Everything I Know About Surviving the Bar Exam I Learned from Running.

By Sabrina DeFabritiis

Learn the Law. Practice the Skill. These are two key pieces of advice that anyone who has prepared for the bar exam has heard over and over again.  In order to pass the bar exam, a law school graduate must have a strong understanding of the testable areas of law and must practice thousands of multiple-choice questions and hundreds of essays and performance tests.  With so much focus on substance and skill what is often neglected is the need to build confidence and motivation in what can at times be a demoralizing process.

As law professors, it is easy to forget how far outside of our own comfort zone we may have felt when we prepared for the bar exam. In teaching, I am mindful of balancing the emphasis I place on the substance and skill with cultivating confidence and motivation. I acknowledge the importance of balance with my students by telling them that everything I know about surviving the bar exam I learned from running.  We have all heard the comparison that the bar exam is a marathon not a sprint.  Success requires endurance building over a long period of time and cannot be achieved by an intense cram session the week before the exam.  Whether your goal is to run a mile, a marathon, or beyond you need to train, same rules apply to passing the bar.  While these comparisons focus on the work that comes from within, the confidence and motivation often begin with those who provide support.  If you have ever run a race, you understand how important the crowds can be.  Their messages of support can carry you across the finish line whether you are running a marathon or taking the bar exam. Below are some examples of motivating messages that apply equally to bar prep.

“Remember, you paid to do this.”

So much goes into preparing for the bar exam, several years of law school, thousands of dollars, time away from family and friends.  Law school graduates pay in many ways to have the opportunity just to sit for the bar exam. All of the sacrifices that they make should not go to waste.  Rather, graduates should use them as motivation when the going gets tough.

“Pain is just a French word for bread.”

This one is about perspective. The bar prep process is filled with highs and lows.  When studying for the exam it’s easy to convince yourself that strong performances are just strokes of luck and low scores are sure signs of failure.  Neither is true.  Bar prep is a process and graduates should focus on progress over perfection.  If each mistake strengthens a future performance then they are doing it right.

“You did not wake up this morning to be mediocre.”

Graduates should give 100% of themselves every day as they prepare for the bar exam, or at least try. Mediocrity should never be an option, especially when faced with a licensing exam that is the final hurdle that stands between them and their careers. That outlook may help graduates commit to the process even on the days when they may want to quit.

“Pain is temporary, internet results last forever.”

Bar prep may not be the most enjoyable months of your life, but it is temporary. Anyone who has opened a letter or email from the bar examiners congratulating them on passing the bar exam will attest that all of the studying was worth it. It may not always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.  A few months of studying is a small price to pay for seeing your name on the pass list and a lifetime of career opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

“Smile if you peed a little.”

Whether you did, or didn’t (no judgment), a little levity can go a long way. Smiling may not eliminate the challenges but embracing the journey can make a difference. The bar prep period can be a long and isolating process, graduates should take advantage of opportunities to engage with their fellow peers and professors to discuss their successes and their struggles. Recognizing that they are not alone in this process can be the first step to transforming a demoralizing challenge into an empowering journey.

Sabrina DeFabritiis is a Professor of Legal Writing at Suffolk University Law School.