Common experience and intuition tells us self-efficacy judgments are generally associated with performance. In other worlds, how we judge ourselves when performing a certain task colors our expectation of the outcome. In relation to the bar exams, if we feel or perceive we did well in a certain subject, we expect to pass that subject. This is a natural human reaction.
Thus, in my previous post on the 2008 Philippine bar exams, Wilfred Magz posted a comment in which he expresses a common anxiety among bar takers and illustrates a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years in examinees of other licensure exams aside from the bar. With his permission, I am quoting a part of his comment here:
I am one of those 6530+ bar examiness who just finished taking the second bar exam subject ( Labor Law and Social Legislation, the “love” of my life in law school…too bad it did not love me back ) of the first day of the Bar examination month.
What can I say? I feel like the whole world just fell smack on my head. Although the booklets have not yet been officially corrected, the results for me were really abysmal. If I checked my own examination booklet on Labor Law and Social Legislation I would give it a grade of 50, and I am being rather merciful. Political Law wasn’t too bad and I would grade myself 60.
Wilfred thinks he fared badly in labor law and did better in constitutional law. His evaluation is based on the degree of difficulty he had while taking the tests. But from my own experience, the actual results did not match my self-perception of how well I did. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I did well in the subjects I thought I would fail because I had a hard time and got lower grades in the ones that I was confident I aced. And this was the experience of others as well. What gives ?
For many I’ve talked to over the years, the bar exam experience proved to be counter-intuitive. Where they expected to do badly, they did ok and vice-versa. An example is what happened to BrainB’s brother:
I don’t know how they grade bar exams but when my brother took it he was confident on his labor law results but iffy on his tax law. The result reversed his suspicions and he passed by about one point. He explained to me later that his tax law answers were very short and his labor law, which he thought he knew best, were worth paragraphs each. Probably the reasons for the grades.
He was apprehensive about taxation but sure of labor law. But he got his tax answers right and got a lower score in the subject he taught be passed handily. What could account for this ?
Discrepancies may arise because of misjudgments of self-knowledge, ability or the requirements to successfully complete the task. Anxiety may also be a major factor. We oftentimes exceed our expectations and surprise even ourselves when successfully grappling with something which we are fearful about, like tax laws. We study harder and are more focused. The adrenaline rush alone of facing a daunting undertaking will give us a memory and cognitive boost. Conversely, we are overconfident about subjects which we think we easily comprehend. We relax just a bit. And pay dearly for it.
This was my experience too. I coasted in labor law in college but still got good grades and was complacent about my ability to tackle the subject. But I studied like hell for taxation and still felt I flunked. I had a rude awakening when the bar results were released. Taxation was one of my highest subjects while labor was significantly lower.
Of course, these are strictly anecdotal and I have no hard, empirical data to support my theory of reversed expectations. But my (strictly unscientific) surveys over the years have shown consistent results. If you find the exams hard, that’s a good sign.
The lesson ? Prepare like there’s no tomorrow in all subjects, even the ones you found to be a breeze.
So don’t worry about the labor results, Wilfred. You probably passed it with points to spare. And you have the right attitude. Every Sunday evening after the exams, break out the cold brew and listen to some tunes. Get a good night’s sleep. And hit the books bright and early Monday morning.
Some commonsensical bar exam tips from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, CA, with the caveat that the U.S. states’ bar exams may differ in many ways from ours.