Monday, November 19, 2012

Tips for Repeat Bar Exam Takers: Support, Encouragement, and Chocolate

At this time of the year many of us have the honor of congratulating grads who successfully passed the bar exam this past summer.  However, what takes more time and attention is assisting those grads that did not pass the bar exam on their first (or second…) attempt.  I find that working with this group of students to be one of the most heart-wrenching yet also one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. At one of the most fragile times in their lives, I am a shoulder to cry on, a beacon of hope, and a giver of sweet treats.

Having a plan in life is essential.  More importantly, having a plan for retaking the bar exam is critical to repeaters success.   Thus, since grads need a clear plan in place for retaking the bar exam; I need a clear plan to help get them started.  After some thought, I have identified three steps/phases to this plan.  First, there is the “Support, Encouragement, and Chocolate” step.  Next, the “Diagnose, Deliver, and Destroy” (no this is not a new Hollywood action film) step.  Lastly, there is the “Let’s Make a Deal and a Plan” step.  In this post I will highlight the first step in this three step approach.

Grads often email or call me within a week or two of the receiving their bar results.  Since directly after the results are released I am occupied assisting students with bar exam appeals, I typically make appointments with repeat takers for three weeks later.  Although I mainly schedule these appointments a few weeks out because my time is otherwise occupied, I find that it is also beneficial for these individuals to take time to process their bar results. 

Applicants who have failed the bar go through many emotional phases, much like the phases of grief.  There is denial and isolation, pain and anger, possibly some guilt, shock, or depression, and ultimately some level of acceptance.  While each individual moves through these phases on their own time-line, I usually meet with them once they have reached, or gotten close to reaching, some level of acceptance.  This timing is beneficial because our time together can be spent more productively with an eye to the future instead of dwelling on the past.

 “Support, Encouragement, and Chocolate”

During our session, I first provide support by listening to their story and asking pointed questions. How did they study?  What worked best for their memorization?  What was the hardest part of studying or taking the bar exam?  Were their scores somewhat expected or were they surprised by them?  Do they want to take the bar again?  What do they think they need to change?  These questions help me understand their emotional state and help me to understand how I can best help them for their next attempt at taking the bar.

But before I begin to fully diagnose their weaknesses or help them to construct a new study plan, I listen; and, then I listen some more.  Then, I give them encouragement.  I do not have a canned speech that I recite, nor do I pretend to have all of the answers.  But, I do know that they can do this and I help make them believe it.  I give them hope that they can take the exam again and be successful.  I channel Bandura so that these bar applicants wholeheartedly believe that they are competent and that they have the power and ability to pass the bar exam...because they do.

Let’s not forget the sweetest part…chocolate.  I always have chocolate in my office in a big red basket (next to the tissues).  The chocolate (and tissues) come in handy for times like these.  No matter what takes place during this meeting, they typically leave with a smile and feel empowered and more optimistic about conquering the next bar exam.  

Lisa Young

 

 

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