Not Passing Hurts MORE than Struggling Now! How Drew Used Pain to Efficiently Pass the CA Bar Exam (While Working Full Time)

I collect every bar exam success story. Sometimes I post unique stories in a small vault of success stories. Other times, I screenshot and put them in a big folder.

Once in a while, I get a reflection that I want to feature front and center.

Drew passed the 2021 February California Bar Exam (Attorneys’ Exam with essays and PT only) on his second attempt while working full time and as a father to young children.

He really hit the nail on the head about the experience of a repeater—and what first timers should heed—from the initial underestimation of the exam, the uncomfortable resistance to actually trying to solve the problems, to his essay answers evolving into a more organized format. 

I didn’t want to waste Drew’s very organized thoughts (and lessons for new bar takers) by letting them archive in my inbox like the many other reflections I get. His message had a lot of parallels to what I and many other repeaters have gone through, and what I encourage my readers to do.

Here’s what he did differently…

The differences you’ll notice between his two attempts at the California Bar Exam:

1st attempt 😅 Trying to “minimize brain damage” by avoiding practice

2nd attempt 💡 Embracing the discomfort of sucking at first. Notice below how many times he mentions difficulty and being uncomfortable. Not passing hurts MORE than struggling now!

1st attempt 😅 Neglecting the PT (big component of written portion of the bar exam!)

2nd attempt 💡 Finding an approach to the PTs and actually preparing for them (2-3 per week for six weeks)

1st attempt 😅 Regurgitating rules without any real flow on the essays

2nd attempt 💡 Writing and organization got better through repetition (100+ essays). But as he says, they don’t have to be as good as model answers to pass!

Supplements used for preparation:

▶▶ Magicsheets + Approsheets

▶▶ BarEssays (CA only) (my review if you’re on the fence) (promo code)

▶▶ Past California essays and PTs

▶▶ BarMD PT approaches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nGqQCEf3rw and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5yMmgpkRaY

  • Drew’s comment: I watched both on YouTube first then jumped directly into a practice PT.

That’s it. Fight for simplicity!

Here are Drew’s reflection on how he passed the 2021 February California Bar Exam (Attorneys’ Exam) on his second try

Edited only for form, clarity, and emphasis. Original screenshots below text.

Brian – I PASSED!!! 

You can officially add me to the long list of former applicants that can attest to the extraordinary value your program offers.  Also, the fact that you took the time to respond to me directly and provide additional pointers/tips after I was unsuccessful on last year’s October exam, did not go unnoticed.  In fact, those conversations were the reason I decided to take a chance with the February exam instead of deferring until July. 

For what it’s worth, here’s a little background about the personal challenges I faced during this process, which I’m sure many other applicants can relate to.

I took the Colorado bar exam in 2010 and have been practicing ever since.  The firm I’m with needed a CA licensed attorney based out of our Denver office.  Initially, the thought of going through this process again was daunting to say the least, especially after being out of school for over 10 yrs. 

On top of that, I needed to maintain my full-time position and have a family with two kids under 5yrs old at home.  As a result, Barbri or Themis was not an option.  I found your program online while looking for alternative materials and it was the best investment I could have ever made

I had only about a month to prep for the October exam and was barely able to internalize the material, let alone understand the format of the exam or how to structure my answers.  In addition, I was only able to complete two read throughs of model PT answers and did one practice PT the morning before the actual October PT (face palm).  However, your materials alone got me within striking distance of a passing score.

Fast forward to January of this year, I reached out to you to get your thoughts on taking the February exam with only about 5-6 weeks remaining.  Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to give it a shot, and here’s the strategy I followed.

I had a base understanding of the material, which was great but not nearly enough.  Instead of continuing to attempt to memorize outlines, I internalized the material through completing practice essays, then reading model essays (shout out to baressays.com).  I then went back and read your materials specific to the issues raised in any given essay I had just worked on.  I continued to do this back and forth approach for all subjects, multiple times over the course of six weeks.  I probably completed 100+ practice essays during that time. 

