Failing the Bar Exam is Ok

I Failed the Bar Exam. We Should Celebrate that. 

In fact, all failure should be celebrated more, if the goal is ambitious. Unfortunately, we don’t celebrate it. We live in a culture that is “winner takes all” and we dismiss those who lose with “Crying Jordan” faces.

I completely agree that we should cheer on people who win and give them all the Beef Jerky and Undergarments endorsements they want. But I also think that we should appreciate the “so-called losers” who give their all to chase their dreams, who have the courage to put themselves out there, and then come up short on a big stage. That stage can be anywhere and is highly personal. For many people, that stage is the California Bar Exam. 

I remember when I “failed” the Bar Exam. I remember that pain when I opened the letter informing me exactly how close I was to success. Here’s my story ... and it still hurts … kind of.

To pass the Bar Exam, the suggested studying commitment is about 70 days of preparation – 8 hours a day – prior to the Exam Date. Since I was working full time, I started the process earlier, so maybe 120 days before the exam date and committed myself to studying 3-4 hours a day. Typically like this,

  • Start work at 7:00am (4 hours)

  • Go to the library at lunchtime to watch lectures/video (2 hours)

  • Head back to work for the afternoon (5 hours)

  • Spend a few hours doing Bar Exam practice questions either at home or library (4 hours)

  • On the weekends, I would make up for lost time and study as much as time permitted

Aside from me being permanently tired for 4 months, there were many sacrifices made by everyone in my life.

But of course it would be worth it when I passed! Except that I didn’t.

I found out my results on a Friday. I remember typing in my test taker code and I was not on the passing list. That’s OK, I thought, since the test was tough and I was working full-time. I spent the rest of the weekend gearing up mentally for the next exam opportunity and felt generally good about life.

That all changed when I opened up the Official Bar Exam Letter containing the exam results.

To pass the CA Bar Exam, you need a scaled score of 1440. In other words, if you reach 1440 you automatically pass. No questions asked. If you receive a scaled score under 1390, you automatically fail. No questions asked. However, if you fall in between 1390 and 1440, your exam gets re-graded and scored by another reviewer and that score is combined with the first scaled score. Again, if you hit that 1440 mark, you pass.

On first read my score was 1422. And on second read, the reviewer lowered my score to 1412. That’s about 3-5 wrong Multiple Choice questions (over the span of 3 days of testing). That hurt!

My eyes watered. I shook my head repeatedly. I laid down on the ground for about 20 minutes, just staring up at the ceiling. I wanted to call someone, anyone but couldn’t pull the trigger. I felt alone and angry.

It was an important 20 minutes for me. I resolved myself to re-taking the following Bar Exam. I committed myself to the pain of studying again while working full-time. In short, I wouldn’t accept that result.

Flash forward to 6 months. I sat at the local English Pub drinking a large bottle of Duvel beer. And when I punched in my test code ID, I was rewarded with “This applicant ID number is on the Pass List.”

It’s good to be a failure sometimes. You learn important things about yourself and life.

I’m still waiting on those Undergarment endorsement offers though. 


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