Failing the bar exam is a terrible feeling. It is hard to recover at first. However, once you have a plan, you will feel better! (Read this Note to those who Failed the Bar Exam if you haven’t already!)
One thing that students tend to do after they find out they failed the bar exam is to cling to just one reason that they failed. “I need to practice more MBEs!” they’ll say. And they’ll make that their focus. Their only focus. Soon, they’ll find their knowledge of the substantive law is fading, their essay score is sliding, and they still don’t get the score they need to pass!
We recommend taking a step back so you can really evaluate why you failed the bar exam. One way to take a more comprehensive look at the bar exam and really understand why you failed is to make a list of everything – every single thing – you think may have contributed to not passing the bar exam. This is an invaluable exercise to students for two reasons:
- First, it helps you recognize that several factors may have contributed to not passing (and these factors can all be addressed before the following bar exam).
- Second, it will help you identify less personally with failing. When you examine something from more of an “outside” viewpoint – from the perimeter of it -, you become more of a scientist dissecting a particular problem. This helps students feel better about failure because they are able to separate themselves from the stigma and move onward to the next exam.
Further, once you have your list, you can tackle each item on the list in a methodical fashion to maximize your chances of passing the next bar exam!
Some examples of what may be on your list are below. However, we highly recommend that you make one that is specific to you, in as much detail as possible, and that you take some time to really reflect on every factor. After you make your list, figure out how to tackle each factor (as we explain below.)
Examples of What May Be on Your ’ “Why I Failed the Bar Exam” List:
- You didn’t have enough time to study. The two months that many students take to learn all of the material is a short time. Sometimes simply having more time can help significantly.
- You spent your time inefficiently (perhaps you focused on the less-tested topics the most. Or perhaps you were on Facebook during half of your bar review lecture.)
- You didn’t spend enough time learning your outlines. Some students tend to practice, practice, practice, and not memorize enough.
- You struggle with comprehension (understanding what the law is or what your outlines mean.)
- You struggle with memorization (that is, you understand the law, you just haven’t committed it to memory)
- You struggle with application (you understand and have memorized the law but have a hard time answering questions correctly).
- You ran out of time on the exam.
- You do not write enough for the essay portion because you type slowly or handwrite slowly.
- You felt too anxious and it took you too long to get into the bar exam mindset on the day.
- You were exhausted during the test. Or too cold or too hot, or had to go to the bathroom. (Or some other physical condition played a role.)
It is also good to look at your essay and MBE scores – is one significantly lower? Are there some subjects that you consistently score low in? Add them to your list of things to improve on!
Next, think of ways to address these specific problems. A few examples:
- If you ran out of time on the exam, focus on taking timed tests before the next exam.
- If you struggle with memorization, find a new way to memorize your outline (make charts, diagrams, flashcards, etc.).
- If you think you didn’t have enough time to study, take time off work if possible or start studying early.
- If you spent your time inefficiently, make a good study schedule for yourself to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
- If you struggled with comprehension, try to create your own outlines for the topics that give you the most trouble. Or enroll in private tutoring if possible.
Failing the bar exam is not a statement of who you are. It does NOT mean that you are not smart or that you shouldn’t be an attorney. Quite the contrary, there are several reasons why very smart people fail the bar exam.
So try to look at it for what it is – a test, that you can retake. And then engage in a methodical way to tackle it. Making a list like the one above is a very good start to creating a successful bar study plan.
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