The unbelievable happened – you failed the bar exam. Now what? While you are entitled to a little “pity me” time, how you move on from this set back will determine whether you can hope for a different result the next time around.
As soon as possible, and probably before you are mentally ready to accept defeat, you need to look back and honestly assess how prepared you really were to take the bar exam. Be open to the idea that you might not have been as prepared as you could have been. Therefore, simply repeating what you did before may not be the best way to move into this new bar season.
Ask yourself, did you methodically review all the bar subjects, creating usable rule statements you could remember and memorize? Did you take every opportunity (or at least 80% of the available opportunities) to take timed practice exams? If you took the practice exams, did you get feedback on how well you answered the questions? If you didn’t get feedback, did you at least review a sample answer and then review the issues you missed or did not really address fully?
Once you have done the necessary “reconnaissance” and completed this assessment, the next step is to decide how to make the changes necessary to make your next attempt a success. This may also require you to factor in the cost of studying for the bar exam again, and the amount of time you may or may not have to devote to this effort again so soon. Don’t let people tell you to “just take it again – you’ll pass this time.” Maybe, but there are no guarantees. Instead, consider your options to increase your chance of passing.
Many programs may offer you a repeat at a discount when you fail the bar exam. This might be a good financial option but be careful. Did you devote yourself to that program 100%? If not, are you really going to give it 100% this time around? If you did give that program 100% of your attention, does your failure mean the program is not really giving you what you need?
What if you can’t afford to take the same time off again to devote to the bar? Are you willing to sit out a bar season and pick it up again in a few months? Or, can you be committed to doing something completely different that might be better suited to the way you prepare and learn? Honest answers to all of these questions will narrow down your available options moving forward.
How you answer these questions will help you decide how to move forward. For instance, if you cannot afford to take any more time off so soon, or are just mentally drained, take some time off. Work to shore up your finances and live a life that will restore your confidence and mental health. Take a bar season off.
If instead you felt you gave it your all and are ready to attack it again right away, consider the option of going it alone – or self-study. This is an especially good option for someone who needs to work a little. Use the books or outlines you received from the full-blown review course. Then supplement with some online options that will target the weaknesses that resulted in your failing the bar. Sign up for a course like Adaptibar that can help you improve your score on the MBE. Or sign up for a program that will force you to practice essay exam writing on a regular basis with targeted feedback on how to improve your answers.
For someone who narrowly failed the bar, self-study may be my favorite option. The material will still be a little fresh, so lectures are not as important as review. You can then focus on attacking your weaknesses by signing up for programs that target those weaknesses in a more specific way.
If you failed the bar miserably, and you have the financial ability to do it all over again (by taking time off and paying for a traditional bar review program), then view this as an opportunity to hit the “reset” button. Just start over. However, I would not simply sign up for the same bar review program. Do your research to see if other programs are actually better suited to your style of learning.
Finally, once you have made your decision on how to proceed, get on with it. Whether that means taking time off to improve your mental and financial health, or jumping back into a full-fledged review, give it a 100% commitment. Take all the necessary steps so that this time will be the last time you will have to make any decisions on how to approach a bar exam failure.