We have helped hundreds of students who have failed the bar exam overcome it and be better people and attorneys for it! So, if you failed the bar exam, and are wondering what to do next, here is a detailed, step-by-step guide.
Looking for a different and new approach to the Uniform Bar Exam? Check out our highly-regarded Uniform Bar Exam course here. Our course teaches an efficient approach to the bar exam and is completely different from a standard commercial course.
What to do If You Failed the Bar Exam:
1. Step One: Let yourself take it all in.
Failing the bar exam is disappointing, aggravating, and a million other emotions all at once. You need to allow yourself to feel any and all of these emotions and work through them before you move on. There is no point in masking them. And there is no point in rushing. Take a few days or a week (or more) to allow yourself to step back and to get through this process.
During this time, it is a good idea to also read this note to those who failed the bar exam. We tell you why it is important to allow yourself to feel sad, depressed, angry, or whatever emotions you need to (and we say it a bit more eloquently than we do here!)
It may also be a good idea to look at these quotes for those who failed the bar exam. They are not cliche inspirational quotes about success.
Don’t rush through this grieving process. In the beginning, there is nothing that will speed this process up. If you made it this far in life, you may have not failed anything in your life – yet alone something you worked so hard for. Thus, it can be a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. And it may seem impossible now, but you will get past it.
2. Step Two: Keep it in perspective. Keep in mind the following things:
The bar exam is just an exam.
While nothing will take the initial shock away from you—and all of the emotions that come with it, it is important to remember that the bar exam is, after all, an exam. One of my students told her friend that “failing the bar exam was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
And her friend said, “well . . . that’s lucky.”
He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, even if it wasn’t the exact thing she wanted to hear at the time! His words had some truth to them. Just because you failed the bar exam, does not mean you will not get your license. It means you will delay it a few months. That is all. It is just an exam. And one that you can redo!
Also keep in mind the following:
You are not alone.
There are plenty of people who fail the bar exam. Every. Single. Administration. And they are not the ones posting on Facebook ten times a day. They are like you – they are deleting their Facebook accounts. Or they are secretly hating everyone that won’t stop posting about passing the bar exam. Many states have less than a fifty percent pass rate!! So not only are you not alone if you failed the bar exam, you may actually be in the majority!
You still can be successful at whatever you choose to do!
Please see this post to see a list of famous people who failed the bar exam (including Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, JFK, and many more . . . ). They did not let failing the bar exam stop them from their dreams. And neither will you! It is just an exam. It does not define you. In fact, it will make you resilient. And stronger. And bolder and better at whatever you do!
Lastly, just because you failed the bar exam does not mean you are “stupid” or “unqualified” to practice law.
There are SO many reasons that smart people fail the bar exam! Read this lovely article in the National Jurist (written by us :)) called “Why Smart People Fail the Bar Exam.” It outlines seven reasons that very smart people fail the bar exam. It also tells you why thinking like a lawyer (and having great critical thinking skills!) can sometimes even cause you to fail an exam that does not reward creative, lawyerly thinking! (Which is, ironically, the bar exam!)
I refer the vast majority of the legal cases that come my way to my students that had to take the bar exam more than once. Why? Because even though they struggled with the bar exam, they are among the absolute best attorneys I know!
So remember, struggling with the bar exam is not an indicator of how you will practice law!
3. Step Three: Figure out what is next.
You WILL get through this! It is just a matter of time! You may be licensed within six months of finding out you failed!
Here are a few questions to ask to maximize the chances of that happening!
What went wrong?
Set aside at least a couple of hours to go through these questions carefully. (These couple of hours could truly make the difference of you passing and failing the next bar exam!) We cannot emphasize the importance of this exercise enough!
Going through these questions is important for a few reasons:
First, it will truly help you pass the bar exam the next time you take it! You will identify exactly what went wrong. And then you will figure out how to conquer it head-on.
Second, you will feel more in control of the situation. One of the bad things about failing the bar exam is that you can feel like you have no control over the situation. You may be thinking, “I studied so hard. I did everything I could possibly do. What could I do differently?” When you go through these questions, you will realize there are some things that you can do differently. You will feel empowered.
