Elle Woods from Legally Blonde has a famous line about going to law school, “[w]hat, like it’s hard?” Well, if you’ve taken the bar exam then you know how hard it can be. The bar exam does not come easy for many of us, and it is not just a feeling—it is backed up by the research.
The exam has historically been tougher to pass in certain notorious states such as California. Aside from jurisdiction, there are disparities at play. We know from recent figures by the American Bar Association that there is a racial gap in bar passage rates. In fact, when looking at 2021 overall bar passage rates, the first-time passage rate is higher for White J.D. graduates when compared to Black J.D. grads (85% versus 61%, respectively).
The figures are also not in favor for repeat-takers. In fact, the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ numbers show that first-time takers have higher pass rates than repeat-takers.
There is an ongoing debate, which intensified during the pandemic, about how much gatekeeping is necessary for admission into the bar. Some feel strongly that there should be a restricted pathway into the profession which includes the bar exam in its current state. Others are fully supportive of diploma privilege and getting rid of or altering the exam. Wherever you land may depend on your own personal experience with preparing for and taking the bar exam.
Some factors that can impact a test-taker’s experience include:
- Preparation: For example, did you go into your studies with an understanding of your learning style? Or did it take some trial and error to learn about how to best approach and prepare?
- Law school experience: Some students feel they got the best bar prep from their professors while others don’t feel as confident going into the bar after graduation. Perhaps your school helped you ease into studies through a school bar prep program or coaching.
- Financial resources: Your readily available resources including the finances for exam-related needs such as registering for the exam, a bar course, supplemental material, and tutoring. It all adds up and is not easy on many of us, especially if you need to work to afford any of these. In some states, the cost just to register can be $1K or more and can depend on whether your jurisdiction requires the character and fitness process to be done upfront.
- Test-taking skills: Your test-taking abilities including strengths such as a knack for multiple choice or writing under serious time constraints. If you need accommodations for a learning disability, or other reason, it requires time and resources to apply and ensure you have been properly diagnosed and have a well-documented history.
- Social and emotional support: Having a supportive community helps make the road less lonely and more empowering.
- Outlets you utilize to cope with stress such as a hobby, exercise, and therapy.
What is in your Favor
There are aspects we cannot control about the exam itself and the outcome. However, there are things we can control when it comes to bar prep.
Draw on the following to focus on the elements that are in your favor:
The same drive that got you into law school and to the graduation finish line is the same grit needed to pass the bar exam and not allow the statistics to determine your outcome.
I remember speaking to my advisor about the law school curve, and she made a great point about not being defeated. She said there is always room to earn the A or the B. While there may be predictors to determine which students will take those grades home, it is worth pushing and getting a different outcome.
Build on Strengths
The benefit you have after graduating law school are the three years you’ve taken to refine your study techniques and abilities. You know what works for you and what doesn’t. Even if you need to dabble in something new and try it, you will recognize quite quickly what will work for you and what’s a waste of time. Approach your studies this way. Be selective and tailor your approach to your strengths. If you are a visual and audio learner, then make sure your test prep accommodates your style. There is not much time to recreate an entire course that works for you.
Build a Strong Support System
Stay connected to the people and communities that encourage you to keep going. To start, you can connect to the Bar Exam Toolbox podcasts.
There are so many ways on social media that make it possible to instantly connect to people that can relate to you. For example, if you are a first-generation bar exam taker, you are not alone!
Remember that as scary as approaching the exam can be, you can take matters into your own hands. Confront this challenge, and get to the other side to make yourself proud. The best part is that you will have an encouraging story to help a future test-taker.