What To Do If You Bomb The Bar Exam

Editor’s note: In the next few weeks, aspiring lawyers around America will take the bar exam. Here’s some wise advice on what they should do if they fail.

You Failed the Bar Exam. Now What?

Almost anyone who has sat for the bar exam has imagined failing. You log in to the website Friday evening and your name doesn’t appear on the pass list. You are not exactly sure what to do with yourself. You have such a mix of emotions. Where do you even begin?

Well first, you are not alone.

Typically, between 45 and 50% of the people taking the California bar exam will not get good results on results day.

I personally know very smart and accomplished people who did not pass. It does not mean they weren’t smart enough. It does not mean that they won’t be good lawyers (I know many great lawyers who didn’t pass the first time). It just means they couldn’t beat the test the time that they took it.

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation?

Immediate Steps to Take

1. Be disappointed.

It is important that you allow yourself to be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome. The bar exam is a very emotional experience and you put in a lot of time and effort to take the exam four months ago. You want to give yourself time to deal with the results. That means you should take the weekend for yourself.

It is up to you how you want to handle it. If you don’t want to hear from people about whether or not they passed, consider turning off your mobile phone or not checking Facebook. The results will go public on Sunday and then people won’t have to ask you if you have passed.

But on Monday you need to start re-grouping and move on to the rest of the steps below.

2. Commit to taking the bar exam again.

The next step is committing to taking the bar again. This may sound like an easy decision but it is not.

It has many parts to it.

Time: It takes time to study for the bar again. You may be working and already have a job. You may have to consider whether or not that job will allow you to take time to adequately study and prepare. You must decide which bar exam you are going to take next. I typically recommend the next bar cycle so you retain as much information as you can from your previous testing experience.

Money: I hate to say it, but finances are an important piece of taking the bar again. We all know and appreciate that taking the bar is not cheap. The test itself is expensive, even before you decide to pay for any additional preparation help. Most bar takers are already in debt from their law school loans and previous bar-taking experience. It is important to determine if you can financially support yourself taking the next bar exam. You do not want to be distracted while studying by having to worry unnecessarily about finances.

Attitude: This is in many cases the most important part of getting yourself ready to commit to taking the bar exam again. Everyone deals with a challenge like this differently. But you must emotionally commit to beating this test. You must decide that this is a goal that you want to achieve and you are going to do your best to get there. You cannot approach re-taking the bar exam without determination and gusto. You cannot approach it simply with a fear of failure. You must decide that you will overcome this challenge and give yourself the best chance to do so.

3. Change the way you approach the test.

So once you have committed to taking the test again, what do you do to make sure you are ready?


I had a student who came to work with me after failing the bar exam twice. A few weeks into her preparation, she made the following comment in my office:

The second time I took the bar I studied the exact same way and I got the exact same result. If I had only known that I needed to change the way I studied and prepared, I would have probably passed the second time and not be here the third time. What a waste of time and money.

This insight from a student is invaluable.

She made a very common mistake — studying the same way for the test a second time. Since that previous method of preparation didn’t work, it is necessary to determine how best to get ready this time.

Some students have a clear reason they didn’t pass: a computer crashed, they were ill, a family emergency occurred.

However, many students didn’t prepare for the test in the right way for them. So, you need to figure out a new approach.

How to Find a New Approach

1. Find help. There are many different ways you can find help. If you took a large bar review course, oftentimes you can come back to lectures when you retake the exam. However, this is not changing the way you approach the test.

For that, you may need to find someone to help you prepare the best way you can for your next bar exam.

Who are those people? Well, they are bar exam tutors who specialize in helping you conquer the test (this is what I do). And you need to find a tutor whom you trust and have a connection with because you are going to be spending a lot of time together.

Your tutor is going to challenge you, call you out on your mistakes, encourage you, and help you decide the best way to beat the bar exam.

It is not an easy journey and it is important that you find someone you feel comfortable with to help you through it. Read testimonials from other students on their website or ask for references. Have a long phone conversation about the tutor’s philosophy on test taking and studying.

2. And then give it all you have got. Work with your study schedule and commit to this work every day. Don’t succumb to procrastination or self-sabotage. Commit to your goal of passing. Be an active participant in the process.

Your tutor cannot take the test for you. — YOU must take the exam. YOU must be ready. YOU must know you can do it.

Passing is not Impossible. Don’t think it is impossible to pass. It is not.

The best part of my job is getting phone calls on results day from students whose lives have been changed by passing. But those students typically were fully invested in the preparation for the exam. They worked hard and changed their approach to the exam.

Following the above steps will help you get ready to start the exam preparation process again.


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