If you received bad bar exam news, we are so sorry! We hope these tips will help set you up for future bar exam success.
One of the first things to do is to identify what went wrong. I have been getting emails recently from students who have been struggling with this step in the process, so I wanted to share some additional tips.
You might be amazed at how much you can learn about what went wrong by looking at your score report, at your answers (if you have them), and thinking back to the exam experience.
- Did you do better or worse on the multiple-choice versus the essay portion of the test? The first thing I ask students is to identify whether one portion of the exam, in particular, hurt their scores. If it was the MBE, you may want to create a strategy to focus on raising that score. Or if you struggled with writing, you can select a tutor to focus on raising your writing score.
- Did you do better or worse one day versus the next? This may be more telling for students who have a third day of testing. Sometimes scores will change drastically between days (even if two of those days are writing days). If so, you need to think through what was different about the day that you struggled. Did you not get any sleep? Were you more anxious? Were you hungry or did you have low energy?
- Within the testing day, did your scores go down (or up) as the day progressed? As with the second tip above, you want to evaluate whether your scores went down or up throughout the day. If they went down, it may be that you got tired or had poor time management. If they went up, it could mean that you were overly anxious in the morning and had trouble getting started. These are things you can work on for the next time you sit for the exam.
- Were you anxious in a way that you think affected your performance? Testing anxiety is a big concern during the bar exam. Everyone is nervous, but many people struggle with anxiety or anxious thoughts that become debilitating. If this is you, trust me, you are not alone. But you need to seek out help to get coping skills to manage your anxiety for the next exam. (Other students find meditation can also help them deal with anxiety during the bar exam.)
- Was something going on in your life that made it difficult to focus and study? Life does not stop for the bar exam. And sometimes life deals us a hand that makes it difficult to focus. Did this happen to you? If so, are you in a better position now to study?
- Did you do anything to self-sabotage? I think this may be a problem for students who are studying and working. Did you allow work to distract you from your studies? For example, I knew a student who had a large research project due for work just two weeks before the exam. This took her away from studying, which was probably not a good idea. Think back to see if you can recognize anything you did that may not have helped you reach your goal.
- Evaluate your exam answers. Hopefully, you feel that you learned a thing or two about what makes a quality answer for the bar exam. As soon as you get your past essays (if your jurisdiction returns them to you), you need to open them and read your answers. Sure, this is going to be a horrid experience, but you need to self-evaluate your answers to start finding the flaws. For example, ask yourself whether you knew all the law necessary to answer the question. Or whether the answer was written in the right format. Or whether you finished writing the answer in the time allowed. You can learn a lot by studying your answers. It won’t be easy, but doing so can tell you quite a bit about what went on.
- Do you believe you qualify for testing accommodations, but you didn’t request them? Students may qualify for testing accommodations for a number of reasons, but some students feel a sense of shame associated with applying for these accommodations. That is just foolish. If you need accommodations, ask for them. No one needs to know how you passed the bar exam, just that you did!
Now you are armed with more information about what went wrong. So what do you do?
Come up with a plan and seek out expert advice.
Based on your self-evaluation you can start to see what changes to your study plan you may need to make. Do you need to spend more time practicing answers versus listening to lectures? Or do you need to get help with anxiety to allow yourself the freedom to perform well on exam day?
But if you are still perplexed, you should reach out to an expert for help. Your school may have staff to help you talk through the bar exam experience and identify what went wrong. Use these resources. You would be foolish not to. Also, often those staff or professors can recommend tutors that they think might be a good fit.
Search for a tutor to help you come up with and execute an exam plan. Selecting the right tutor is a very personal thing. Make sure you believe that your tutor is going to be a good fit for you and help you reach your goals. (We offer bar exam tutoring, and we’d be happy to chat with you about what might be useful.)
I know that this is a very challenging time for those who just got bad bar results news. Hang in there!
If you’d like all our new reviews and tips sent straight to you, sign up now for our free mailing list!
Check out these other helpful posts:
- Yikes! I failed the bar exam. Should I take it again?
- Selecting the right bar exam tutor for you.
- Five tips for studying for the bar exam while working.