I have recently speaking with people who will retake the bar exam in February, and here are a few thoughts it might be helpful to share more widely.
First, I am sorry you didn’t pass this time. I know it is painful. It’s a grieving process. You can be sad, angry, disappointed, etc. It can come and go like waves. The pain may continue to wash over you at various times, including particularly inconvenient ones like when you are about to sit down to do some practice. It’s ok to feel. It can be particularly frustrating to experience these feelings if you believe (as I do) that the bar exam is a terrible measure of whether one should be an attorney, and should be abolished. The disconnect between what you know in your head and what you feel in your heart can be jarring. But it’s ok to let yourself feel. You are human and an upsetting thing happened. But also work to let it go – take deep breaths through those tough moments. Really – take a deep breath in, hold it for two seconds, and take a deep breath out for even longer than you breathed in. Try it right now.
Write up your negative feelings on a piece of paper and then tear it up, throw it out, or even set it on fire (only if you have a safe, contained environment in which to do so). This can help you with the letting go process. You can even do this right before the exam on scrap paper – write out your negative feelings and then crumble up the paper.
In addition to the typical struggles involved with retaking the bar which I’ve written about here, here, and here, those of you taking the bar again this time likely have to deal with a format change. If you have taken the bar exam in the past year, you most likely took it entirely remotely, and will have to shift to taking it in-person in February. That means a few changes.
First, you will be given a packet of questions for each section. If you selected to use your laptop, you will be typing out your answers for the essays and MPTs. But, you will still be given a paper packet of essays and a paper packet of MPTs. On MBE day, you will be given a packet of MBEs and a sheet to fill in the bubbles. You have likely done all of your practice thus far on the computer because you were taking an online exam. Now, it’s best to shift to doing practice on paper so you are replicating the conditions under which you will take the exam. Taking the exam on paper can have its advantages – it will allow you to more easily circle, underline, and write notes on the page. People may read more in-depth on paper, which may mean you need to re-read fact patterns fewer times. It is certainly helpful not to have to scroll back and forth so much during the MPT.
But, having the exam on paper is likely to change your timing, as many people read more quickly on the screen because we are used to scrolling, as opposed to critically reading texts online. So, practice on paper from the beginning so that you can get your timing to where it needs to be. You can even find free printable bubble sheets to use while you are doing your multiple choice practice, to simulate what you will be doing on exam day.
The second difference, of course, is that you will be in person surrounded by other people. There will be noise, distractions, and probably masks. Practice wearing a mask while concentrating (and being nervous) for about 4 hours. Figure out which masks are the most comfortable (and bring backups). You will need to wear a mask, not only for the three-hour block of testing, but also as you go through security, sit in your seat and listen to instructions, and get on the line to return your materials and leave. If you haven’t been regularly wearing masks for long periods of time, it can take some getting used to.
Practice being in an environment where there are other people. You may not have taken exams around other people for a long time, and it’s better to remember what that is like before exam day. Do some practice questions in a coffee shop, library, co-working space, or somewhere else where there are people you don’t know. Review your jurisdiction’s security policy, and if you can bring in earplugs, try different kinds to see what you like best. Try them with your mask. Also review your jurisdiction’s security policy to see whether you can bring in hihglighters, colored pens, etc., so you know what you should be practicing with.
Third, find out where your jurisdiction gives the exam and figure out what you will need to do to get there. Book your travel and hotel accommodations early if you will have to travel.
Retaking the bar is stressful, but you can do it. Think about how far you have come over the past few years. Think back to your first week in law school and how much you have learned since then. You have accomplished so much. And you have done it all under unprecedented conditions in an incredibly stressful time. You can do this. But don’t just take it from me. Keep telling it to yourself. Build in a practice of positive mantras for yourself.
And remember your why – remember why you came to law school in the first place. Remember why you want to be a lawyer. Remember what is waiting for you on the other side of this exam. Keep that why close to you so that you can hold on to it when you’re struggling through difficult doctrine or a tough MBE set. The legal profession needs you.