Advance Bar Prep Part Two: Friends and Family

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

In Part One of this series on Advance Bar Prep, we discussed the importance of “Understanding Your Why” to help you maintain motivation, to encourage daily success efforts, and to help you avoid creating mental barriers to your own success. Part Two of this series will discuss another oft overlooked component of bar exam success, “Friends and Family.”

If you step back and think about your life on any particular day, you will quickly realize that other people and your interactions with them play a big role in your day. Positive interactions can lift you up and inspire, and alternatively, negative interaction can drag you down and demotivate you. It makes sense that if your normal daily life can be positively and negatively impacted by others, if you then add bar exam study and stress into that mix, these interactions will have increased weight. A positive interaction can lift you up when you feel like you cannot possibly watch another video, do another practice question, or read one more outline. On the other hand, a negative interaction can distract you from your work, make you question how you are balancing your life, and lead to feelings of frustration and guilt. It makes sense to think about your relationships early.

Obviously, despite the beginning of your bar preparation, you will still interact with other people and be impacted by them. The key to enhancing the positivity and supportive nature of these interactions, while simultaneously minimizing any negativity, frustration, and guilt, is to do some early preparation. By having conversations with your friends and family about your journey and the time requirements of your studies, setting aside time in advance to spend with them, and managing others’ expectations of your time and availability, you can save yourself stress and frustration down the road. Here are three tips to help you be successful on the bar exam by actively managing your relationships in a way that supports your success.

1. Let your friends and family know what you are doing.

This may sound obvious, but taking the time to communicate with your friends and family about what you will be doing from graduation until you take the bar exam can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls down the road. Although it may seem like everyone should understand that you will be busy studying as you prepare for the challenges of the bar exam, the truth of the matter is that anyone who hasn’t engaged in such a rigorous undertaking may not understand why you need to spend so many hours every single day studying. It may seem instead that you are neglecting them, have poor time management, or that they are just not your priority. If you take the time in advance to discuss what your daily schedule will be like, let them know a timeline, and ask them for their patience before you begin your studies, you will potentially avoid a lot of problems and stress down the road.

2. Make your friends and family a part of your weekly schedule.

Generally, the importance of time management during bar prep is understood, and ensuring that you have time to watch lectures, review your notes and outlines, engage in practice questions, write essays, and other important things is simply a matter of assigning a time and day to them. This process is important as it helps you stay on the right track to success, but it is equally important to schedule time to spend with friends and family as well. Bar prep is time consuming and intensive, but it should not encompass every hour of every single day. Instead, treat it like a job, and when you are not working, make time to reconnect with friends and spend time with family. This will not only help you maintain positive relationships, but it will help keep you healthy, supported, and balanced as you engage in the rigors of preparing for the bar exam. If you get in the habit of scheduling and valuing others’ time before you start prepping for the bar exam, you will find that it is much easier to continue that habit during your prep.

3. Remember that other people have lives outside of bar prep.

This is one of those things that makes sense when you stop and think about it, but is not so easy to keep in mind when you are preparing for perhaps the most important test of your life. If you think back to the beginning of law school, you will likely remember a sense of disconnect with those who were not in law school because of how embedded you were in the process of legal education. No one outside of law school understood the perils and fears associated with the Socratic method, why you feared losing a highlighter, or why the letters IRAC made you cringe. The bar exam process is the same while you are in the middle of it for you, but it is also the same for those that are outside looking in at you. Just as they may not understand what you are going through, try to keep in mind that you may not understand what they are going through as someone who supports you and cares about you, and try to be open to communication and also inquiring about things that are not related to bar prep. Not only will it give you a nice break, but it will also help ensure that you stay connected with the people that matter most. Make sure that you actively engage with others before you begin your process, and it will be easier to maintain that communication and stay engaged during your preparation.

The aforementioned things are important for your mental and emotional well-being, but they will also help you on the exam. One of the most common refrains I hear from bar exam takers is about how lonely the process is, and how cut-off they feel from friends and family. If you actively engage in the aforementioned before (and during) your bar prep, you will find yourself better prepared and better able to handle the stress and rigors of the process.

In Part Three of this series, we will take a look at how you can “Make Your Commercial Course a Success Before Day One” and discuss a variety of ways that you can ensure you hit the ground running when your commercial course starts.

Bar Prep Motivation: Almost There

It is that time of year. Bar preparation has been in full swing for a good while now, and your motivation might begin lacking. You might be getting tired of reading, and the thought of writing another essay or doing another question set may seem like daunting tasks. You might be asking yourself when will you have done enough? How long do you need to keep working this hard?

My personal belief is that each and every day is an opportunity to grow and learn, and that this is no time to rest on your laurels. Now is the time to work even harder than you did previously. This is your time to achieve.

