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Back to the bar. Many things in life are better the second time around. Most aren’t. If you are repeating the bar exam in February 2002, you understand this concept to the core. Luckily, most people are successful when they retake the bar exam, but that is cold comfort in the frantic weeks as you wrangle with the problem of too much anxiety and too little time. Preparing to retake the bar exam rarely falls within the category of treasured life cycle events. In fact, after you pass the bar the second time around — and it is highly likely that you will — most people simply delete this chapter from their life stories. There is no holy grail. By now, you should have realized that there is no quick fix for failing the bar exam. Everyone offers advice on what you did wrong, but few people offer more than anecdotal observations. Someone may be able to help you figure out what went wrong with a performance test or the multistate exam, but it is virtually impossible to decipher where you went wrong on an essay answer and what you can do to avoid the problem in the future, particularly if you scored a near miss. Now is the time to stop showing your test booklets to other people. Cease your search for the magic explanation of your performance on the July bar exam, and concentrate on February. Avoid the positive attitude platitude. Everyone — including the postal carrier, the check-out clerk at Target, your boss, and your grandmother — will also tell you that a positive outlook is essential to success the second time around on the bar exam. There are two flaws in such advice and both relate to the purveyer, who (a) has never taken a bar exam or (b) passed it on the first try. Unfortunately, you can’t will that bad bar exam experience out of your memory and, even with the passage of time, it is likely that you still feel angry, frustrated, and disappointed. It is probably better to simply accept the fact that a certain increase in pessimism or insecurity is inevitable on the second try. Just be on the alert when negative feelings stage a hostile takeover, because they love to commit sabotage. You can win the battle if you map out a plan. Neutralize the negatives. Take that negative emotion and turn it into study energy. You are lucky to be approaching the study materials with a solid base of knowledge from the first round of preparation — you are probably surprised by how much law you knew. Now you have the luxury of absorbing even more because you don’t have to concentrate on the basics. You don’t have to master the basic concepts and materials in the legal outlines from scratch so you have time for the nuances. You can focus on creating the best structure for your essay answers; even if you know the law, you may have had trouble communicating it because you didn’t outline and write clearly. Take advantage of the chance to learn to do it right. Routinize your preparation. If you are lucky enough to have had the opportunity to repeat the bar review course or to find someone to work with you on an individual basis, amp up the prep. Do not experiment with new approaches at this point. Just dull yourself down, write or outline essay answers, do and redo sample multiple choice questions, and review model answers and outline materials whenever completing the essays or multiple choice questions indicates that you are unsure of the law. It is better to outline performance test answers at this stage because it is too time-consuming to write out the entire three-hour answer. Presumably, you mapped out a daily study plan during December and January and you should stick to it right up until the bar exam. If you didn’t, create one now. Don’t try to do too much in a day, or you will convince yourself that you are already failing. No self-fulfilling prophecies, thank you very much. Don’t jump the coverage around just because you suddenly decide you are weak in one area. Focus on one subject for several days running and don’t vary the schedule if you can avoid it. Multi-tasking. If you are working and/or have family responsibilities now, this situation requires much more ingenuity and discipline. Maybe it works best to spread out your bar exam preparation. For example, you can set the alarm earlier and do ten multiple choice questions as soon as you wake up. Do a couple of essay outlines at your desk during lunch instead of grabbing a burger with your buddies. Turn off the TV and do some more after dinner. Give away the season tickets and use every minute of the remaining weekends. Caveat: for some people it works better to put off preparation altogether until the evenings and weekends so they feel less scattered and more strongly motivated. Whatever you decide, explain your plan to family, friends and coworkers, and enlist their support. Otherwise, they may not take bar prep as seriously as they did last July. Looking back and looking ahead. You will never be able to deconstruct the July bar exam to understand exactly what went wrong. Shift your focus to February and approach the final weeks as if you had never done this before. Fixating on the past is an effective device in a movie, but this isn’t “Memento” or “Mulholland Drive” — it’s real life. You have had the experience of sitting for the bar exam once and now you know what to expect of the exam and of yourself. Think of it this way: some people just need a trial run to figure out what to do in order to succeed. The February bar exam is your chance to shine! Lois Schwartz is an adjunct professor at Hastings College of the Law and an adjunct instructor, at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

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