Yesterday, after 10 weeks of excrutiating pain, I got the news that I passed the February 2023 Bar Exam in California. This has been such a long journey. I will write a post with more practical tips eventually. However, here, I’d like to talk about a big part of succeeding in this: the mindset. I know situations shape us and how we approach them is everything. So, I’d like to take a moment to highlight what I think helped me through this.
1. ACKNOWLEDGING THE BEAST
The bar exam is a challenging journey that can often feel overwhelming and hopeless. It is very important to remember that it will get better when you are going through the process because that is NOT how it feels when you’re going through it. Often, I would think how it is such a huge task and I’m such a small human being. Being real about how difficult this was helped me prepare for the challenge I was facing. It IS actually possible. It just doesn’t feel like it at first.
2. know your weaknesses and pitfalls
Another important step was to recognize where I was and who I was. I had a few things against me: I am an international student/attorney and I did not go through the regular JD degree. So, I would probably need more time than 6-8 weeks that JDs’ usually require to study and pass the bar. Another example, I knew that for me to be focused for hours, I had to be engaged otherwise I would easily become distracted. These things were essential for me in defining a strategy that would work for me.
3. BE YOUR BIGGEST SUPPORTER
One of the biggest challenges I faced while studying for the bar exam was definitely self-doubt. Up to the moment I sat on the exam and starting going through the essay questions, I didn’t really think it was possible. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. However, I was PROUD of myself. Only I knew how hard it was to get to that moment and how much I went through to get there.
To overcome this challenge, I had to monitor my mental talk and made sure to stay positive and motivated. Did I succeed always? No. However, once I realized I was doing it, I pulled myself back on track. In the end – and trust me, deep down, I was scared every time I said this – once I went through the first day of exam, I felt exhilarated. I was so happy and felt so accomplished. Passing the bar wasn’t the prize, going through it and actually getting to the exam BEING prepared was the true prize for me. It was only then that I knew it was possible.
If I hadn’t pass, I would keep going because then I knew it was only a matter of time. I could do it!
4. FIND THOSE WHO WILL SUPPORT AND INSPIRE YOU WHEN YOU CAN’T
Sometimes, I would just get so overwhelmed that I couldn’t really handle it. I was lucky enough to have family, friends and colleagues who would constatly encourage and support me. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it without their support. Just having them listen to me, saying encouraging words, aiding me with tips, material and a pep talk was EVERYTHING. So, if you can, find people who will do that for you. Whether it is a family member, strangers on twitter or your pet.
5. know the things that make you happy/nurture you and committ to them
Balancing time and staying motivated is key to succeeding. I made sure to prioritize what was important to me, such as good sleep, sunbathing, exercising, and spending time in a place I loved. For example, I LOVE being on campus at my school. That’s where I went to study every day, monday to sunday. Unless I was really tired. Being there helped me. At some point, I was disciplined and engaged enough that I could study at home if I was feeling tired and just wanted to study in my PJs. However, getting into a routine of getting dressed and going out really helped me at first.
This was a tip I watched in one of the videos during my pre-Law School research: add to your calendar the good habits/important things first. Make time for things that are good for your mental health and well-being. They are as important – if not more – as any other activity.
5. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
Throughout this whole process, what gave me the most hope and courage during the bar exam preparation was accomplishing and realizing my dream of becoming a trial attorney in the US. Knowing that I was working towards my dream, made the process more enjoyable and rewarding.
I could also tell how the things I was studying were aiding me in developing the skills I will need to be a great attorney, so, it was really exciting to know that in the moment!
6. No matter what, stay at it and keep going!
Perseverance was a personal quality that I relied on during the bar exam process. No matter how overwhelming it felt, I kept showing up and doing the work. I hate to be cliche (not really), but there really is no failure except giving up. So, don’t!
I hope my experience can provide you with hope and courage if you are preparing to take the bar exam. I know it seems impossible, but it isn’t! Do everything to stay positive; surround/put yourself in a supportive environment, and persevere through the challenges. You can do it!