How To Pass The California Bar Exam On Your Third Attempt - JD Advising
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How To Pass The California Bar Exam On Your Third Attempt

Passing the California Bar Exam on your first try is a great achievement. Passing the bar exam on your second or third attempt should be equally celebrated.  While repeat takers are often hesitant to share their “war” stories, these experiences can be a valuable resource for Applicants repeating the exam. It takes a great amount of grit to go through this process multiple times. If you are wondering how to pass the California Bar Exam on your third try, this blog will showcase several strategies to get you to the finish line.

How To Pass The California Bar Exam On Your Third Attempt

1. Those Who Have Been There

While it is often tempting to seek feedback only from those who passed the California Bar Exam on their first try, it is equally as valuable to talk to someone who has “been there and done that!”  They may be willing to share how they were able to turn things around in a short period of time, such as, increasing their MBE scores, improving writing skills, and drafting a winning Performance Test. They may also have valuable tips on study strategies, or act as morale support.  If possible, find someone who is receptive to sharing their story so that you might learn from them or consider them as a sounding board to bounce around ideas.

2. Self-Evaluation

It is not easy to do, nor is it pleasant, but once you receive your materials back, take the time to go through your essays and Performance Test with a keen eye to see what problems you may have had. Were you heavy on rules and light on analysis? Did you deviate from IRAC? Did you use every fact in the fact pattern or miss significant issues? These are just some of the questions that you should ask yourself in evaluating your work. Self-evaluation is a process. It requires honest reflection on your performance and creating an effective strategy to improve. For more detailed content on self-evaluation, read our blog on what to do after not passing the bar exam.

3. Post-mortem: What Did and Did Not Work

An important part of self-evaluation is examining your previous study strategy.  There may be components of your plan that are not serving you well.  Things to consider include how you study, where you study, outside distractions, whether you were an “active” participant in your study strategy, and self-care.

a) How you study

Reflecting on how you have studied in the past is important to developing a more effective strategy to pass the California Bar Exam on your third try.  For example, if you spent a large amount of time working on your outline or trying to memorize your outline, this may not be the most effective use of your time. If you practiced a few essays and one Performance Test, this would not be sufficient to spot any weaknesses in your writing skills. The same applies to the MBE. If you did practice questions but did not review the right answers and the wrong answers, you are missing out on an opportunity to learn the rules, which will also help you on your essays.   On the other hand, if you feel as though you practiced a ton of essays, PTs, and MBE questions, think about whether you tracked your progress and tackled any weak areas.

In addition to components of the test, you will also need to re-evaluate the bar course that you used, if any, for the first two exams. People learn differently. Think about your learning style and whether the program that you took is compatible with your learning style.  Consider whether you work best in a “one on one” situation as opposed to a large group of people. Do you work better alone? Do you need a study buddy? There are many factors to consider when it comes to the best learning environment for you to succeed on the California Bar Exam.

b) Where you study

In addition to how you studied, think about your surroundings. Were you distracted? Were you comfortable? Did others distract you? If you find that your surroundings are not productive to studying, find a place where you can get some solitude and focus for long periods of time. Ideas include law school libraries, public law libraries, law firms (if you have access), or another similar hideaway.  If you are constantly interrupted or distracted by noise, lights, music, or TV, you will need to re-evaluate your surroundings and find a place of peace to dedicate a significant amount of time to focusing on your bar studies.  Some Applicants may not have a choice as to where they study due to family obligations, or lack of resources, but do what you can to find your own space for at least a portion of the week.  This may require some creativity or asking for help. Your law school library may be a good place to start or try another law school library nearby if possible.

Outside distractions can have a huge impact on your ability to study and perform on the bar exam. Think about whether you can go “off grid” for a period. Consider putting a “pause” on social media, emails, and phone calls, unless it is crucial.  Working or not working is another serious consideration. Some Applicants may not have a choice not to work, however, if you do have a support system, ask for help in taking care of routine tasks and shifting responsibilities during your studies, so that your only focus is making the third time a charm, and passing the California Bar Exam on your third try! It is best to have these hard conversations before you begin your studies.

c) Active Participant

As part of your self-evaluation, think about whether you were an active participant in your study strategy for prior bar exams.  Active learning bonds you to the learning process, which means you learn by doing. For example, consistently practicing essays, Performance Tests, and MBEs, and evaluating your progress are examples of active learning. Review successful answers and rubrics to your practice essays if available, so that you can learn to think like the bar grader. Rubrics will help you to see what the bar grader is looking for.  If possible, have someone who is familiar with the California Bar Exam provide feedback as well. If you are taking a formal bar exam course, take advantage of any feedback provided and incorporate that feedback to improve. The goal for active learning is to become extremely comfortable with every aspect of the bar exam such that writing an essay or breaking down an MBE question is second nature, but not to the point of burn out.

d) Self-Care

The most important part of your bar program should be Self-Care. Many Applicants leave themselves for last and go into the bar exam stressed, anxious, and burned out.  While preparing for the exam will take up a chunk of your time and energy, make sure that you are getting adequate sleep, eating well, and incorporating some form of exercise that gets you away from your desk.  Self-Care also includes avoiding any undue stress and taking care of your mental health.  If you suffer from anxiety, seek the help you need from a health care provider, or someone you trust. If medication or another form of treatment can help you, consider discussing the benefits with your doctor/health provider. It is better to address issues with stress and anxiety before you begin your study plan so that you can maximize your time, energy, and performance.  Learn more about self-care and the bar exam by reading our blog A How to Guide to Self-Care During Bar Exam Prep.

Passing on your third try can be done. Reflect on your past preparation and delete what did not work, and find out what does, by using the tips above. There are many successful Attorneys who did not pass the California Bar Exam on their first try, including many well-known public figures! Taking the California Bar Exam multiple times does not negate your intelligence or your ability to become an awesome attorney!   Some people just need to learn how to take the exam.

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