There is a (slightly modified) quote I love to share at this point in the bar preparation process, and it comes from Herodotus:

“Some people give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory, by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.”

Let this quote define you and your efforts over the next few weeks. Over the past months you have been putting in the time and effort to pass the bar exam, and now you have almost reached the goal. However, now is not the time to take your foot off of the gas or slow down, but rather instead it is the time for you to redouble your efforts and exert even more. You can see the finish line, and although you may be fatigued and exhausted, you must push to cross that finish line and achieve the result you have dreamed of so often.

Work hard, and don’t leave anything in the proverbial gas tank. Do everything in your power to learn, take every opportunity to improve, practice often, and leave nothing on the table as you study and prepare for your future bar exam success.

This is your time. You are writing the story, and you control the narrative. Make your dream come true. Obtain your goal, achieve your victory, and pass the bar exam.

Bar Prep Advice: It’s Okay to Hate Bar Prep

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a huge fan of sports – all sports – from the mainstream to the obscure, I really enjoy the thrill of both competing personally and watching others in their athletic pursuits. As you also may or may not know, I’m in the midst of recovering from a pretty horrific mountain bike accident that I experienced during my race training in October 2019, and, have recently had multiple surgeries to put ol’ Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Today, I was thinking about how far I have to go on my comeback trail, and wondering if I’m ever going to be able to race again. I was thinking about the state championships I won previously, how out of shape I am now in comparison, and just dreading the idea of getting my arm out of this sling and beginning the dreaded process of training. I was full of self-doubt, anxiety, and concerns that I’ll never be successful again in the future, but I was also filled with the overwhelming thought of how much I hate training. I wondered if it is even possible for me to ever be successful on the trails again, and that also makes the idea of training even more difficult. This is not to mention that I am also worried about my skills deteriorating, and whether I will ever feel confident and capable enough to ride again.

Why am I telling you all of this personal information? How does this relate to you and your bar motivation? Like me, you may be feeling discouraged, and the thought of another day, week, or even month of bar prep may seem overwhelming and daunting. You may be exhausted, and saying to yourself each day, “I HATE BAR PREP!” You may wonder if you can pull this off, and your dread of the day to day may really be weighing you down.

I’m here to tell you that it is okay to hate bar prep, and that liking bar prep isn’t a prerequisite to being successful. Rather, it is what you do after you make that statement that matters.

In fact, it is the next step that I took today that I want to highlight, and I encourage you to do the same thing whenever you are faltering. I pulled this quote out from Muhammad Ali, who once said, “I hate every minute of training. But I said, don’t quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.” 

I felt my anxiety drop today about my recovery when I read that quote because I then remembered that it is okay to hate training. Training isn’t the goal, it’s just a necessary part of the journey. Success in daily pursuing your goals, working hard to give yourself a fighting chance, and knowing that you did everything possible to win – all of these things require that training must be endured. Nothing says that you have to like it or that you can’t get tired of it, but rather what matters is perseverance. Reading that quote reminded me that I’m going to be tired and frustrated, that I am not always going to enjoy the process, but the process is important if I want to be successful and ever have the opportunity to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. I also remembered that there is a reason I mountain bike, I love a lot of things about it beyond racing, and recognized that I am getting too caught up in thinking about a binary event that is taking away from my focus on my daily recovery. I need to live in the present and focus now, versus being worried about the future.

This mentality applies directly toward bar preparation. Although there are undoubtedly aspects of the law that you will enjoy during the process, other aspects will feel like a grind and you will struggle at times to force yourself through your daily activities. Every video that you watch takes effort, every multiple-choice question that you carefully review and study will require concentration, and each essay will engage your mental faculties in ways that can leave you exhausted. Like me, you may find your tasks daunting, and you may hate the thought of another day of studying. In essence, you may find yourself like Ali hating every minute of training and preparation. You may worry so much about the future exam that you fail to recognize the leaps and bounds in learning that you are achieving each and every day.

I encourage you to keep Muhammad Ali’s words in mind and realize that this is all okay. Your feelings about your day-to-day activities, your short-term stumbles, and your mental fatigue may all lead to you hating your own bar exam “training.” These thoughts are normal for everyone, and even the greatest of champions feels this way, so you shouldn’t expect yourself to feel any differently.

However, remember what he said, “…don’t quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Put your hard work in now, study outlines, practice, write and review essays, and do everything in your power to be successful no matter how hard it is each day. Work hard, and pass the bar exam. Train now, to later become a bar pass champion. Focus on what you need to be successful each day and accomplish your tasks for that day, and whether you find yourself hating bar prep or not, you will assuredly find yourself on the road to improvement and eventual success.

Work hard. Train hard. Be a champion like Ali. You can do this. You will never look back and regret trying your best, but if you do not put forth your best, you will live your life with regret.

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.