Failed the Bar Exam? Don’t Worry. It’s Going to Be Okay.

Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

~Winston Churchill

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., all have something in common – they failed the bar exam. The fact of the matter is, no matter how smart you are, how hard you study, or what great things you are destined for, sometimes you fail the bar exam. Sometimes, in fact, you’ll fail it more than once.

The important thing to remember is that this is not the end. Just as success on the bar exam would not be your final step on the path towards being a practicing attorney, failure is not the end nor is it fatal to your chances of becoming a lawyer. Instead, failure on the exam is a momentary setback, but it does not have to, and should not, end your journey. You can, regardless of anything that has happened before this moment, pass the bar exam in the future and fulfill your dream of being a licensed, practicing attorney.

But, let’s take a moment and be realistic. If you are reading this right now, the odds are that you do not feel very good about yourself or your odds for future success. You are disappointed, upset, possibly questioning your life decisions, your study habits, your intellectual abilities, and may also perhaps be facing a whole host of other overwhelming doubts and fears that have been lurking in the dark recesses of your mind as you awaited your results. The notification from your respective board of examiners that you failed the bar exam hurts. It makes you feel like you let yourself down, like you disappointed friends, family members, employers, and all kinds of other people that you felt had some type of investment in your success. Right now, you are likely in a dark place, and it may feel hopeless. You may feel like your dreams are dashed, all hope is lost, and that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is natural. This is okay.

However, as I referenced above, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the good news is that you aren’t at the end of the tunnel at all. As a specific reference, I’ll tell you about one of the numerous times that I was on the subway in NYC and we came to a halt between station stops. The power then shut off on the train. Darkness was all around us, it felt like I couldn’t breathe, and whether it was seconds or minutes (or once it actually lasted an hour), it felt like time had ceased moving and I was going to be trapped in that moment of darkness forever. 

Guess what though? The train got moving again, and although I was delayed and felt powerless when that subway car was sitting in that dark tunnel, everything worked out and I got to my destination. The same is going to be true for you. You are going to escape this time of self-doubt, anxiety, and worry, and you will be successful on the bar exam. Sometimes a journey does not go exactly as planned, but that does not mean that you will not reach your destination.

I do not have to personally know you to say this. I do not have to know your score, have ever seen a writing sample of your work, or listened to you discuss torts until I want to accuse you of battery upon my ears. It doesn’t matter whether you failed by a few points or by a lot. The fact of the matter is that you can pass the bar exam. 

I’ve seen people fail multiple times, but ultimately be successful. I have seen people on the verge of giving up, who then choose to give it one more try and really buckle down, and then put the time, work, and effort in to be successful. In the end, I have seen it pay off. I have seen them pass the bar exam. You can pass the bar exam as well.

That is what I am telling you today. You can make changes, adapt, work harder, differently, or utilize different techniques. You can study more, do more practice questions, write and review more essays, or work on more performance tests. You are not stuck in this moment. You are merely at a pause, and when you start your journey again you have control of your own success. It is up to you to dedicate yourself to working hard and holding yourself accountable. It is up to you to utilize the resources provided to you by your school and to let the people who care about you assist you, mentor you, tutor you, and guide you. I believe in you.

I also want to make sure that you know that the people at your law school believe in you. Here in Academic Achievement and Bar Success (AABS), we are all here because we are passionate about seeing our students successful, and because we believe that you can and will achieve. The Deans, professors, staff, and alumni all believe in you, and we all want you to be successful. 

Personally speaking, I care about your goals and I am passionate about your legal career dreams. Your ultimate success fuels the fire of the passion that brought me here, and my favorite aspect of being the Director of AABS is when I see someone graduate law school, pass the bar exam, and celebrate all the hard work and dedication paying off. The joy of seeing someone pass the bar exam never gets old to me, and each time a student gets that ‘pass notification’ is equally amazing to me and also makes me appreciate the astounding amount of time, work, diligence, and effort that goes well beyond that individual’s success at that one moment. It encompasses the realized hopes and dreams of families, represents overcoming obstacles, following passions, and is the crowning achievement of your law school career as you transition into your professional role. I want you to feel the joy that comes with passing the bar exam.

Over the next few days, you will be hearing from me personally about assisting you as you prepare for the next exam, but I wanted to remind you today that you are not alone. I believe in you. The school administration, faculty, and our alumni believe in you. We are to do everything in our power and work with you to help you be successful.

