The 2008 Philippine Bar Exams Part II or the Paradox of Self-Perception in Relation to Actual Performance

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.

7 thoughts on “The 2008 Philippine Bar Exams Part II or the Paradox of Self-Perception in Relation to Actual Performance”

  1. Sir,

    Thanks for your encouragement.I really need it.My thoughts no longer dwell upon Labor Law.And as of tommorow,I promise not to dwell upon Tax Law,too.And I will no longer make any forecasts.There is nothing like stabbing one’s self with a knife created by an over-active imagination.

    If last week was bad,today was more “interesting”,for the lack of a better word.

    Civil Law was okay,a “fair” exam.A good mix of moderately difficult and basic questions.But LOTS of questions.14 or so with tons of sub-questions.It was like an exam combined with an endurance tests.

    I won’t get into specifics but I guess you already know how hard Tax Law can be.I used to IMAGINE how hard it would be ( heaven only knows where they get those questions ) but to actually go through a tax law bar exam redefines one’s idea of a nightmare….Tonight my dreams/nightmares will be filled with tax rates and tax brackets and why I never bothered to memorize them (“Kailangan pa bang i-memorize yan?” is the last thing on earth I want to hear right now).I’ve it said so I will no longer dwell upon it.Amen.

    Anyway,as I left the premises of La Salle,I heard some folks cheering.The cheers were for this senior citizen barrister who just finished taking the exam.There he was, raising his fists in the air like a boxer who just finished a really gruelling bout.I was told by one of the security personnel from the Supreme Court that this cool senior citizen dude is probably the oldest person to have taken the Bar in Philippine history.As old as my grandfather, but with ten times more spunk than me.Too bad I wasn’t able to get his name.

    So I smiled to myself and walked away.Never keep an ice cold beer waiting.

    It ain’t over till it’s over.

  2. Hi The warrior lawyer,

    FYI Mr. Wilfredo Magz was my classmate in law school. He’s very smart.

    I am also one of the examinees in the 2008 Bar exams. I took the bar exam just to have an experience, and it was a very exhausting and gruesome experience. I thought it was just an ordinary Engineering Board exam. Well its way too incomparable, it was unlike any other government exam.

    Like everybody else, I am a crammer, I felt the pressure of digging into law books when the calendar says its August. Alas, come September I just told myself to the best and let God do the miracles.

    I think it will be on God’s grace if we will make it or not. We really are in the mercy of the Examiners mood at the time they are checking the booklets.

  3. To Tolindoy,

    It was just like yesterday when we started law school,wasn’t it?I never though I would see the day when we would finally step into the hallowed grounds of DLSU on THE September of every law graduate’s life and take THAT exam,but we did.Thank God,we finally did.But passing THAT exam is another matter altoghether and just like you and all our fellow barristers,I leave it upon God’s will ( and alas, also to the exmaniner’s disposition….)

    Before I went home last Sunday,I stopped by the Masagana entance along Taft just to catch a glimpse of our Alma Mater.It was dark,but I could see the faint outline of the church and our school building.I smiled and remembered all those years of sweating it out,getting grilled and all those things we had to go through.It was only then that I realized that NOBODY can take that away. We have earned it by the sweat of our brows and it will be a part of us for as long as we live.It doesn’t end with the Bar.Passing the Bar is in fact the key that opens the door to the realm which we have all aspired and worked hard to be a part of,regardless of how people look upon lawyers or the judiciary, and the sobering “reality” of practicing what is called the “second oldest profession in the world”.

    See you around,Noni.

    And by the way,I’m not smart.Maboka lang akong magsulat.

    To the warriorlawyer;


    Pardon me for using this space to write a few words to a fellow schoolmate of mine.
    Have a nice day,sir.

  4. @ Tolindoy, are you an engineer ? If so, then you have encountered tough exams before and have a more than an average chance of passing the bar. I’ve always believed that engineering and math are the best pre-law courses because they instill a logical, problem-solving mindset.

    @ Wilfred Magz, no worries, you’re always welcome to post anything here. So your law school dean was Tony Abad ? You were in good hands then, and I look forward to seeing your names when they finally post the results online.

    To the both of you, congratulations for having gone through this necessary (for now ) rite of passage for entry into our profession. You owe yourselves a few cold ones.

  5. Sir,

    Yes,Atty.Antonio H. Abad Jr. is the Dean of our law school.

    I used to work for a government agency along Taft Avenue so I chose this law school because I could walk there in just 15 minutes from where I used to work.I was also told that this law school was where working students ( mostly goverment employees ) would be given a fair shot in earning a law degree.When I was asked by Atty.Ada Abad ( Dean Tony’s daughter and our prof in Labor Realations ) why I chose this law school,I replied “Kasi ito ang pinakamalapit sa opisina namin,ma’am”.I was promtly scolded and told to have more pride in chosing this law school.I do now.I owe alot to this law school,my alma mater.

    It was rather poignant that the bar would also be held in a school along Taft Avenue.It all started there and as Fate would have,it would all end there.If not now,then probably someday.

    Have a nice day,sir.

  6. The Warrior Lawyer,

    Yes sir I am. And I know a lot of Engineers took up law and passed the Bar Exam with flying Colors. One of it is our dear professor, Atty. Abe Domondon. A Mechanical Engineer turned CPA turned Lawyer. I think we are blessed to have him us our professor.

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