Failed the Bar Exam: Pass this February

You did not pass the July bar.  You are facing this crazy reality that you have to retake the exam.  But it still feels like a bad dream.   The feelings are coming at you like internal arrows:  anger, sadness, frustration, defeat.  “Why me?” you want to shout.  

How to cope.  First, know that you are not alone.  And, in the next months you will need to get reliable help from supportive people: a bar coach, a trusted law professor, a true friend, someone else who did not pass, and your bar review.  Second, get the negative emotions out now.  Express whatever you are feeling in a safe place, now, before Thanksgiving.     

This coming week will be hard, don’t kid yourself, especially if you are going to a Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends nearby.  Prepare yourself.   Know what you will say when people start in with the “Too bad you didn’t pass.” Prepare specific lines to “keep in your back pocket” to excuse yourself from conversations you do not want to have such as:

  • “Thank you for your concern.  You are right; the results were not as I had hoped. I am preparing a different strategy for the next exam ,and it’s important now for me to focus on the positives.  We can talk more about this in next spring. n How are you doing? 

Or, the shorter variation

  • Let’s talk about you.  How are you?

You do not owe anyone an explanation.  You don’t have to excuse yourself or apologize for yourself.  You don’t even have to answer comments/questions about the bar exam. And, you certainly must not spend one minute thinking less of yourself.

So, eat, drink, and go through your anger and frustration this week.  Then, after Thanksgiving, get up, brush yourself off, and get ready to pass this next bar exam, using the past experience as a learning tool.

Allow yourself this week to acknowledge sadness and disappointment, and whatever else you feel.  Then, like the stages one moves through in grieving (but faster), move on to a place where you can turn all of these negative emotions into fierce determination to pass the next bar exam. 

Failing the bar exam is a mere bump in the road to success.  Make that bump smaller and smaller each day by working toward becoming stronger and more prepared each day to pass next Exam. 

You are still on that  road of accomplishment, the road to great success, that you set out on by going to law school in the first place.  No one and nothing can take that away from you.

Decide today, that you will move forward, as an even wiser and stronger and more prepared person than you have ever been!

And, don’t forget to reach out when you are ready –to reliable academics who can help you.  Determine where you need to shift your strategy: MBEs, Essays, certain subjects, performance tests, time management,  all of the above?  Where do you need “strength training”?

Whatever else you may be thinking, keep this the closest: you are not defeated. You have experienced a bump in the road, a mere bump, a blip, but you are still moving forward, slowly and steadily on the great road to long-range success!  

Hang in, and stay determined.  Do not let this slip derail you. You deserve better.

About Sara Berman

Sara Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a pioneer in online legal education. Berman has been a law professor since 1998 and currently serves as the Director of Critical Skills and Academic Support Programs at Nova Southeastern School of Law. Berman has lectured for bar reviews for more than two decades, preparing students for the substantive and skills portions of bar exams nationwide. Berman authored the ABA’s "Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic and Professional Goals" as well as its companion teacher’s manual, and she has recently completed a second ABA title on the use of performance testing in law schools. With UCLA Law Professor Paul Bergman, Berman co-authored "The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System," and "Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case." These primers on the civil and criminal justice systems, written initially for lay people, help law students develop practical skills necessary for employment readiness and for success on the performance test portion of the bar exam.
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