Failing The Bar Exam: What’s Next?

It’s every law student’s worst nightmare.  Failing the bar exam.  After months of studying, you learn you’ll have to do it all again. So many questions may be running through your mind – what happens if I fail the bar exam?  How do I cope with failing the bar exam? Can I still get a job? Do I have to do this all over again? 

The good news is – it’s not as bad as you think! Failing the bar exam is not ideal, of course. But there are ways to handle it that will help you maximize your chances of passing the second time while minimizing the additional stress.  Read on to learn what happens if you fail the bar exam, how to cope, and what to do next. 

Learning from your mistakes 

The first step is to find out what went wrong. If your state releases your scores on each portion of the exam, start there.  How did you perform on the essays?  What about multiple choice?  Is there one section that you obviously struggled with over the other?  That’s a good start – if it’s clear you need to work on your multiple choice or essay skills, then make a plan to address those issues moving forward. 

If your jurisdiction allows you to order your essay answers after failing the bar exam, then definitely take advantage of that as well.  Reading your answers can help you identify your weaknesses within the written portion. Did you miss the law? Maybe you didn’t analyze enough?  The more information about why you failed the bar exam that you can gather, the better you’ll be able to create a plan moving forward.

Creating a study plan

Studying for the bar exam the first time is exhausting.  Facing the prospect of doing it again is daunting! But it won’t be the same the second time around.  Many students have trouble coping with failing the bar exam because they have started working and have busier lives than they did when they took it the first time. But it’s important to understand what happens if you fail the bar exam so that you can adjust your expectations accordingly. 

You do not need to do an entire commercial bar review course again.  Failing the bar exam does not mean starting from scratch. Hopefully reviewing your scores and possibly your essays has helped you to understand your areas of weakness. Use this information to create a targeted study plan.  Don’t rewatch all of bar review your videos. Avoid re-reading your outlines over and over. Instead, focus your studying on practice. Doing practice essays and multiple-choice questions will help you identify areas of law you need to brush up on. Review the law in those specific areas. But don’t just passively review your outlines!  Always practice active learning – make flashcards, flow charts, essay pre-writes, etc.  Active learning will increase your memorization and ability to recall information. 

What if the practice questions have helped you identify that your weakness is not the law, but rather the skills? Maybe you haven’t yet mastered writing for the bar.  Maybe you are having trouble picking the better of two answer choices for the multiple-choice.  If that’s the case, then the answer is more practice! The only way to improve your skills is to practice them. Also, consider hiring a tutor to help with this.  A tutor can work with you to improve your writing and multiple-choice skills beyond what a commercial bar review course can do. 

Balancing life and studying

If you are already working, failing the bar exam can seem especially inconvenient.  However, it is possible to continue to work for most, if not all, of your studying period.  As discussed above, studying the second time around will not take as much time as the first. You can squeeze in practice questions in the evenings, on the weekends, on your lunch breaks, even while waiting for a court appearance! Grab any free moment throughout the week to work on your essays and multiple-choice, and then use larger chunks of time on the weekends to do substantive law review as well as practice MPTs (because those take longer!).

Speak to your employer and tell them your concerns about failing the bar exam and continuing to work. If you are working in a legal position, your employer likely remembers the stress of studying for the exam, and maybe even failing the bar exam too! Talk to them about opportunities to work studying into your daily schedule – taking extended breaks, leaving early some days, etc.  If possible, plan to take the two weeks before the exam completely off. This is important for your mental well-being – being well-rested going into the exam is just as important as preparing academically. 

Failing the bar exam is a setback, but it’s something you can overcome.  With an understanding of what happens if you fail the bar exam, and a little strategic planning, you can be successful the second time! 


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