The other day I was driving my kid home when I was confronted by a dilemma that basically every driver (at least in the U.S.!) has dealt with. I was on a fairly clear stretch of road and the upcoming traffic light turned yellow. Immediate onslaught of questions. Do I have time to make it through the intersection before it turns red? Do I have time to brake before I get to the intersection? What kind of example am I setting for my kid, who will be driving sooner than I’d like to think? Why did I think about my kid driving? Now I can’t think of anything else! Where did my baby go?
In the end, the intersection was just a little too far to go, so I stopped. But it was also close enough that the stop wasn’t an easy one. Right decision? Absolutely. Will I make the same one next time? Who can say. The factors will all be different.
Bar study is a little like that. There are seven months from the end of the July exam until the February exam. But that means there are only five months from the end of the February exam until the July exam. Bar examiners usually take 6-12 weeks to finish grading bar exams, depending on the jurisdiction. If we think of those unwelcome bar results as your yellow light, they could come as little as two months before your exam. Ideally, you will think about this even before you get your results, but a lot of people understandably really don’t want to think about what will happen if they fail the bar exam. So, you’ve gotten your yellow light. What do you do?
Hit the Gas
If you want to take the next bar exam, then the first thing you need to do is find your why. As in, why are you doing this, and why are you doing it now? Bar study is hard, especially after getting the news that you failed the last attempt. So, find your why, and keep it close at hand so you can use it for motivation.
Next, you want to check in on whether you’re in a position to actually go full speed ahead. Some of these factors might be:
- You have a good amount of study time. This either means that your jurisdiction released results relatively early, or you’re in a position to study full-time. Our general rule of thumb is 400 hours total of study time, though it can be more or less depending on your circumstances. Whatever you do, make sure you can put together a cohesive study schedule for the next exam.
- You were really close to passing. “Really close” means different things in different jurisdictions. If someone tells me they were 40 points from passing, that’s really close in a state like California, where a passing score is 1390, but not close in a UBE jurisdiction, where a passing score is anywhere from 260 to 273. So review your score report and see how much work you have to do.
- There were extenuating circumstances during the bar exam that hindered your performance. This can be anything from devastating personal news to a major laptop issue on exam day. If the issue is resolved, then you can probably just build on your prior work.
- You have a good support network that will help you stay on track with your studies. This can be family, friends, and colleagues, or you might want to get a tutor in your corner.
Foot on the Brake
We work with a lot of amazing people who are dealing with extraordinary issues. Sometimes they really, really want to take that next bar exam, but the circumstances just don’t make sense. These are some factors that might make you decide to hit the brakes on your bar plans:
- You either have very little study time available, or you can’t figure out when it’ll happen. We see this a lot with people who have new, busy jobs, or very busy families without external support.
- You have a major vacation, holiday, or life event planned in the middle of your proposed bar study period. Bar study can turn your life upside down, but some things aren’t worth changing! You might need to choose between your preferred bar date and your once-in-a-lifetime vacation, and it’s OK if you choose the vacation.
- Your bar scores were substantially below the passing score, and you don’t have a specific and resolved reason for the low score. Again, review your score report, and consider talking to a tutor or a bar success coordinator at your law school to see what you need to do.
- You are dealing with a personal issue that will prevent you from focusing on bar studies. This might be a family situation, a busy time at work, an ongoing health crisis, or even anxiety that came from your unwanted bar news.
- You have major gaps in your knowledge or fundamental issues with your writing for the bar exam. Some skills just require time to develop or redevelop.
Bar study is a hard process, and it’s tempting to get it over with as quickly as possible. But, just like getting pulled over after you run a red light, sometimes rushing things only makes them last longer. If you got the news that you failed, take some time to think about when will be the best time for you to take the bar again.