Today marks the second day of the California Bar Exam which takes place this year between July 24-26. If you’ve taken it or any other state bar exam recently, then you undoubtedly can recall the stress of preparing for it. California, for example, consistently has the lowest passage rate in the country ranging between 35% to 55%. And it is hard by design. So after three years of law school and the associated student loan debt, it is no exaggeration to say it can be an extremely stressful experience. After all, Bar prep begins immediately following law school finals and continues nearly uninterrupted until the date of the exam. If you are feeling nervous applicants, let me assure you that we understand your anxiety.
I took the California Bar Exam in 2005. The passage rate in California was 48.8% that year. In other words, less than half of all applicants passed the exam. For me, the anxiety over whether or not I’d pass even led to a whole series of Bar Exam related nightmares leading up to the test. One night I woke in the middle of the night, bolting upright from my sleep, as a result of one such nightmare. In the dream I was sitting in a large conference room amongst a never ending sea of applicants. I nervously opened my book and read the first essay question. It was titled “The Mechanics of Aerospace Engineering” and asked the applicants to evaluate the mathematical and legal issues presented by a fact pattern involving launching a rocket into space. There were lengthy equations typed out beneath the essay and applicants were asked to discuss whether the equations were sound enough to ensure the structural integrity of the rocket as it exited Earth’s atmosphere. My in-dream reaction wasn’t surprise. Instead, I thought: “Oh my god, of course they’d ask about rocket science! Why didn’t I study that?” In fact, in the dream it seemed totally natural that the exam could test applicants on any subject matter, and I felt both mad and disappointed in myself for not preparing for such questions. Even after I awoke it took a moment to assure myself that it was only a dream and that rocket science would not be a topic covered by the exam. And it wasn’t my only Bar Exam related nightmare that summer.
The anxiety slightly, but certainly not entirely, dissipated following the exam. After all, it takes months before applicants receive the results, and the wait can be stressful in its own right. When that day arrived, I’d left my apartment to check the results. I didn’t want to be around my roommates and friends when I received the results in case I hadn’t passed. Instead, I sat in a comfortable coffee shop where I’d ordered a beer. When the time came I logged in to the site, but couldn’t bring myself to click “enter” to pull up the results. I first took a deep breath and a swig of my beer before finding the courage to check. When I found out I had passed, I didn’t break out into joyous celebration. Instead, I downed my beer and went home for a nap. Only later could I really feel good about being done with the exam.
A number of my friends weren’t so lucky. And in many cases, it was puzzling to see who did and didn’t pass. Very smart students hadn’t passed. A few of the people who I’d pegged as not being “up to snuff” had actually passed. Thankfully for those students who hadn’t passed, it wasn’t the end of the story. Sure, they had to live through another stressful semester of Bar prep but ultimately they eventually passed too. So, please remember that it’s not the end of the world. You can try again if things don’t work out for you the first time.
With all of that in mind, everyone here at The Sociable Lawyer and Rocket Lawyer want to wish the current batch of applicants good luck. We know what you are going through and we know how stressful the experience is. Many of us have been there too. Good luck counselors!
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