After years of helping those who have struggled with the bar, we know how hard it must be for you to have received disappointing bar results. You should know (but let us remind you) that failing the bar is not a reflection of your intelligence or your ability to become a great lawyer. A ton of amazing people have failed the bar exam (hello Michelle Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Benjamin Cardozo!), so you are not alone.
The good news is that since you have sought out this article, you are likely beginning to regroup to prepare yourself for the next bar. As you regroup, consider the following tips:
Give yourself time to grieve
Allow yourself a chance to grieve over the course of the next few days if you have not already allowed yourself to grieve. If you do not give yourself time to process your grief, these feelings may come back with a vengeance the closer the date of the next bar exam looms. Thoughts like “perhaps the results were a mistake” or “perhaps I had a mean grader” are not unusual, but they miss the mark because they prevent you from recognizing what led you to this result. Take ownership of your feelings and ownership of the result you received.
Figure out why you failed the bar
After allowing yourself a chance to grieve, you need to determine what prevented you from obtaining a passing score. Did you struggle with essays, the performance test, or multiple-choice questions? Was there a particular subject (or more) on the multiple-choice section in which you received a significantly lower score than others? Did you have time management issues during the entire exam, including not having time to give yourself a much-needed break? Did you take enough time to study or did an emergency, work, or family obligations get in the way? Did you know how to deal with your stress anxiety so that it was not debilitating?
Self-reflection is hard, but it is absolutely necessary. In order to fix a problem, you first need to recognize it exists and identify it. You cannot fix a leaky faucet in your kitchen if you believe the drip is coming from your grader’s house. Face the reality of why you failed, so that you can set yourself up for success the next time around.
Create a plan for addressing why you failed the bar
Once you know what your problem areas are, you must create a plan on how to fix them rather than blindly following the same strategy you did before. It is heartbreaking to hear students who are sitting for the bar a third or fourth time say they just wish they had worked with a tutor earlier and given themselves a better chance at passing. Do not let this become your story.
If you followed a bar exam program (and completed the steps required) but you didn’t get you the results you wanted, you need to consider not taking that same program again. As Albert Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. Instead, consider trying a targeted study program (such as Help! I Failed the California Bar Exam Course) or one-on-one tutoring. If your school has a low passage rate in its primary jurisdiction, there is a good chance your school has set aside resources to help you.
Learn about your options, make a study schedule that works for you, and get yourself equipped with the tools necessary to pass the next time you take the bar.
Don’t engage in self-sabotaging behaviors
When you studied the first time around, were you taking practice exams in a crowded coffeehouse? Were you studying with friends who constantly interrupted your study time bemoaning how much studying they had to do or had already done? Were you trying to survive off caffeine, no exercise, and a poor diet? Did you fail to speak with your family, friends, or employer about your need to study, such that they always had another obligation waiting for you? Were you constantly checking phone for texts or going on social media during your blocked off study hours? These are self-sabotaging behaviors, so stop doing them! Instead, give yourself the proper time and environment to study.
Give yourself the proper time and environment to study
In following Tip #2 and #5, you should have considered whether you gave yourself the proper time or environment to study. If you spent too much time socializing, working, or caring for family members, you need to try to reduce your obligations when you begin to study again. While it may be hard to reorganize your life, it is a temporary change you need to make to give yourself the best chance of a successful outcome.
Determine if you need to seek out accommodations
If you knew the material being tested, but you failed the bar because you struggled with attention, concentration, reading speed, reading comprehension, time management, or severe test anxiety, you may need to seek accommodations. According to Dr. Jared Maloff, a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping students who need testing accommodations navigate the California bar exam, “[t]hose with significant weaknesses in the aforementioned areas are at a serious competitive disadvantage on the bar exam, and require accommodations to have a fair chance at expressing the full extent of their intelligence and legal knowledge.” If you struggled with any of these areas, consider meeting with an expert well versed in bar exam testing accommodations to determine if you should seek accommodations. If you already know you could have sought accommodations but you choose not to do so, do yourself a favor and do not make this mistake again.
To learn more about the importance of accommodations, listen to Podcast Episode 72: Seeking Accommodations in Law School and on the Bar Exam (with Dr. Jared Maloff) or check out the following articles:
- Leveling the Playing Field – Testing Accommodations on the Bar Exam
- Should You Apply for Bar Exam Testing Accommodations
- How to Apply for Bar Exam Accommodations When Finances are a Concern
Determine whether you should take the next bar exam or wait
Generally speaking, we recommend that you strongly consider taking the next bar exam rather than waiting. However, in certain circumstances, you may want to wait. For example, you may want to wait if you do not have enough funds because a family medical emergency has put too much of a financial strain on you and your family. Perhaps you have been significantly rocked by the loss of a loved one. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot take the next exam, that is okay. Set yourself up for success by allowing yourself to wait another exam cycle if that is what is truly best for you.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Podcast Episode 73: What To Do If You Failed the Bar Exam
- Nine Elements to Review if You Failed the Bar Exam
- Failed the Bar Exam? How to Be the Ultimate Sore Loser (to Pass the Bar Exam Next Time)
- Why Really Wanting to Pass the Bar Exam Isn’t Enough
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