This week we welcome back guest writer Shirlene Armstrong to discuss her experience taking (and passing) the bar exam and what insight she’s gained since then.

That’s right, I passed the Michigan bar exam! After lots of hard work, sweat, and tears, I officially passed the bar, got sworn in, and I am now a licensed attorney! Okay, I’m done breaking my arm patting myself on the back. To be honest, even though some time has already passed, I feel like I am in a dream. How was I able to do that? (Jury is still out!) Now that I am on the other side of the bar exam mountain, I have been doing some reflecting back on my journey and how I got to where I am today. So here is some advice I have for you as I look back to one of the toughest times in my life.

Get a Massage!

Okay, you don’t actually have to get a massage if you don’t like them or don’t want one. However, let me tell you about the day before my bar exam. My wonderful fiancé decided to surprise me by setting up a massage for me at a place near our hotel. My massage therapist was a wonderful woman who could tell I was a ball of anxiety and extremely stressed. She assured me I would do well, realigned my body and my mind, and I left there feeling better than I had all year! So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a massage, but do something for yourself the day before the exam. Life is short, take care of yourself and enjoy life!

Get “Game Day” Ready

The day of the exam is going to be a busy and stressful day. You are not going to want to worry about trivial things like hygiene, food or packing your backpack. Thus, make sure you get game day ready BEFORE game day! Maybe this means packing a lunch for test day. Or setting out your clothes for the day of the exam. You want to make sure you feel prepared, ready to go, and as relaxed as you can be on the day of the exam.

Take Some Pressure Off Yourself

This test is a very important test, I completely agree with that. However, us legal professionals tend to put way too much pressure on ourselves and sometimes push ourselves over the edge. Regardless of what the outcome is after the bar exam, it is going to be okay. One test does not define you. Whether you passed or failed, you are an intelligent, hard-working individual. It is okay to let yourself breathe, and it is okay even if you fail. You are the main character of your story and your life has many chapters. One chapter does not define your book and does not define you. Nevertheless, you will be okay.

My Bar (Horror) Story and an Encouraging Message

I am a first generation college student and have absolutely no lawyers in my family (until now of course!). I have always been driven and worked hard to accomplish my goals. And my goal since I was in the 6th grade was to become an attorney. So it is safe to say that there was a lot of pressure on me passing the bar exam (mostly from myself). However, unlike many of my classmates, I decided to work during a portion of my bar prep period. While it was great not to be destitute, working added a lot of stress and really constrained my time. I was able to take all of July off to focus on the exam and studying. Unfortunately, one of my uncles passed away unexpectedly a week and a half before the bar exam, which kind of threw me out of whack mentally and emotionally. However, I pushed through and continued to study. On the day of the exam, I pumped myself up and gave myself a pep talk. To my surprise and dismay, the essay portion of the Michigan bar exam was filled with rare topics, confusing prompts, and overly detailed fact patterns. I felt defeated by the end of the exam. I had honestly convinced myself I had failed. To put it in perspective, my bar exam had a 61% pass rate. And I was able to pass.

I know this seems like a sob story, but I want you to take away from it that even if everything seems stacked against you or you feel like a failure, that doesn’t mean that you cannot push through and be successful. You can do it. I know that the bar exam is challenging and scary. I know that passing can seem like an impossible task. However, you CAN pass the bar. And you WILL be successful. Best of luck to you and remember, you’ve got this!


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