This is the first post of the “Now what?” series that will explore next steps after disappointments. Everyone does not pass the test or get admitted to professional school after their first attempt. But what do you do after you receive the disappointing news? Now what?
So you didn’t pass the bar, now what? Alex Gonzales shares her experience.
My name is Alex Gonzales. I am a recent July bar exam taker, and passer. I hope to practice criminal law, either prosecution or defense.
How many times did you take the bar?
I took the bar twice, once in February of 2017 and the second time July 2017.
The questions that follow pertain to your bar preparation before you passed the bar. Did you work during bar prep?
Yes, I worked about 20 hours a week during bar prep, until the last two weeks, when I didn’t work at all.
Did anything interfere with your bar prep?
Not at all. The holidays. That was so difficult for me. The library was closed, I wasn’t focused, it was a mess. Studying for the February exam is difficult because of this. You really have to self-motivate.
How did you cope with not passing?
When I found out I cried, a lot. I cried, ugly, heavy, loud crying for about an hour straight. Afterwards I picked myself up, told myself it wasn’t the end of the world and crashed Barrister’s Ball. This was my philosophy the entire next few months – life goes on. I have dealt with much harder things, there was no way that not passing was going to crush my soul. Nothing in life that is worth it came easy. After that hour of tears, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and just moved on.
What was most surprising about not passing the bar? What didn’t you expect?
I expected to feel much more depressed during the second round of studying, but instead I felt more self-aware and more focused. I was very critical of myself going into it the second time. I had to be to learn where I fucked up and how I could correct it.
How much did you study?
I studied anywhere from 40 to 50+ hours a week the month of January and February. During the end of December, I barely studied. There was just so much going on. There is not a lot of down time between December graduation and the beginning of bar prep. I believe I graduated Saturday and the Themis program started on Monday.
How much did you sleep?
I got plenty of sleep. I am not a sleep deprived person. I sleep regularly, normally, and a lot. There would be days when I would go with getting 4hours of sleep a night, but I would catch up on Saturday or Sundays sleeping way in, and studying late those evenings and into the night.
What do you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have practiced a full MBE 6hr day. My stamina sucked. I was so distracted during the second part of the MBE. I also would have spent way more time memorizing subjects I KNEW I struggled with, and I would have spent more time with subjects that I knew I could perfect, like Criminal Law and Evidence.
What have you learned from not passing the bar?
I learned more about myself. I learned that I am a strong, capable, and minimally competent person. There is nothing like failing the biggest test of your life to humble you, more than you may be. However, there is nothing like failing the biggest test of life to prove that you are as strong willed and determined as you hoped you were.
What bar prep tip/strategy did you find most beneficial the second time around?
My critical pass cards were invaluable for me. Those cards saved me on property. I would take the card, take the outline, and I would read the outline, read the card, fill in the card with information I needed from the outline, and then write questions on the front of the card, that would help me identify the stuff on the back. My friend Nicole P showed me this tip and it really worked for me. I also loved working with a group. I liked to treat group study as working breaks. You know you aren’t going to get a lot done, but you need a break, and you know the group will at least discuss the bar materials. It made me feel less guilty about group study when I used it as a break, and not as my main source of studying.
What kind of support do people retaking the bar need?
They need the same type of support that first time bar takers get. There is so much more pressure on second/third/fourth time bar takers. People start to lose faith in them, and most importantly, they start to lose faith in themselves. We need people who believe in us and go just as hard for us as they would for first time bar takers. Most importantly, retakers need to have that support within themselves. You cannot continuously doubt yourself and surround yourself with negativity. You must know that you can do it and think positively on the process. You must surround yourself with positive energy and positive people
Failing the bar also means delaying the start of your legal career. What are some suggestions for those waiting to pass? What did you do in the mean time?
I took a clerking job. Two clerking jobs. Like what I was doing as a law student. No shame. I needed the cash and I was still doing legal work. I had that clerking job set up prior to taking the February bar exam. I started clerking there after the bar exam and I am still there waiting for a job now that I have passed the bar exam. I missed out on a great opportunity by failing the February bar exam, to get the job that I have always wanted, but I am confident that it will come back around. It’s just a waiting game at this point, and I am thankful I have a source of income at those same firms where I started off clerking, after the February exam.
What did you do differently that ultimately led to your success? Did you work less? Study more or less?
I worked more and probably studied less, although it was more beneficial studying. I gave up on the Themis lectures. Lectures were not helpful for me. I spent more time reviewing the outline and using my Critical Pass flashcards. I did WAY MORE MBEs. I also listened to my body more. When I was tired I stopped. I stopped for the rest of the day. I spent time doing things I enjoyed. Then I would hit the books hard the next day.
How did you use commercial bar prep materials the second time around? (Did you pay for a bar prep course again, use free resources, use old stuff?)
Themis gave me my same sources, online, to reuse. I used most of the online MBE questions, the MEE questions, and model answers. I carried the Barbri Conviser around with me EVERYWHERE. I swear by that book. It was my life saver. I just borrowed it from a friend who passed in February. I also used a lot of NCBE MBE questions, that you can purchase on the NCBE website, or you can ask your friends if they have them or know someone who does. I used Critical Pass, which again was the best. I also bought mine on Ebay for $75 verse on the Critical Pass website for $130ish. Make sure you purchase ones that haven’t been written on. The fact that I could fill them in with my information is what made them effective for me. I also looked at MEE predictions. I wouldn’t rely on this, but I definitely spent more time with those predicted subjects than the others. I relied on this website www.excellenceinlawschool.com. Day of bar studying I used Lean Sheets. Don’t pay for them, ask around, you’ll find someone who has them.
Do you have any words of advice?
First, reflection is key. You must revisit that first time of studying and pinpoint where you fucked up. You must do this. You must be critical of yourself. None of that,
“I don’t know where I went wrong.” It’s not the time to feel sorry for yourself. Second, practice like you’re taking the exam. So, say you’re planning to break every hour during the MBE exam, you should be practicing doing an hour of MBE questions or 34 questions without stopping. Practice your breaks.