magicsheets and Approsheets close to taking the bar, and read through them religiously the last two weeks of prep!”
She studied half-heartedly and took the February bar expecting to retake in July. With the experience of taking the bar exam, she realized that she knew more than she thought.
💬 “And then I took the bar. Magicsheets and Approsheets were the only resources I looked at during lunch break of both exam days, and a lot of retakers also had them in their hands :) I definitely benefited from them during the exam because they showed me that I actually knew a lot.”
She ended up being very close to passing.
If you’ve ever thought about skipping an exam (and people sometimes ask me whether they should keep going or take the next one), consider how the exam will give you an actual experience of “taking the bar” and at the least will be a mock exam that gives you scores to work with.
💬 “I had indeed failed – but with a scaled written score of 1341, and a scaled MBE of 1389. This meant that had I not given up, I probably would have passed the first time around! Huge life lesson – never give up on something just because you think you might not make it. Give it your absolute best shot, regardless of what your mind tries to tell you – and it will probably work!”
To put the above scores in context, passing California requires an average scaled score of 1390. So a rule of thumb is to be above 1390 in both the written and MBE sides to be on track to pass the exam.
She basically passed the MBE and was very close to passing the written portion as well! Her approach of examining every question she did, wrong and right, paid off.
Being 50 points away from passing the written portion may seem like a significant gap, but it actually isn’t. If your written score is in the low/mid 1300s, you’re MUCH closer to passing than you might think.
Attempt 2: Trusting herself
The failure was a motivation experience for Ceren. It showed how close she was to passing.
💬 “So, I started studying again. This time I trusted myself. I knew I had it in me, and hit my lowest scoring subjects – Civ Pro, Crim Law and Evidence. I tried to understand not the rules but the intricate details and exceptions. Magicsheets are GREAT for these small hacks that will help you score amazingly well!”
Bar takers who fail by a few points may sometimes lament over it (so close!). But it shows that they do have what it takes if they keep doing what they’ve been doing and turn that rounding error in their favor. Once you know you can do it, it simply becomes a matter of time.
As for essays, she focused on being able to recite and explain the subjects.
💬 “I started writing essays really late again (I know, how did I not learn from my mistakes!) but this time I had studied differently – I could write basically write the outline of each subject, which helped immensely with essays.”
That was her general approach the second time around. She was able to put the rules into her own words.
💬 “Instead of trying to take notes while watching videos to understand/memorize black letter law which I did the first time around, I watched what I could/read what I needed (outlines and Basick’s books) and then tried to summarize rules in one or two sentences.”
Hint: Understanding what you’re trying to memorize is one way to make it stick.
💬 “Writing the rules in my own words instead of trying to memorize them made the concepts stick. Memorizing didn’t sit well, but translating the rules into my own words (even if English is not my native language) helped a lot. When you really understand the logic behind a rule, it’s hard to forget it, even months after the exam!”
She also prioritized some subjects over others. If you have to focus on some subjects over others, take the Tripod Approach (MBE, PR, PT).
💬 “I also hedged bets; I didn’t focus too much on Wills & Trusts for example, reading it on my flight from New York to San Francisco where I took the bar.”
As a long-time attorney, one advantage she had was being comfortable with performance tests out of the gate. Here’s how she did PTs:
💬 “I’d lie if I said I worked a lot on PTs. I got an almost passing score in my first round; although I didn’t have enough time for one whole question (out of three). Even missing a whole question I got an ok score because I approached it like a work task: (i) Understand the question and follow the instructions to a T, (ii) Remind yourself that it is ok if the answer isn’t perfect, it just needs to be fully done (use your time correctly to complete the task – don’t do what I did the first time around), and finally (iii) use short and clear sentences.”
You don’t need to be perfect
Notice the approaches that Ceren took…
She didn’t “complete the course.”
She didn’t take pristine lecture notes. In fact, she didn’t take notes and simply studied the material directly with the help of other supplements. “Other” as in the prep course itself is a supplement—don’t forget that the course is merely another supplement that supports your self-learning.
She didn’t just memorize words on a page. She aimed to understand the material.
She didn’t work on PTs a lot or answer every question. (Well, she earned this privilege, but at least take a look at your PT performance early on to see where you’re at.)
You don’t need to be a tryhard. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to pass.
💬 “I’m sure there are great brains who write PTs perfectly, but I was an ok exam taker and the three pronged approach above [regarding PTs] helped me pass. And passing is good enough!”
How? Do what helps you learn.
Great job, Ceren!
Where can you let go of perfectionism in your preparation process?