Relax and breathe. Prepare to re-dedicate and perhaps try new things that are outside your comfort zone. Take it easy on yourself and realize that you are not alone, even though it often feels that way, and know that someday this will likely be a story you tell to an aspiring law school graduate about how you overcame adversity and this obstacle (and others) to ultimately realize success. Rest now, recuperate, and be prepared to come out with your best efforts for the next round. Your fight isn’t over. Be courageous, and continue forward.

*One final note: sometimes, finding out that you were unsuccessful on the bar exam can be especially overwhelming, and you may find that you need to seek professional help to deal with your troubling thoughts, anxieties, or worries. I highly encourage you to remember that AJMLS has resources, that there are professionals that are only a click or a call away, and that this time of seeming despair will pass. The unfortunate thing getting through something and processing is that it takes time, but everything will be okay. However, if you find yourself considering hurting yourself, please know that you can always contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), utilize the lawyer’s assistance program in your state, call a friend, or even dial 911 if you are in crisis. The bar exam results in the now do not define your tomorrow, so take a deep breath and know that everything will be okay. I promise.

Monday Motivation: Woman Takes Bar Exam While in Labor, Gives Birth, then Finishes the Exam the Next Day – and Passes!

Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success

Happy Monday! I hope that this Monday following this all-too-short weekend finds you healthy, well-rested, and with your eyes firmly on the prize of your ultimate goal – passing the bar exam!

There are a variety of factors and obstacles that can impact your journey towards success, and one of the things that I always try to make abundantly clear to examinees is that with determination and grit, you can overcome anything and be successful. In order to highlight this, today I wanted to share a story with you about a woman who graduated from Loyola University School of Law.

When Brianna Hill was originally scheduled to take the July UBE bar exam in Illinois, she knew there would be challenges with being around 28 weeks pregnant. However, with all of the uncertainty around COVID-19 and the challenges surrounding a safe exam administration, the exam ended up getting pushed to October. Suddenly, that manageable 28-week pregnancy was going to be a 38-week pregnancy. Determined to success with her goals and motivated to become an attorney, Brianna pushed on and was ready for on October 5, 2020, the first day of the two-day test period.

The remote exam in Illinois was divided into 4 90-minute sections, and 30 minutes into the test Brianna felt a sensation that led her to think, “I really hope my water didn’t just break.” However, due to the exam software proctoring, she couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom and check. Clearly, this was an opportunity to panic and abandon the exam, but Brianna held fast to her ambitions and dreams, persevering until the break. 

During the break, Brianna realized that her water had indeed broken, and called her husband, midwife, mom, did some crying, but after some discussion around her current state, realized that she had some time before she needed to be at the hospital. Incredibly, Brianna decided to complete the second 90-minute section in the afternoon, before then heading to the hospital where she arrived around 5:30pm. A little under 5 hours later, Brianna and her husband welcomed a new baby boy to the world.

This story could stop right here and already be pretty inspiring, but Brianna, with the support of hospital staff and family, decided to finish the bar exam the following day. Having just given birth, and aware of the strict requirements of the bar examiners, the hospital provided Brianna with a private room, hung a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the entrance, and fully supported her finishing the exam. You may be wondering about the new baby boy during all this, and amazingly, Brianna was feeding the baby during breaks!

Months later, Brianna got news that probably wasn’t quite as exciting as the birth of a new baby, but had to be satisfying in an entirely different way. Last week, Brianna found out that she passed the Illinois Bar Exam! Can you imagine overcoming all of that, successfully performing on the test despite giving birth, changing locations, and literally having all of your plans upended? It’s really incredible.

I hope this motivates you to remember that anything is possible, no matter what the obstacle or obstacles that you face or must overcome. Remember that people here at the Office of Academic Achievement and Bar Success (AABS), your friends, and your family all want you to succeed, and we all believe in you. And most importantly, you should believe in yourself, because if you put the time, effort, follow a plan, adapt, and believe, you will succeed. 

Brianna had this to say: “I’m so thankful for the support system I had around me. The midwives and nurses were so invested in helping me not only become a mom but also a lawyer,” She added. “My husband and law school friends provided me with so much encouragement so I could push through the finish line even under less than ideal circumstances. And my family, especially my sister, just kept reminding me how I could do it even when I wasn’t so sure myself.” (as reported by CNN)

Remember that you have a support system that is always here for you, the Office of Academic Achievement and Bar Success. Not only are we here to provide guidance and support, but we are also here to provide belief in you and encouragement when you are struggling. I personally believe that each of you has the ability to be successful on the bar exam, and that if you dedicate the time, energy, and effort, you will be successful.