Third, you will feel more motivated to keep going! Remember all of those terrible feelings that you felt inundated with when you found out you failed the bar exam? By going through this list of questions and coming up with a plan, you will start to feel more energized and ready to go!
First Set of Questions to Ask if You Failed the Bar Exam:
- Did my commercial course help me? Did I follow it? (If not, why not?) If so, was it useful? Did I get a lot out of the lectures? Were the outlines helpful? Were the multiple-choice questions close to what I saw on the exam? Did I feel prepared for the essays? If you are looking for an alternative to a standard commercial course, check out our highly-regarded Uniform Bar Exam course here.
- Did I dedicate enough time to studying? If not, how can I make more time to study this time? Can I start earlier? Or can I quit my job? Is it possible for my parents to support me?
- When I studied, was I being efficient and productive? Was I able to concentrate? If so, was I tackling the subjects that are truly difficult for me or did I put those off? What did I focus on when I studied? (If I was not efficient and productive, why not? Was my study environment distracting? Was I too anxious? Or too tired? . . . )
- Did I take enough practice exams? If not, why not? Do I need to incorporate them earlier? Or do them under more “test like” conditions? Do I need to time myself more carefully?
- Did my scores improve through practice? If not, why not? What can I do differently to improve this time?
- Where was my score lowest and where was it highest? How did I score on the MBE, MPT, and essay portion? Is there one part that I always perform better on? How can I make sure to focus on this part next time?
- Do I see lower scores in certain essay topics? Which ones? (You cannot be afraid to get your score report out, figure out what each essay subject was, and analyze it!)This data is invaluable! It does not mean everything, but it does mean something, and it can tip you off to where you struggle the most!
- Which MBE subjects do I feel weaker in and which subjects do I feel stronger in (out of Real Property, Contracts, Evidence, Torts, Crim Law/Crim Pro, Contracts/Sales, Civil Procedure)? What about state topics? (Wills, Trusts, Family Law, Corporations & LLCs, Agency, Partnership, Secured Transactions, Conflict of Laws, etc. . . .) What can I do differently to improve my weaker subjects? Should I try private tutoring? A different outline? A different course? Something else?
- Am I burnt out? What can I do to feel less burnt out?
- Do I struggle with anxiety (either at the test or before the test)? How can I minimize this or better deal with it? Should I consider therapy, medications, meditation, or other methods to minimize anxiety?
- Do I struggle with timing? Did I run out of time on the essay portion or MBE portion? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?
- Should I get a private tutor? Or a different course? What can I do to change my approach? How will I pay for these services and/or materials? Can I get a bar loan? Will my parents or a family member lend me money? Can I work and save up for a new approach? (We have more about this below)
Second set of questions to ask if you failed the bar exam:
Now that you have examined the exam itself, how you prepared, and how you performed, let’s look into the future rather than the past and see how you can change your approach the next time around.
Remember, you don’t want to do the exact same thing you did the last time or you will likely get the same result. Thus, changing how you study is key to changing the result.
1. Should I hire a bar exam tutor or invest in a different approach?
In this post “Do I need a bar exam tutor?”, we provide some pointers as to whether you should hire a bar exam tutor. The primary factors to consider are: (1) How far away you are from a passing score (the farther you are, the more you could benefit from private tutoring); (2) how many times you have taken the bar exam (the more times you have taken the bar exam, the more you can benefit from a private tutor); and (3) other circumstances (i.e. how well you prepared, if you had a good or bad “test day” etc., whether you have obligations such as full-time work for the next bar exam).
If you are wondering why some students say it is well worth it to hire a tutor for the MBE, please see this post. If you are wondering why it may be well worth it to hire a tutor for the MEE or essay portion, please see this post. In the end, you may not need a tutor. Or, you may find you really need one! Either way, make an informed decision that is right for you!
If you are looking for the most for your money, check out our Uniform Bar Exam full service course here. (This is about half as expensive as tutoring and you will get everything that comes with private tutoring and more!)
