The unimaginable happened. After all that time spent studying, all the social engagements you gave up, not to mention the family time, you just got word that you failed the bar. You’ve never failed at anything before. How did this happen? You’re entitled to some pity me time – but not too much. Depending on what you want to do next, you might have to get right back on that horse. Before you do that, however, ask yourself some important questions.
1. Try to Assess what went Wrong
This step requires you to be honest about what you actually did, or did not do, while studying for the bar exam. Did you have a consistent plan in place for studying? Did that plan have structure? For instance, did you know what topic you where studying on a given day and when you would return to that topic later in the schedule for a review? Did you take practice exams on a semi-weekly basis and practice MBE’s regularly? These questions focus on the details of how you studied and might help you identify what was structurally wrong with your approach.
Then there are the questions you must consider that look at the big picture and how devoted you were to the process. How many hours in the day did you actually devote to bar review? Did you treat studying for the bar like a job, or something you did in your spare time? Were you overly confident that everything would come back to you eventually? Did you get enough sleep and take short breaks geared toward relieving your stress levels? Did you truly sacrifice?
Studying for the bar is a marathon, not a series of sprints. Consider the moral found in the old fable of the “tortoise and the hare.” There is a lot of material to relearn or revisit. Think slow, steady, and disciplined.
2. Next Explore how you can Change your Approach to Avoid the Same Result
Once you have an idea about what went wrong, you can explore how to change what you were doing to reach a different result. Of course, some of the decisions you make may depend on your ability to devote the same amount of time to your bar studies. If you are unable to devote your complete attention to the bar exam because you have to work this time around, that will impact any decision you make on how to change your approach. It can be done, but you will have to be committed to a very structured way of studying. If the need to work is so pressing, and you are so stressed thinking you cannot do both, then think about actually skipping the next exam. However, I am not suggesting that you give up studying at all. My recommendation would be instead to spread out your bar preparations over a longer period of time so that you can in fact work and prepare for the bar over a longer period of time.
If you are unsure about what went wrong, then you need to talk to others who actually passed the bar to help you figure that part out. What was their study schedule like? What programs did they use? What suggestions do they have? Perhaps during a discussion some lightbulb will go on highlighting something you can do differently.
Finally, if cost is going to be an issue the second time around, consider a self-study program. You probably already have a lot of the materials you need to restart your review. Add to this some MBE practice through a program like Adaptibar or use tutors to review the practice exams you do on a regular basis. The Bar Exam Toolbox has a specific plan for those planning to “go it alone” the next time, with suggestions and timelines.
3. Execute your New Plan
As I said before, you are entitled to a little time for a pity party. Rest, relax, and regroup – but don’t get carried away. You got through law school. That was harder than you ever thought it was going to be. You can do this as well. Some of the best lawyers I know have a bar failure (or more) in their past. I really believe in a self-fulfilling prophecy, so getting your confidence back is crucial to this task. Think about the successes you have had – don’t dwell on the failures.
Once you have decided on how to approach your next attempt at the bar, put your plan into action. If you go with a self-study approach, get that big wall calendar out or use a calendaring app to start plotting what you are going to study and when. If you are going to try a new program, contact them as soon as possible so they can get a schedule in place for you. Then get started.