bar exam repeat taker

How To Pass The Bar Exam As A Repeat Taker

If you failed the bar exam and are planning on taking it again, you are not alone!  JD Advising has assisted MANY students who failed the bar exam pass it on their second (or third, or fourth) try!  In this post, we discuss some of our tips for passing as a repeat bar exam taker!

How To Pass The Bar Exam As A Repeat Taker

1. Analyze what went wrong.

If you are a bar exam repeat taker, your first step should be looking at your past attempts. Analyzing what went wrong is a crucial first step of obtaining a different result the next time you take the exam.  Carefully review your score report and see if there are any glaring issues.  Did you do significantly better on the multiple-choice portion of the exam than you did on the written portion?  If your jurisdiction provides a breakdown of how you did on each essay or each multiple-choice subject, are they any subjects that stand out with a low score, indicating that the subject was potentially a weak area for you?  Knowing what your weaknesses are will help you identify where you need to focus your time and attention as you begin preparing for the next administration of the exam.

It is also important that you try to think about whether anything went wrong the day of the exam.  Did you get a good nights’ sleep the night before?  Did you eat breakfast?  Do you remember feeling tired at any point during the exam?  Did you get stuck in traffic on your way to the exam, causing additional stress?  Try to think about what you might do differently (eat breakfast, stay at a hotel closer to the exam location, etc.) that could eliminate that external stressor and, hopefully, change your result on the next exam!

As painful as it may be, you MUST request and review your written answers if your jurisdiction allows this!  Chances are, your actual performance the day of the exam is a little fuzzy and you don’t remember exactly what you did (or did not) write for each essay.  Reviewing your essays and understanding exactly what went wrong can help ensure that the same mistakes don’t occur next time!

2. Figure out where you can pick up additional points.

After analyzing your score report, figure out where you can make up the additional points you need to pass.  If you did really well on the multiple-choice portion, but not as well on the written portion (or vice-versa), you can “make up” more points on the written portion the next time you take the exam.  You should further think about whether the problem arose from your lack of understanding of the material, the way you approach and answer the questions, or a little bit of both.

There is A LOT of material tested on the bar exam.  It is impossible to feel like an expert in every area of the law.  However, you should not skip a subject, hoping that it doesn’t get tested during that administration.  Ignoring a subject altogether could have catastrophic results!  So, if there were any particular subjects that you did not feel comfortable with, be sure to set aside additional time for those subjects as you prepare for the next exam.

There are many ways you can change your approach to the written and multiple-choice portions of the exam so that you can learn from your mistakes and pick up additional points.  For instance, implementing JD Advising’s slow, methodical approach to MBE Questions can help you increase your MBE score!  And self-grading your practice essays is a great way to improve your written score!

3. Be prepared to do things differently.

Albert Einstein is credited with the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

If you plan on preparing for the second bar exam the exact same way that you prepared for the first exam, you should expect to see the exact same results on the second exam.  You MUST be willing to change your approach to the exam in order to change your results!

If you know that you did not take bar prep seriously and did not give it 100% effort, ask yourself whether you will be able to take a different approach the next time.  Are you able to take additional time off work?  Can you adjust your schedule to allow more time to devote to studying?  If you slacked off, can you be more self-disciplined and put more effort into studying?  If you plan on repeating your bar prep course, think about what worked and what didn’t.  For instance, if you found yourself zoning out during lectures, it would not be an efficient use of your time to sit through every single lecture again.  Instead, re-watch the lectures for the subjects that you struggle with.  For everything else, try a more active method of learning the material to gain additional knowledge and understanding!

If you feel like you gave 100% effort to the bar exam, only to receive unfavorable results, you may have to spend some additional time analyzing what went wrong and what you can do differently.  Here are some questions to think about how you can fine-tune your bar prep:

  • Did you actually memorize the law? Don’t just say “yes” and move on – quiz yourself!  Can you explain the dormant commerce clause?  What is the difference between present recollection and past recollection recorded?  What are the requirements of a joint tenancy?  While you might think you have a good understanding of the law, having it memorized is much more difficult!
  • Did you do enough practice questions? Did you use real, released questions?  The practice questions you answered may not have adequately prepared you for the types of questions you saw on the actual exam.  Additionally, skimming essay questions is not the same as taking the time to write out actual answers.  Be sure to set aside time to practice actual questions under test-like conditions!
  • Are your writing skills sufficient? Sometimes, even if you know the material really well, you are not able to adequately communicate your knowledge, which can affect your score on the written portion of the exam.  Practicing additional essays will help improve your writing, and, hopefully, your score!
  • Did you struggle with timing? Did you miss out on points simply because you did not have time to finish the exam?  Incorporating timed questions into your studies will help you understand what the time constraints on the actual exam feel like and will better prepare you to know when you have to cut yourself off and move on to the next question!

4. Prepare a study plan that adjusts for what went wrong!

Once you consider the aforementioned tips and understand your weaknesses, put together a study schedule, giving additional time to those weak areas!  You should not feel compelled to strictly follow a generic schedule that has been prepared by a commercial bar course.  Instead, tailor the schedule to your needs!

Start with the subjects you found most difficult.  For instance, if you did not take Evidence in law school and didn’t have time to learn it for the exam, start there!  Evidence is a dense subject and cannot be mastered in 3-4 days.  You may want to allocate 1-2 weeks to learn and memorize Evidence before moving on to another subject.  It is very important that you allocate your time efficiently so that you are able to cover every single subject.  Even if you performed really well on a particular subject on the first exam, you should still spend time covering that subject so that you (1) ensure that it is fresh in your mind and (2) pick up additional points for anything that you missed or didn’t understand in that subject the first time!

As mentioned above, you probably do not need to re-watch every single lecture.  Instead, spend your time on things such as active memorization and application.  You should spend approximately the same amount of time memorizing as you do on application (so, if you spend 3 hours memorizing, spend 3 hours that day working on practice questions).  Instead of simply reading your outline with a highlighter in your hand, try re-creating the outline from memory, quizzing yourself, or trying to state the rules out loud!  Reading and understanding the rules is not the same as having the rules memorized!  Memorization is crucial to success on the exam!

After you work on active memorization, you should also incorporate application into each day of studying.  You should try writing practice essays under timed conditions.  As you start working on practice MBE questions, focus on doing them slowly and methodically, and then add in small sets of timed questions as you feel more comfortable with the material and the format of the questions.  Therefore, you should aim to complete 1-2 essays and 20-40 multiple choice questions each day.

5. Don’t let fear hinder your performance!

Many students are “scarred” from their bad experience on the first law exam and, unfortunately, let fear hinder their success on a subsequent exam.  Don’t let that fear overcome you!  Walk-in with confidence, knowing that implementing some of the aforementioned changes to your bar prep can produce a different result!  Visualize yourself taking the exam, and confidently knowing the answer to each and every question and visualize yourself passing!  You’ve got this! Confidence is key for a bar exam repeat taker to pass their next attempt!

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