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Removing Mental Barriers: Pass The Bar Exam - Even If You Have Failed Before

by Pati McDermott, CHT

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It takes more than knowing the law to pass the bar exam.  There is a major psychological factor involved with passing.  You must know the law in order to pass the bar exam.  You have to effectively study and be completely focused, prioritizing this goal above all other goals and distractions.  You also need to have a congruent internal state that matches achieving this goal.

If you have failed the bar exam but you have passed the practice bar exams then your problem is psychological.  If you can pass a practice exam then you know the law sufficiently to pass the bar exam.  Something is operating inside you that is stopping you from passing.  These psychological blocks are often unconscious and can only be evaluated by a trained professional.  Typically, my first session with a bar exam client is devoted to evaluating how the person’s unconscious mind is supporting or blocking the passing of this exam.  In my many years of successfully helping people to pass the bar exam, even people who have failed as many as ten times, I have found some similar patterns among people who have failed previously.
    There are several common psychological blocks that I have found among people who have failed the bar exam.  One of the most common involves issues around identity.  This is a common issue among students in other professions as well.  After being a student for so many years, becoming a professional is a huge change of identity.  Identity issues are particularly common among the bar exam clients I have worked with because the legal professional has such a bad reputation.  Many people have negative associations with the image of an attorney and are deeply afraid of becoming like that negative stereotype.  Some people are not concerned about becoming a bad person, but don’t want to be associated with a profession that they think has bad people in it.  These concerns are strong enough to stop many of the people I have worked with from passing the bar exam.

Another common concern, which is partially an identity issue but often goes deeper than that, is a concern about the effects of a significant increase in income.  Many people are hesitant to earn more money than their parents, for example, or their siblings.  Will an increase in income set them apart from their family and friends?   I had three bar exam clients just a few months ago who discovered that they didn’t want to increase their income because they were afraid that if they bought a bigger house their mother or their mother-in-law would move in with them!  Fortunately, we are able to find other ways for resolving this besides failing the bar exam.
    Deserving is an another issue that comes up among people who have failed the bar exam.  Questions around deserving create some of the deepest blocks and often the most difficult to change.  Issues around self-esteem can also be extremely limiting.  Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Thought Pattern Management (TPM) have excellent tools for resolving issues about deserving and self-esteem that can block any goal regardless of how hard you work to achieve it.

In my work with NLP, TPM and hypnosis, I work with clients to discover what is blocking them and what internal resources they are lacking.  With NLP and TPM I have a huge toolbox of resources to resolve any problem or limitation the person may be facing.  A combined approach of total psychological congruence combined with positive and resourceful internal states, along with a successful strategy of studying, managing life, and devoting sufficient time for preparation are all needed.  Some clients come to me weak in all of these areas, and some need help in one specific way to ensure their success.

I have helped many, many people pass the bar exam, and each one needed a different type of help to pass.  After the first session the person’s exact needs are clear to me.  Typically four sessions are sufficient to cover any issues pertaining directly to the bar exam.  Often there are other issues not related to the bar exam blocking success in general.  I always attempt to bypass those issues temporarily to focus on passing the bar exam.  It is common for clients to come back after the exam to work on these other issues.  It is recommended to keep as focused as you can on just passing the bar exam and not attempt to resolve deep personal issues not related to the test unless there is no way around them.  If you are already utilizing professional help for dealing with personal or emotional issues in your life, such as coaching or psychotherapy, I suggest that you shift your focus entirely to any issues that may be affecting your success at passing while you prepare for the bar and come back to other issues after the exam.

You don’t have to get every answer right to pass the bar exam.  Give yourself a break from perfectionism which will only serve to make you feel ashamed and humiliated if you fail.  Perfectionism and procrastination are sometimes two sides of the same coin and are common barriers to success.  These are common issues that many clients come to me for help with.

Fear of failure and fear of success are also common barriers and are often the same issue for people.  Issues like not wanting to work so hard (do you know any working attorneys who don’t work hard - there are some), not wanting to change how you dress (do you know any attorneys who work in jeans and tee shirts - I do), not wanting to get up in front of people in a courtroom (we can deal with that with NLP or decide not to practice that type of law), fear of being an impostor and not really smart enough to pass (how else did you get into law school, pass all your law school tests and then graduate?), I won’t have time for my family or my friends (if you have a successful career you will have a lot of great vacations), when will I fit in having a family (know any attorneys with kids ? - most do)... these are some of the questions that arise to get resolved.

In some cases I work with clients who have deep emotional baggage as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional family.  Everyone has hurts and issues and things to work on.  Some people are more wounded than others.  Facing a challenge like the bar exam can bring up issues that were previously buried.  Unresolved old grief issues can also emerge unexpectedly.  Seek the help of an NLP practitioner or trained professional to help you if these issues are coming up.  Find ways to put them aside temporarily if you can, but do that in ways that are healthy.  Be careful not to adopt unhealthy habits during this time that can become serious issues later.  The statistics on alcoholism among attorneys in staggering, I’ve been told.  Be careful around sugar and other addictive substances as well so that these don’t become a new barrier to passing the exam.  It’s hard to focus if you’re blitzed out on sugar or crashing without it.  Do everything you know to stay as healthy as you can.  This will pay off before, during and after the exam.

If you have failed the bar exam and you are preparing to take it again, I suggest that you tell as few people as possible that you are taking it.  If you can limit this information to just your spouse that is preferable.  The feeling of letting people down if you fail can cause you to fail!  It’s like having a committee hovering around you in the exam room.  Having people asking you about it afterwards can be humiliating and increases the stress while you wait for the results.  Keep this to yourself unless it’s your first time.

Don’t try to do this by yourself.  Get help.  Get your family and friends to help you study and drill you.  Take a bar review course or study course.  Hire a professional to help you cope with stress and maintain a positive attitude such as a coach, an NLP practitioner or a therapist.  Your chances of success are greatly enhanced if you have a winning team of support around you, sharing the load and encouraging you along.

Every time you take the bar exam could be the time you pass.  If you keep taking it you will pass.  Previous exams are part of the learning and the growth process.  This is one last step that leads you towards everything that you have worked so hard for.  Gather your resources and keep your eyes on the prize.  You’ve got what it takes to pass the bar exam.

Pati McDermott is a Certified NLP Master Practitioner, a Certified NLP Health Practitioner, a Certified TPM Master Practitioner and a Certified Hypnotherapist.   She has many years of experience helping people to successfully pass the bar exam.  She has been offering private sessions in person and by telephone to clients throughout the United States, Canada and internationally since 1990.  She can be reached at 877-881-4348 or by email.  Her website address is

© 2022 by Pati McDermott

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