The benefit here was twofold.  First, having fact patters that correspond to the rules allowed me to understand how the rules work in hypothetical situations as opposed to just reading or memorizing the content.  Second, reading that many model answers made it clear how the examiners want the essay answers structured. 

When I sat for the October exam, my answers were basically regurgitating rules without any real flow.  For the February exam, I had a template in my mind for each subject and even if I didn’t know every rule, I was at least able to create a heading for each issue and type out something to at least acknowledge that there was an issue. 

As an aside, diving into actual practice exams was difficult to convince myself to do.  I’m not sure why but it may be simply because reading outlines and watching subject videos was easier than forcing myself to try and apply the rules.  Essentially, I think I was trying to minimize brain damage, though not passing turned out to be far more brain damage than going through the pain up front. 

After the initial shock of attempting, and failing, at numerous practice exams, something seemed to click after a couple weeks and I began to understand how to approach the essays.  I certainly did not have that understanding going into the October exam.  My writing seemed to get better and my organization absolutely improved.  With that said, I certainly did not master bar exam essay writing and my draft answers were far inferior to the model answers.  But guess what?  It was enough!!

Finally, regarding the PT, I completed 2-3 per week for six weeks.  I followed Maureen MacManus’ approach from BarMD to a tee, which is basically a fill-in-your-answer approach but not chronologically.  It was the most uncomfortable and unnatural feeling ever but apparently it must have worked!

Final parting words – Even up until I received my results this past Friday, I thought passing this exam was a shot in the dark due to my personal situation (working full-time as an attorney in CO, only being able to commit about 4-6 hours per business day to studying for about 5-6 weeks, and maintaining my parental responsibilities).  In fact, I was already mentally preparing myself to go at it again in July.  I realize now though, there is a formula for beating this exam.  As uncomfortable as it was, I followed that formula and placed my trust in the process.  As an aside, I also think blasting Bulls on Parade by Rage Against the Machine as I drove into my office the morning of the February exam played a role as well…

Your materials, weekly emails, and other tips were invaluable and your willingness to take time to respond directly to me was the icing on the cake. I am grateful and thank you!!! Deleting Examplify from my desktop never felt so good!

Bonus follow-up questions from Brian

To be sure, did you take the CA Attorneys’ Exam each time (and not the two-day exam)? I noticed that you never mentioned the MBE.

Yes, attorney exam both times.  I considered the full exam to try and hedge my bets but time constraints just wouldn’t have allowed for it.

Any particular approach to managing your time and energy for prep as someone who worked full time? You mentioned 4-6 hours a day, which seems like a lot of energy and attention for someone working and with children, especially to go through the active learning process and straining your brain.

I did my best to knock out as much of my firm work between about 8am and noon each day (somedays more, somedays less).  If I could start studying around noon, that usually gave me a few uninterrupted hours to focus.  I would turn back to my other work from around 4pm-5:30pm.  Then workout (if possible), dinner, and got the kids bathed and to bed.  Then back downstairs from about 9pm to 11:30pm to finish firm work and study.  The final three weeks before the exam, I was fortunate enough to have my parents watch my kids on Sundays and was able to put in about 4 hours or so on those days.  As an aside, my wife was instrumental as well.  She really carried a lot of the load (especially with the kids), all while working full-time herself.

Nice work, Drew! Here’s the list of tools he used that allowed him to uninstall Examplify forever and live his Free Life.

Original unedited screenshots (click to enlarge)

"I PASSED!!! You can officially add me to the long list of former applicants that can attest to the extraordinary value your program offers."
"After the initial shock of attempting, and failing, at numerous practice exams, something seemed to click after a couple weeks and I began to understand how to approach the essays.  I certainly did not have that understanding going into the October exam.  My writing seemed to get better and my organization absolutely improved."

Nice work Drew! If you also want to make this your last time taking the bar exam, here are my materials he used.

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