2. Do I need a new approach?
Yes. You probably do. You probably should not simply plan on rewatching all of your bar review lectures. (Click on the link if you are interested in hearing exactly why!) There are generally four things you need to pass the bar exam:
(1) Good materials. If you don’t have good, well organized materials that you learn from, you will be behind right from the beginning! If you are wondering what our materials look like, check out this post to see why we have the best outlines. We have outlines for the MBE, MEE, and other state bar exams.
(2) You need to understand these materials. If you are having trouble comprehending the law, you will have even more trouble memorizing it and applying it. So, consider hiring a bar exam tutor if you are having trouble understanding the materials. Or, consider a different course or different approach.
(3) You need to memorize the law. It is not enough to be vaguely familiar with the general concepts; after all, the MBE (and essays) test the details of the law. Thus, you need to KNOW your outlines. (If you are looking for tips to learn and memorize your outlines, see this post.)
(4) You need to be able to apply the law to the types of fact patterns that you see on your bar exam. If you are having trouble with the MBE and want to improve your MBE score, see this post. Also, we have plenty of MEE tips and MPT tips here.
3. Should I start studying for the bar exam right away?
We do not think it is a bad idea to start bar prep early. This is especially the case if you struggled a lot on the bar exam. We also recommend starting early if you are working full time while you are studying. (To read more about our thoughts on early bar prep, see this post.)
However, not everybody needs to start bar prep early. There is a risk of burnout or of forgetting what you learned if you do not incorporate time to review.
There is also a question of how early to start. If you took the July bar exam, starting in November or the beginning of December is considered “early.” A month or so may give you an edge up. (If you are studying for the July bar exam, anytime before May 10 is considered early!)
4. Should I try to work and study for the bar exam?
Working while studying for the bar exam is possible. (Please read these 12 tips for working and studying for the bar exam if you are considering doing both at once!)
We generally do not recommend that you work and study if you can avoid it! We understand that not everyone has the luxury of taking time off to study. But, if it possible for you to do so, we recommend that you do! There is no point in taking any chance of failing again if you can avoid it!
Thus, if you have to work, please read the post above. You will have to be very methodical in how you approach bar prep.
5. Should I take a bar exam “off”?
We generally recommend that students take the next bar exam offered. Believe it or not, but having one bar exam under your belt puts you at an advantage. You are not starting from square one. You will remember a lot of what you learned from your first attempt at studying. The next time will be about learning more, refining what you know, committing it to memory, and/or perhaps practicing more!
So, in many ways, it is best to take the next bar exam offered to maximize this advantage. However, if you are feeling burnt out, or if you have major obligations that make it hard to work and study, then yes, take a bar exam off. If you are looking for more advice regarding whether you should take a break in between bar exams, please read this post!
6. I am really feeling down. What should I do?
If you feel lonely, depressed, or suicidal please read this post. Confide in a friend about how you feel. Seek medical help or attention. Consider therapy or medication. Your mental health is more important than anything — including the bar exam! So, make it a priority.
Still want more guidance?
Looking for a new approach?
If you are looking for a different and new approach to the Uniform Bar Exam? Check out our highly-regarded Uniform Bar Exam course here. Our course teaches an efficient approach to the bar exam and is completely different from a standard commercial course. We also offer many other options if you are taking the UBE (MEE one-sheets, an MEE seminar, an MEE course, among others!).
If you have taken the bar exam more than once are are looking for private tutoring, please feel free to contact us at your convenience. We offer bar exam tutoring, bar exam essay feedback, and multiple-choice (MBE) assistance to students nationwide. We offer private tutoring for several state bar exams as well as the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).
If you are looking for a new approach, please feel free to contact us at your convenience.
Looking for free money?
Apply for our JD Advising scholarship. It is specifically for those who have failed the bar exam.
Looking for (free) help?
We have several other posts on recovering from failure and on how to conquer the next bar exam you take. If you want to read more, please click on the links (on the bottom of the page if you are on your phone and on the side of the page if you are on a laptop) to see our other bar exam posts on specific bar exams or specific topics!
Ashley Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011. She, as well as a team of tutors offer private one-on-one tutoring for bar exam students nationwide as well as small-group courses and seminars for the Michigan bar exam. For more information about her Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) or Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) tutoring services, please click here. Please click here to contact her company, with any questions or concerns.