On a personal note, the best moments of my year are when I receive a call, email, text, or note from a student informing me that they have been successful and are going to become licensed attorneys. There is no better feeling than helping someone to achieve their dreams, and I want to help you achieve yours.

Have a wonderful Monday, and remember to stay motivated and believe in yourself. If Brianna Smith can go into labor and give birth in the midst of the bar exam and pass the bar exam, you can overcome obstacles and challenges in your life and also be successful.

I believe in you. You can do this. You will be successful.

AJMLS Project 470: Supplemental Bar Success Program for First-Time Takers

Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success

When it comes to the bar exam, there are a lot of factors that come into play in order to achieve success. However, one of the biggest indicators of success is the amount of quality study time that students invest in their preparation. Time and time again, statistical indicators show that students who approach the bar exam in a structured manner and put in sufficient hours perform better than their peers who do not have a plan. Additionally, hitting certain quantifiable milestones in terms of time invested combined with study guidance leads to better bar success outcomes. Generally speaking, students who have an adaptive study plan with enough quality study hours dedicated to learning and skills-improvement perform better than those without such a plan and dedication.

This is where Project 470 comes into play. The numbers 4-7-0 represent more than the new area code that Georgia got on February 26, 2010. They also represent the optimal number of hours for students to study to help ensure they successfully pass the bar exam, and this time commitment is the foundation for Atlanta John Marshall Law School’s Project 470.

The general guidance for most first-time bar exam takers is vague, with guidelines, study plans, and subject order varying depending on which commercial bar course students are enrolled with. This leads to confusion, and can sometimes cause difficulty due to the lack of individualization. Students are also confused about strategies, as there are those that claim you need to only do x amount of practice questions, study y amount of hours, or take z amount of essays. These claims can be misleading, because bar study is not a linear path, and what works for one may not work for another. Further, merely checking off a particular box is not sufficient to indicate understanding and skills development. The ability to course-correct and change in response to progress is of additional paramount importance. There are things that are absolutely necessary for success, it is true, but paying attention to any single metric will not be sufficient to ensure an individual’s success. This is where Project 470 enters the picture.

Project 470 is more than a plan to study for a stated number of hours. As mentioned previously, the time commitment is just the foundation. Project 470 goes beyond taking a certain amount of questions, studying a certain amount of hours, or practicing with some amount of essays. It is a guided, structured program designed to coincide with and supplement your commercial bar preparation course. It includes time management strategies, individualized adaptive study plans, workshops, small group sessions, multiple-choice strategy guidance, performance test practice, essay writing tips, writing review, and individualized tutoring. The commercial cost of this program would be expensive, but first-time bar takers at Atlanta’s John Marshall will receive the entire program at no cost, so long as they agree to adhere to the program guidelines and keep pace with the Project 470 requirements. Participation in the program requires commitment and active participation.

The goal of this unique pilot program offering is straightforward: Project 470’s goal is to help every first-time February 2021 taker who participates in the program to pass the bar exam. Our goal is to be one and done, and we will aim for a 100% pass rate for program participants.

As stated above, Project 470 requires dedication and a firm commitment to participate in the program. All program participants will be expected to fully complete their commercial bar prep courses, attend Motivation Monday check-in activities, attend “Saturday Score More” workshops, and to complete a rigorous, directed program that will be a combination of individually developed guidance, one-on-one tutoring, and directed group sessions. Optionally, Small Group Sundays, Tuesday Tips and Tutoring, and Friday Friends Advice programming will be available and recommended to students.

If you want to achieve bar exam success on the February 2021 exam, and are willing to dedicate your time, effort, and energy to passing the bar exam, then Project 470 is for you. All Project 470 participants will be required to attend a mandatory meeting and to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the program’s requirements. Additionally, all Project 470 participants will be required to adhere to attendance policies, achieve performance metrics (a combination of attendance at workshops, review sessions, tutoring meetings, assignment completion, and satisfactory progress in a commercial bar review course).

Contact Scot Goins, Director of the Office of Academic Achievement and Bar Success, to join the initial Project 470 cohort. Indications of interest must be received by Sunday, November 15, 2020.