How I went from Failing the Bar Exam to Passing in the 90th Percentile

These are words I have dreamed of typing- I am officially a Lawyer. I passed the February 2020 Ohio Bar Exam. I will be sworn in to the Ohio Bar in just 4 short days.

If you have followed me for a while, you will know that I failed the July 2019 Ohio Bar Exam by just a few points. More on that in this blog post. I decided to go after the February 2020 bar exam without mercy. I wanted to pass and I wanted to pass with a healthy cushion. I refused to fail by just a few points again. Thankfully, my tireless efforts were successful. Not only did I pass, but I passed in the 90th percentile. That means my score was in the top 10% of February 2020 exam takers. I had a perfect score on two of my essays and one of my MPT's. This was a HUGE increase from where my previous bar exam score was.

I do NOT post this to brag or boast in any way. I am posting all of this with the hopes that it can encourage others who have to retake the bar exam. I want people to understand just how high you can rise after a setback. I don't want people to feel like they can't success on this exam just because of one bad attempt. I want those who are preparing for this exam to understand that failing once isn't the end of the world.

So what made the vast difference in my scores? I cannot say with 100% certainty but I have some good ideas based on the changes I made as I prepared for my second attempt. I am going to share it with the hopes that it helps someone else conquer this monster of an exam.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a bar prep expert. I am NOT a professor or a bar examiner. I am just someone who has done this process twice, once unsuccessfully and once successfully, and I am sharing what I learned from that in the hopes that something here can help someone else. I am sure some of this advice will seem redundant or silly to some people and to others it will be enlightening. What worked for me might not work for you. Take everything with a grain of salt and at the end of the day, you have to do what works best for you. 

1. Critical Pass Notecards
One of the first changes I made from my first bar prep to my second was to purchase a set of Critical Pass MBE flashcards/notecards (yes I purchased these 100% with my own money and this is NOT sponsored). This included full notecards for all MBE subjects and topics and an app version of the notecards which are great for when you are on the go. They broke the law down really nicely into digestible chunks. It also gave me a mechanism to start substantively studying the concepts on day one of bar prep.

The first time, I made my own flashcards and it took me so long that I wouldn't be able to start studying those notecards until halfway through bar prep and that just wasn't enough time for me. By using Critical Pass, I saved my time in making 100% my own notecards and was able to start memorizing much earlier. I also loved having the app to study while I was waiting in line at the grocery, driving in the car with my husband or whenever I just felt the need to check some area of law (it was not unusual for me to have sudden, random moments of panic when I thought I had forgotten a law. Having the app allowed me to immediately look it up and put my mind at ease which also helped my overall mental state). I did still make my own notecards for my Ohio specific subjects and some of the more complex concepts but mostly I relied on Critical Pass.

I truly believe Critical Pass notecards are part of the reason I passed with such a high score on my second try. If you want to order your own, use this link to get 10% off your order. Critical Pass also offers a referral program so if you refer to your friend, you can get a little money in your own pocket to help offset the cost of the notecards.

2. Themis Bar Prep
I studied with a prep course from Themis for both of my bar exams. I want to start out of firmly stating that I do not believe Themis in any way contributed to my unsuccessful attempt on the July bar exam. After taking a harsh look at my process, I think my problems and shortcomings were completely to do with some of my personal study habits, external stressors and too much test day anxiety. Admittidly, I did not take full advantage of everything Themis had to offer during my first bar prep. I did not do enough MBE practice questions and I did not make as much use of the lectures as I could have. I fixed both of these habits the second time around and saw vast improvement as a result.

I found Themis to be an all encompassing bar prep course with ample study materials and support. I can honestly say that the Themis directors answered my frantic phone calls more times than I can count and talked me down off the edge as well as encouraging me to keep going. Having a support system like that was absolutely essential for me. I do not have any other lawyers in the family so no one really understood what I was going through. Being able to call my Themis director and get insight from someone who has been through what you are going through and knows the bar prep process inside and out was honestly game changing. I am so beyond thankful for the amazing Themis directors I was able to work with.

I would absolutely suggest Themis to anyone taking the bar exam. The program is strong and it truly works- their bar passage rates are proof of that. The directors are an amazing resource that I don't think you get in other bar prep programs. Finally, it is affordable which is important when you consider how expensive this whole process is. I am 100% confident that Themis was the right choice for me and I am glad that was the bar prep program I used.

3. Less Stress, More Efficiency
This is something that is heavily linked to the fact that I was doing the process a second time. The first time I prepped for the bar, I was so anxious and stressed 24 hours a day and it heavily impacted my productivity. It is hard to be motivated and hard working when anxiety has you practically frozen. By the second time around, so much of that stress and anxiety was gone and I could get down to working more easily and be way more efficient. I don't have an easy fix for this for those of you taking the bar for the first time and dealing with the stress and anxiety. All I can say is that stress and anxiety are not helpful so try to limit it within your life in any way you can. If working out helps you, do it every day. If you need to fit therapy into your schedule, make the time. Whatever is going to help you keep the stress and anxiety under control, you must do it for the sake of your mental health as well as to improve your chances of passing this exam.

