5 Reasons You May Be at Risk of Failing the Bar Exam

Why do people fail the Bar Exam? Ah – the question of all questions. It seems incongruous. Very smart, hardworking people fail the Bar Exam. Sometimes once, sometimes twice…sometimes more.

failing bar exam, achieversWe are law students. We have accomplished a great deal to even have made it into law school. Most of us have gotten good grades, and are now at the final countdown. We are achievers, or we wouldn’t be here.

Problem is: we aren’t used to failing. It is basically a foreign concept to us. And the realization that nationwide almost half of test-takers fail this exam is – uncomfortable – to say the least.

So what are some reasons that people fail the bar? Let’s take a brief look at what might trip up otherwise sharp individuals.


Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But it does exist. There are students who’ve done so well in law school that they get a fat head. Yep. I said it. Maybe you are one of them. Did you study much less than your peers and find yourself getting A’s and B’s anyway? Did you spend time on the golf course while others were cramming for finals, and walk away with pretty good results?

While I don’t think that many people actually sail through law school unscathed, they do exist. Another species of this animal is the relaxed students, who are perfectly fine with getting C’s, or even D’s in law school. They’ve worked hard enough to get here, they know that no employer is really going to care about their final grade in Advanced Criminal Procedure (especially if they are going to be practicing Tax Law) – and they simply refuse to stress themselves out. So they accept less-than-stellar grades and figure they’re doing fine.

The problem comes in when they maintain this same laissez-faire attitude towards the Bar Exam. Then – they may be in for an extremely rude awakening. Don’t set yourself up for failure by assuming anything. Just because you did well – or well enough – in law school does not mean that you will pass the Bar Exam.

Please, believe me on this one.

Life Gets In the Way

For whatever reason, time is getting away from you. Life has a way of going on around you even when you are preparing for such a big test. Some people are still working, and don’t properly allow for the amount of time studying necessary to pass the Bar Exam. Others havefailing bar exam, life the time off, but their mom, or their child gets sick. Serious life issues can get in the way, and if that happens, it is simply not your fault.

One thing you must do, however, is to prepare ahead of time for any less-than-serious life occurrences. These will happen also, and if it’s not crucial for you to be the person handling a given situation that may arise, you should have someone in place to handle it for you.

The bottom line is: you must put in enough time while studying for the Bar Exam. If you don’t, chances are pretty good that you will fail. Make the time. Or if you can’t, think about putting off taking the exam until you can make the time to properly prepare.

You’re Not Practicing Enough

Practice makes perfect, and this cliche holds true for the Bar Exam. This test is as much about testing skills as it is about the law. You must precisely sharpen the exact test-taking skills necessary to pass this exam. This means:

  • Practicing 1000’s of MBE questions.
    • Not only practicing them, but wrestling through the explanations until you understand WHY you got the question right or wrong. Yes, even if you get it right – you need to know why. You may have just made a good guess. You need to know the methods the examiners like to use to trip people up. The only way to know this is through massive repetition and in-depth analysis of each answer.
  • Practice Writing Out Full Essays
    • You must write out essays. Yes, there are times you may just want to issue-spot. But you must write out enough essays to get very familiar with the process of properly formatting and streamlining your answer as much as possible. Not only must you use IRAC, you must make it easily readable for the grader. Use headers and subheaders. Make it easy for the grader to award you points. If you make them work to find the points, chances are you won’t get them.
    • This is a skill. Sharpen it like a Ginsu knife.
  • Practice Writing Out Full MPT’s
    • Many don’t practice the practical portion of the exam. This is just as important as practicing essays. There is a format the examiners want you to use. USE IT. Get so familiar with it that it is second nature come exam day.
  • Doing All of the Above Under Test-Like Conditions – More Than Once
    • Take full portions of the exam in real-time. Do this often, particularly during the last 3-4 weeks of prep. Managing your time should become second nature so you don’t struggle the day of the exam.
    • Reserve a room in your school’s library and get several other students to all come together and take a full exam in real time. The more you do this, the better prepared you will be.
  • Analyze All Answers
    • This is huge. You must know why you did / didn’t do well on any given question. Learn to spot your weaknesses. Keep track of them and let it guide you in subsequent study sessions.
      This leads to the next topic.

Know When to Change or Alter Your Prep Emphasis

You must remain flexible during Bar Prep. It’s your test. Your life. Your study needs will be unlike anyone else’s, at least a little. Pay attention to where your strengths and weaknesses are, and alter your study schedule accordingly.
Do not simply allow your weaknesses to remain weak.
(This bit of advice is only for the first ¾’s of your Bar Prep time. During the final week or so, you’ve learned what you’ve learned, and you should just be running practice drills.)

Overwhelming Anxiety

Of course, anxiety gets to all of us. Many people find ways of coping, like meditation, yoga, exercise…just to name a few.

However, if you find that you are “blanking-out” during timed practice tests because you’re so busy thinking about failing, pay attention. Or if your general sense of dread becomes in any way debilitating, you may want to seek some professional help.

And as the last word, realize that many famous and extremely successful individuals failed the Bar Exam their first time out. And even their second, or third times out. I know it is likely little comfort, but check out this list of past Bar Exam first-time failures that did not let that stop them! It’s not the end of the world if you fail – it may just seem that way for a while.

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