failed the bar exam

If you failed the bar exam, you may be wondering when you should start gearing up for the next exam. Some students want to start studying the day they find out they failed the bar exam. Others start when traditional bar preparation courses start (late December or early January).

We suggest you start studying sooner rather than later.

In this post, we will talk about a good timeline for those that fail the bar exam. This post is tailored to those who just failed the July 2014 bar exam.

First Step: Give Yourself A Week to Take it All In.

If you failed the bar exam, give yourself a week or so to take it all in. Let yourself feel whatever you have to feel, talk to whoever you have to talk to, and do whatever you have to do. Read this Note of Encouragement. Don’t start worrying about the next bar exam the minute you find out you fail.

Second Step: Make a Plan.

After you have gotten used to the idea that you will have to take up studying, resume your bar preparation. (This should be right around the week of November 16, 2014, give or take, for those who failed the July 2014 Michigan bar exam). You should especially resume early if:

  • You are planning on working or if you have other time-consuming obligations during bar exam preparation;
  • You failed the bar exam by a significant amount;
  • You are feeling anxiety about the bar exam; or
  • You simply want to secure your chances of passing by doing everything you can to pass.

At the beginning of your bar exam preparation, don’t just dive back into furiously doing 3000 multiple choice practice questions without a plan. Instead, start your preparation by trying to honestly asses why you failed the bar exam. I wrote an article in the National Jurist, Why Smart People Fail the Bar Exam, which may help you make this assessment.

A few of those reasons that smart people fail are:

  • They think too far outside of the box (and the fact pattern) that they do not address the questions asked;
  • They did not practice enough questions;
  • They simply did not have enough time to learn the material;
  • They do not learn well with the go-to-lecture-and-fill-in-the-blanks-for-three-hours method taught by most commercial bar review courses;
  • Bad luck (i.e. sick on the day of the exam).

There are a lot of potential explanations. I see very smart people who would make great lawyers fail the bar exam every administration for these reasons.

After you figure out why you did not pass, you can truly determine what you need to do to pass the next time. For example, if the reason you did not pass was because you ran out of time on the exam, then you need to make timing your exams a priority – and time yourself in taking an exam section at least once a week.

If you didn’t practice enough questions, incorporate answering questions into your daily routine.  It is also a good idea to practice longer chunks of an exam at least once a week. Make it a habit to do two or three hours of multiple choice or essays every Friday. Get yourself used to the physical task of answering exam questions.

If you did not know the material well enough, you may need a tutor. Or you may simply need more time to absorb the information. Honestly assess yourself and determine what you need to do differently. After all, If you do the exact same thing as you did the last time, you should not expect a drastically different result.

Step 3: Start.

Start studying. Put your plan into action and do it early.

We know it can be very disappointing to fail the bar exam, but the good news is: you are truly at an advantage for the next exam. Not only do you have one exam under your belt, but you will have more time to study if you start soon, and you will already be ahead of the game since you will likely remember some of the material from last time.

Is it possible to start in the beginning of January and still pass the February bar exam (like many bar review courses do) even if you failed the bar exam before? Yes! It definitely is. But why put yourself on such a time crunch? Why wait so long that you have three days to learn Real Property instead of five or six days that could really help you learn, internalize, practice, and tackle that subject? You may as well take advantage of the extra time that you have, make the most of it, and turn a negative into a positive.  Don’t aim for a 135 this time around (or whatever passing score you need, depending on what state you are in) – aim for a 150!  The higher you aim, the more likely it is that you will pass the bar exam, even if you fall short of your goal.