[OPINION] My 3-year Philippine Bar exam journey

Camille Villasin
To you who haven’t made it yet, don’t give up. Seek and welcome help. There is no harm in acknowledging that you don’t know everything about the law, about life.

BAR EXAMS. The author shares her arduous and daunting journey of taking the bar exams thrice. Background photo by Lian Buan and image from Shutterstock

Bar 2014. I was overconfident. I knew I was going to pass the Bar exams.

I did not.

I wailed but I didn’t give myself enough time to grieve. I was too proud as I knew that I was smart and intelligent as what has been ingrained in my brain for being a graduate of the Philippine Science High School, Ateneo de Manila University, and San Beda Law. I also know that I wrote and spoke English well.

Preparing for the 2015 Bar exams, I resigned from my underbar associate job and studied a week after finding out that I failed. I got my hands on everything I had not read in the previous year’s bar review, thinking that I only lacked the ammunition. (FAST FACTS: Philippine Bar examination)

I blamed the 2010 Bar exam blast for making me one of its victims – how it derailed my law school curriculum and how, because of it, my foundation was shaky. In short, I tried to blame everything but my flawed strategy.

I went home to my province and lived a life in isolation from my law school batchmates. I studied 8 to 13 hours every day and I did not seek and receive help constructively. I punished myself and gave up the comforts (hot shower, makeup, TV, internet, iPhone) that I felt took away time meant for studying. 

I only came back to Manila a month before the November 2015 Bar. I did not feel confident and, definitely, I was not emotionally stable. Deferring crossed my mind but my pride would never allow me to take that route. ‬

Second take

During the 2015 Bar exams, I didn’t finish the test on Political Law. That was 3 blank pages on my exam booklet.

I also came out of Remedial Law and Ethics knowing for sure that it was not my time yet. I broke down in the Abbey completely resigned, unapologetically wiping my tear-stained face with my San Beda Law hoodie.

The rest of the exam month was a blur. I just knew that I was exhausted, thin, and extremely underweight. 

Waiting for the 2015 Bar exams results, I went home to my province a few days after the exams. I was devoid of any desire to look for work. I slept at 3 am every day, binge-watching anything and everything on YouTube and always waking up at noon.

I only felt a little better when we went out of the country in February that year and after I got a little distracted from the hospitalization of my 96 year-old grandmother the following month. Somehow, I also felt useful again after I was consumed by my election tasks and maid of honor duties. 

On May 3, 2016, I failed the Bar for the second time.

I cried the whole day.

Third take

I started preparing for the 2016 Bar exams. On May 9, 2016, both my siblings won the local elections. A few days later, on May 13, my grandmother passed on. Her burial was scheduled on May 21. My cousin’s destination wedding happened on May 26.

In between all this, I didn’t lift a single page. Instead, I took a step back, assessing and reassessing my strategy and what I needed to change. I reflected on my study habits, my attitude, my disposition, and the way I presented my answers. 

I focused on my mindset. I decided to totally and completely surrender to a system that I thought would help me through. I researched on personalities who failed but tried again and succeeded on their next tries: Jack Ma, Elon Musk, etc. I imbibed the “don’t give up on the goal, change the strategy” mindset. I enrolled in Jurists Classic and Online but did not start studying on my own until the 2nd week of June.

I looked into my strategy. I thought that maybe I was too verbose or that I did not write the keywords. I submitted to the mentoring system. Buying new codals were my ceremonial start-refresh button. I studied smart, not hard.  I took the Commercial Law Mock Bar without having read anything. For the first time since I started law school, I had my way of answering exam questions scrutinized by a person other than myself. During this time, I was still looking for my confidence to return. 

Finally, I tried not to pressure myself as much as before. I took advantage of my good days while I did not study on my bad days. I went to an out-of-town birthday party. I drank tequila. I had my nails done. I did not feel sorry for doing these things that would feed my soul, albeit superficially. I prayed every day. I prayed a lot but I did not badger Him. “God, I want this but Your will be done.”

I studied and I made sure I enjoyed doing it. I felt much lighter, open, and ready to take in any blessing. I let go and blamed no one for my fate, even myself.

When the 2016 Bar exams happen, it did not automatically sink in that I was taking the exam again on my third try.

I cried many times – hours before taking the political law test, after taking the test on tax, and after taking the test on remedial law. 

I started crying because I was scared that it could be my last chance. I prayed the rosary during each 30-minute lull before every exam. Again, the feeling of self-doubt creeped in. I asked God: “If my efforts still aren’t enough, I’m sorry. Lord, magiging abogado pa ba ako (Will I ever become a lawyer)?”

Fast forward to May 3, 2017. My name was on the  list of successful examinees for the 2016 Bar exams

Takeaways 

We each have our own stories of failure. This is mine. I am not ashamed to say that I took the Bar exams 3 times because knowing and being reminded of this keeps me grounded. (READ: ‘Try and try’: Bar 2017 takers say failure is not the end

While the process was daunting and arduous, I acknowledge that I needed to go through it to learn and re-learn not only the legal principles that would qualify me to become a lawyer but also the valuable life lessons that would help me become a better person.

To you who haven’t made it yet, don’t give up. Seek and welcome help. There is no harm in acknowledging that you don’t know everything about the law, about life, and about decoding “Pass Philippine Bar Exams 101.” (WATCH: ‘Anak, pasado ka!’ and other victorious 2017 Bar moments

Do not mind the stigma. Those who will judge you for not making it the first time or the second time are those who know nothing of the rigors of studying law.

In the end, it will not matter whether you made it on the first, second, third, fourth or fifth try. What will matter is what you will make out of that title when – not if – you get it. We, who have been there, will tirelessly remind you that you are worthy of that title.  Rappler.com 

Camille Villasin is a Junior Legal Associate of Delloro Espino and Saulog Law Offices. She practices  Corporate Law and Civil Law but is interested in venturing into Energy and Environmental Law. The original version of this post appeared on the author’s Facebook account.