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failed the bar exam

I Failed the Bar Exam –  Frequently Asked Questions

Here, we go through some frequently asked questions about failing the bar exam. You can read through all or jump to the questions you are curious about here:


real released MBE questions, NCBE MBE questionsGeneral questions about failing:

Will anyone know I failed the bar exam?

It depends on how your state publishes bar exam results.

States take a variety of approaches:

  • Some states (e.g., Illinois) do not publish anything
  • Some states (e.g., New York) publish all of the names of those who pass the bar exam online
  • Some states (e.g., Michigan) publish all of the names of those who pass the bar exam and are ready to be licensed to practice law – i.e., they have completed character and fitness requirements, passed the MPRE, etc.

Some state boards will also notify your law school of whether you passed and your bar exam score.

However, keep in mind that even if your state does publish names of those that pass the bar exam, states do not post lists of those that fail! So, even though you may not be on your jurisdiction’s pass list, that does not mean everyone will know that you failed. Some people will not look at the list at all. And most people are too busy thinking about themselves to notice you are not on the list! So just because you do not appear on a pass list does not mean that everyone will know you failed!

I’ve heard that repeat takers are much less likely to pass the bar exam. Am I doomed to fail?

The statistics show that repeat takers pass at a lower rate than first-time takers. Below is the data from 2018 from the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. first-time and repeat-taker data

So, it is true that repeat takers pass at a lower rate than first-time takers. (The total repeat-taker pass rate is 26%, versus the overall first-time taker pass rate is 69%). However, do not be too discouraged by these numbers! A few things that are not included in these statistics are:

  • how many times an examinee has taken the bar exam (you are more likely to pass on your second attempt than your seventh attempt)
  • the score an examinee received on their bar exam (you are more likely to pass if you were close to passing than if you are very far away)
  • the effort an examinee put forth (you are more likely to pass if you change your approach and take a smart/efficient approach to the bar exam than if you simply retake it without studying).

You are not a statistic! So just because the statistics are lower for repeat takers does not mean you won’t pass. Your individual circumstances (your approach, your score, etc.) mean a lot more than the statistics from thousands of test takers. We have had repeat takers pass with us on their ninth time taking the bar exam! They just needed a new approach.

Also, remember in many ways you are at an advantage for having taken the bar exam:

  • You know what to expect
  • You are not starting at “zero” (you will remember a lot of information that you learned)
  • You have valuable information on your hands (assuming your jurisdiction gives you a score report) on what you need to do to pass!

I think I deserved to pass. Can I appeal my score?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of jurisdictions do not allow you to appeal your bar exam score. There are some exceptions – for example, Michigan allows you to write a bar exam appeal – but even in those states, it is very difficult to win an appeal. You can see a list of the few states that allow an appeal here.

Many jurisdictions have a “pre-bar exam results” process whereby they regrade scores prior to results being released. But they do not allow you to appeal your score after bar exam results are released. New York, California, and Texas are all examples of states that have a rescoring process prior to results being released but will not allow you to challenge your score after results are released.

Note that some jurisdictions allow you to request that your MBE get hand-scored – for example, if you think erasure marks on your scantron lead to an incorrect MBE score.  (We have not heard of anyone passing doing this but it is probably worth it if your score is very close to passing and particularly if you believe you may have extra marks on your scantron).

Basically,  in the vast majority of cases, your option is to retake the bar exam rather than challenging your score on appeal.

I am thinking of committing suicide.

Please read this post if you are thinking of committing suicide. And please reach out to the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) immediately. Your mental health is so much more important than a bar exam score. We are also happy to help you come up with a plan so that you pass the bar exam. You are not alone and you will get past this!

I cannot think of anything I can possibly do differently to pass. So, what should I do?

It is hard to think of what to improve if you have failed a bar exam! Many students report putting in so many hours studying that they do not know what they can do differently!

We have a list of questions that you can consider here that will help you figure out exactly why you failed and what you can do to pass the next time! The key might not be to put in more hours but to study more effectively and efficiently! We are experts at an efficient approach to the bar exam. The first step is truly contemplating what went right — and what didn’t — on your initial attempt!

Be the Best Summer AssociateFor those working:

I have to work so I am not going to have all day to study again. Does this increase my chances of failing?