4. Breaks
Something I did more during my second bar prep was take actual breaks. I mean full days off. During the first round of bar prep, I think I took 2 half days off and 1 full day from May-July. I utterly burnt myself out. My brain was fried. My emotions were fried. I was exhausted. I didn't want to do that the second time around so I made a schedule that factored in some regular days off. I started early enough to be able to complete enough studying while also having ample time to rest my brain. I took Thanksgiving and Black Friday off. I took Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Years Eve off. My husband and I took a 2 day ski trip in January. All of these break days helped my overall emotional state and mental health so much. I felt less frazzled and fried by the end. Everyone is different but if you think breaks will help you, make time for them and take them. For me, it was very very helpful.

5. More MBE Questions
This was probably my biggest mistake the first time around. I didn't like MBE questions, I wasn't strong at them and therefore, I did not do as many of them as I should have. I avoided them because getting a bad score would destroy any confidence I had. I readily admit that it was my shortcoming. The second time around, I forced myself to do MBE questions as much as I could even when I absolutely did not want to. This was not fun at all but I did see steady and consistent improvement in my MBE scores.

Something else I implemented from day one of my second round of bar prep was taking a note of every single MBE question I missed or guessed on. I got little bound books of notecards and for every MBE I got wrong, I wrote down the piece of law that the question turned on on a notecard in a subject specific book. I did the same thing if I guessed on the question and got it right. I was taking the time to highlight and identify the areas of law I did not understand or did not have memorized. I would go through these notecard books several times each week to try to fill in those spots where I was weak. I could recognize some of the areas I consistently got wrong and knew that those were things I had to go back and spend some extra time on. Also, the act of writing out those pieces of law helped to get them into my brain and help them stick. Over time, I started to fix those issues and was able to limit the areas of law that I would get wrong. I think this made a VAST difference in my MBE performance and I would suggest it to ANYONE taking the bar exam.

6. Focus on the Weak Subjects
For my second round of bar prep, I started out spending most of my time on my weakest subjects. This allowed me to get a handle on them early before the subjects started to pile up. I think it is good to take a good hard look at yourself, your inclinations and what law comes most naturally to you based on law school experience. Those subjects you excelled at in law school will likely come back a little easier and stronger than others during bar prep. Therefore, those strong subjects should take up less of your time. You need to be minimally competent in everything- not really strong in a few things. I made that mistake on my first bar exam. I thought that having a few really strong subjects would make up for where I lacked in my weaker subjects. The weak subjects were hard for me and ate up so much of my time that it started to feel like a fruitless effort towards the end so I focused on my strong subjects when in doubt. This was the WRONG approach and please do not follow that path. Looking back, I am not sure why I decided to follow that path but in the midst of a very stressful and anxious experience like bar prep, we all make some decisions that might not make the most sense in hindsight.

For the second bar prep, I dove into my weakest subjects early and without mercy. I made sure those subjects were minimally competent before moving into my stronger subjects. This helped my MBE scores throughout bar prep and did not leave me with a lot of weak spots at the end I was trying to fix right before the exam.

7. Emmanuel MBE Book
I purchased this book from Amazon for my second round of bar prep and it was a great addition to the Themis course. What I liked about it is that it has tons of MBE questions, they are on paper not computer (more like the real exam) and the explanations for the answers are really comprehensive. It also includes extra bar prep advice. Overall, I liked it because it was just an additional way to practice and also, sometimes it explained something just differently enough that it made it click in my brain. I do not think this book is a MUST but I did find it VERY helpful through the last month of bar prep.

8. No Fear of the Unknown
I ultimately think this was the biggest difference for me and I realize that doesn't really help those of you taking the bar exam for the first time. But for those who inevitably have to take it more than once for whatever reason, the second time is SO much less stressful and less scary because you know what to expect. There is no more fear of the unknown. It is still stressful and hard and exhausting but at least you know what to expect and how things will go. I think of it as the difference between first semester 1L exams and second semester 1L exams. First semester is so scary because it's something new and you don't know what to expect or if your study methods will work. Second semester you know what you need to do, what to expect and you can just get down to business and do it. That's how my second bar exam process felt- it still sucked but I knew what I had to do and what the exam would be like. I hope that helps to alleviate some of the stress for those who have to take the exam a second time.

As for the first time takers, all I can say is try to keep the fear and anxiety under control with healthy coping mechanisms. Stressing and freaking out about it won't help at all. I know it is easier said than done but just do your best.

I truly hope this is helpful to any and all bar takers. All I want is for other people to be successful on this monster of an exam and for others to feel the gigantic sense of relief that I know feel knowing this hurdle is behind me. Whatever happens though, please remember that this is JUST a test and it does not define you or your worth. Best of luck to everyone taking the bar exam- YOU CAN DO IT!

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