Most people who fail the bar exam presume they should sit for the next administration. The reasons are obvious. But this one-size-fits-all approach is not optimal for everyone. Retaking the bar is a big decision that depends on your individual circumstances. Here are some things to consider as you decide when to try again:
A Bad Day
If you’re a recent law school grad who failed on your first try, it makes sense to retake the exam as soon as possible. Your job – or your need to find a job – may make it imperative. Many first-time takers who fail do so by a small margin, such as fewer than 10 points on the UBE, because no one takes the bar without preparing for it. Evaluate your performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and work to improve the latter while retaining the former. Consider changing your study strategy; for example, it may be beneficial to shift more time toward practice questions and away from reviewing videos.
Similarly, if you were a first-time or repeat taker who was well prepared but performed poorly due to circumstances that are not likely to recur, such as non-chronic illness, family emergency, or travel delay, you should capitalize on your previous preparation. Keep up your momentum, continue to review and practice, and sit for the next exam.
But if you’ve failed two or more times, you should reevaluate before deciding to take the next exam. You want to position yourself for success; doing so may take more time, which you can gain by sitting out an exam cycle. If any of the following applies to you, consider waiting.
Seeking Accommodations for Disabilities
Would you benefit from – and be eligible for – accommodations, such as extra time? If so, and if you did not apply for accommodations on previous bar attempts, strongly consider doing so. You may be deterred by the fact that it is more difficult to receive accommodations on the bar exam than it might have been during law school or college. But if you had accommodations in law school, you should apply for them on the bar exam. While your request may be denied, if it is granted, you will have improved your chances of passing.
Seeking accommodations takes time and money. You may need to be reevaluated by a psychologist or other professional to obtain a current assessment of your learning differences, or a physician to assess physical disabilities. You will need to gather and submit supporting documentation. If you miss the deadline to apply for accommodations, it may be better to wait until the next exam cycle. In addition, you may benefit from a longer study period.
If you suffer from a chronic health condition, you may benefit from more time to study so you can work at a slower pace and still cover the material. You may also want to take time to improve your health, if possible. For example, if you require surgery or an adjustment of medication or other therapy, it may be wise to take the time to get better before attempting the bar again.
If you have failed multiple times, consider whether anxiety or self-defeating behaviors play a role. Working with a counselor or therapist may help you modify your behavior and adjust your coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress of the bar exam. Taking the time to benefit from therapy may help you pass.
Working While Studying
Many people who study while working feel inadequately prepared for the bar exam due to obvious time pressure. If you are in this situation, consider extending your bar study period, especially if passing the bar is not an urgent requirement of your job. In addition to providing more study time, putting off the bar exam may enable you to accumulate vacation or personal days and schedule time off close to the exam. If possible, try to take off at least two weeks (preferably more) prior to the exam so you can review your weakest areas, take a full-length practice exam, and get some rest.
Out of School
Perhaps you’ve been out of law school for a while and are a bit rusty on the law. Initial bar study may have been insufficient to get you up to speed. An extended period of study may help you recall and master the material.
Your decision to retake the bar exam should be carefully considered. Sometimes it’s better to wait out a cycle in order to resolve personal issues and be better prepared. Given the costs – monetary, temporal, and personal — associated with preparing and sitting for the bar exam, a delay now may pay off later with better chances of success.