Not necessarily! You might have put in a lot of hours last time, but keep in mind:

  • You are not starting from scratch. You will remember a lot of what you learned!
  • You can tweak your approach so that you study more efficiently — that is, study what you need to know for the exam — rather than trying to learn everything.

It is crucial to changing your approach. If you are close to passing, doing something like getting real MBE questions  or our MEE one-sheets might do the trick.

If you are farther away from passing–or if it is a “high stakes” exam (e.g., you have to pass this exam or you will lose your job)–you might need a totally new approach and should check out our bar exam courses or bar exam private tutoring! We specialize in helping repeat takers pass the exam. If you are not sure, schedule a bar exam consultation here!

Does failing the bar exam mean that I will get fired?

No. We have had many people approach us (from both small, midsize, and large firms) that have failed the bar exam for the first time and are not fired. Many firms have a “one free retake” policy.

Some firms do make your offer contingent upon passing the bar exam (this would likely be in your offer letter). Most firms will give you a second chance though. It is an unfortunate reality that associates fail — even associates with great jobs who graduate from great schools. Firms are encountering this more and more, and offering associates the chance to retake the bar exam.

The only sure way to know what your firm does, though, is to ask. So please read the following FAQ!

How do I tell my boss that I failed the bar exam?

We have an entire blog post on how to tell your boss you failed here.  The key take-aways are:

  • Be honest
  • Take responsibility
  • Show you have an action plan moving forward

If you are authentic, mature, and show that you are forward-thinking, your boss will be impressed. If you delay telling your boss, blame the board of law examiners, or play the victim when you sit down with your boss, your boss will not be impressed. The best thing you can do is be honest, responsible, and proactive!

failed the bar exam, ube prep courseNext steps:

What does my bar exam score mean?

We have several articles on what your bar exam score means.

If you took the Uniform Bar Exam, please review this post on how to dissect your Uniform Bar Exam score report.

If you are in New York, please check out this post on how to dissect your New York Bar Exam score report. We break everything down for you in these posts!

Should I take my commercial course again?

In general, no — at least not if you completed it the first time.

In other words, if you did not complete your course, then yes you might as well retake your commercial course for free if you are committed to completing the course this time. (However, If you did not complete the course because you felt the course was not helpful, then no don’t take it again!)

If you do the same thing, you should not expect a different result!

Should I take the bar exam in a different jurisdiction that has a higher pass rate?

If you want to practice law in a non-Uniform bar exam state (e.g., Louisiana, Florida, California), take the bar exam in that state! Otherwise, you will not be able to practice law there in the immediate future.

If you want to become licensed in a Uniform Bar Exam jurisdiction then you can, in theory, take the Uniform Bar Exam anywhere. We have not seen any evidence that one particular state grades “easier” than another state (so we would not advise going to a different jurisdiction just because you think the graders might grade easier unless you have some data on this!). But you might want to consider a jurisdiction for the following reasons:

  • It is closer (and will cut down on travel time, expenses, fatigue due to jet lag, etc.)
  • It is a different exam environment (e.g., less takers, less intimidating, a change from your past bar exam experience)

All in all, we typically do not recommend traveling elsewhere simply because you failed. Instead, we recommend putting your energy into changing your approach to maximize your chances of passing the bar exam! But you may choose to for one of the above reasons.

What are some bar exam options you have found successful for repeat takers?

The options that have helped hundreds of repeat takers pass the bar exam are:

We have helped hundreds of repeat takers improve their scores dramatically using these options.

If you are looking for the structure of a course to help you pass, read why our on-demand bar exam course is the best course available here.

The advantage of using a course is:

  • (a) it will give you a new approach,
  • (b) it comes with a study plan and structure,
  • (c) it comes with the best instruction (by bar exam experts),
  • (d) it comes with the best questions (all released MBE, MEE, and MPT questions), and
  • (e) it comes with the best outlines (students rave about our outlines!)

Our course is currently on a limited time sale for a very affordable price. We recommend you check it out today.

Other options include using our real MBE questions, our MEE one-sheets or MBE one-sheets. If you are very close to passing, using one of these options alone might be worth it.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!

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    Edit Szanto

    Some states, like Idaho, publish in the official publication of the state bar, the names of candidates who sit for the bar exam. Then, they publish the names of those who successfully passed the bar exam on the state bar website. Therefore, indirectly, the names of those who failed the bar exam are published.


    JD Advising

    Great point!

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