When the pandemic was causing bar examiners to push off the bar exam (over and over again), it caused a lot of problems for people who were trying to plan their studies. As a bar prep company, we knew there was another problem: a delayed exam meant delayed results, and delayed results meant less time for repeat takers to study.
At the time, we treated it more or less as a one-time problem. We talked about long-term bar studying, knowing that part was a recurring issue for many people. But we didn’t really talk about how often people receive results too late to start studying for the next exam. Sure enough, the day after the most recent bar exam, what did we start getting? Inquiries from people who think they might have failed the bar that they just took. And I realized: this happens every time. After every bar exam, we hear from people who are sure they failed for some reason or another, and want to know what to do. There’s never an easy answer. I certainly can’t decide what they should do! But I can offer some suggestions for considering it.
First, let’s get clear about who this post is for. This post is for people who have full-time jobs or other obligations that will prevent them from studying full-time. It is also for bar studiers who have learning issues that make studying harder, and studiers who for some reason have more ground to cover to get up to speed on the law. If you are able to devote your full attention to bar study and don’t have another reason to plan for long-term studying, you probably don’t need to bother reading this!
OK, are they gone? Great. If you’ve decided that this post is for you, and you’re in the position of being almost certain that you failed the bar exam, what are your options when it comes to the next bar exam? I’m going to call them plan to fail and plan to wait.
Plan to Fail
No. I’m not telling you that you should, before you sit down for the bar exam, plan to fail it. That’s nonsense, and if it’s applicable to when you’re reading this, you should stop reading right now. Maybe check out this post on test anxiety instead. Take your exam and come back later if you still need it. I’m saying that if you’re sure you failed, you should act as though you’ve already gotten the bad news. Focus on the next bar exam, figure out how much time you need to study, and create your schedule. And then follow that schedule.
The catch? It’s really really hard to stay motivated to study, especially if you’ve already been studying, if you’re holding onto any hope that you have a “you made it!” letter on its way to you in a few months. You also will likely have to purchase materials, a prep program, or even tutoring, and parting with that money is a definite gamble. The problem is that if you are reading this post, you probably need that pre-results study time AND those study materials if you’re going to have a reasonable shot at the next exam.
If you can’t get out of that hopeful headspace and/or can’t spend the money on a gamble? Then you’re not alone! Most people in your position can’t. But you should also plan to wait.
Plan to Wait
We hear from so many people who have failed the bar exam and decided that they absolutely must take the next one. But why? Sometimes there IS a rush – a job requires passing the bar by a certain date, for example. If that’s you, see the section above and do real work to do what you need to do, because rushing bar studying and pushing yourself beyond your capacity isn’t going to do you any favors. Otherwise, work on preparing yourself in a different way. Plan to wait. Reassure yourself that if you failed the bar you just took, you don’t have to take your next opportunity. Wait for your results. Figure out what they mean about what you need to work on. If you need to do a lot of work, talk to someone either at your law school or a tutoring company (we might be able to help!) about what you need to do and what kind of support might be necessary. Take your time to develop and implement a plan that can really work, rather than rushing to take the next exam just because it’s next. And make this decision before you’re in the throes of disappointment. (Obviously, if you get good news, that’s even better!) But making a logical decision is going to be easier if you’re able to sit down and look carefully at your options without watching a too-soon deadline get closer and closer.
So, which one is for you? Plan to fail or plan to wait? There’s no right answer, and both take a certain amount of mental discipline. But if you need long-term studying, the best thing you can give yourself is the gift of time.