I Failed the Bar Exam! Now What?!?

Help!Fantastic guest post today from Lee Faller Burgess of Amicus Tutoring (and the new Bar Exam Toolbox) about what to do if the unthinkable happens, and you fail the bar exam.

I’ll turn it over to Lee:

You Failed the Bar Exam. Now What?

Almost anyone who has sat for the bar exam has imagined failing. You log in to the website Friday evening and your name doesn’t appear on the pass list. You are not exactly sure what to do with yourself. You have such a mix of emotions. Where do you even begin?

Well first, you are not alone.

Typically, between 45 and 50 percent of the people taking the California bar exam will not get good results on results day.

I personally know very smart and accomplished people who did not pass. It does not mean they weren’t smart enough. It does not mean that they won’t be good lawyers (I know many great lawyers who didn’t pass the first time). It just means they couldn’t beat the test the time that they took it.

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation?

Immediate Steps to Take
1. Be disappointed.

It is important that you allow yourself to be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome. The bar exam is a very emotional experience and you put in a lot of time and effort to take the exam four months ago. You want to give yourself time to deal with the results. That means you should take the weekend for yourself.

It is up to you how you want to handle it. If you don’t want to hear from people about whether or not they passed, consider turning off your cell phone or not checking Facebook. The results will go public on Sunday and then people won’t have to ask you if you have passed.

But on Monday you need to start re-grouping and move on to the rest of the steps below.

2. Commit to taking the bar exam again.

The next step is committing to taking the bar again. This may sound like an easy decision but it is not.

It has many parts to it.

  1. Time: It takes time to study for the bar again. You may be working and already have a job. You may have to consider whether or not that job will allow you to take time to adequately study and prepare. You must decide which bar exam you are going to take next. I typically recommend the next bar cycle so you retain as much information as you can from your previous testing experience.
  2. Money: I hate to say it, but finances are an important piece of taking the bar again. We all know and appreciate that taking the bar is not cheap. The test itself is expensive, even before you decide to pay for any additional preparation help. Most bar takers are already in debt from their law school loans and previous bar-taking experience. It is important to determine if you can financially support yourself taking the next bar exam. You do not want to be distracted while studying by having to worry unnecessarily about finances.
  3. Attitude: This is in many cases the most important part of getting yourself ready to commit to taking the bar exam again. Everyone deals with a challenge like this differently. But you must emotionally commit to beating this test. You must decide that this is a goal that you want to achieve and you are going to do your best to get there. You cannot approach re-taking the bar exam without determination and gusto. You cannot approach it simply with a fear of failure. You must decide that you will overcome this challenge and give yourself the best chance to do so.
3. Change the way you approach the test.

So once you have committed to taking the test again, what do you do to make sure you are ready?

>>> Change the way you study and approach the test <<<

I had a student who came to work with me after failing the bar exam twice. A few weeks into her preparation, she made the following comment in my office:

The second time I took the bar I studied the exact same way and I got the exact same result. If I had only known that I needed to change the way I studied and prepared, I would have probably passed the second time and not be here the third time. What a waste of time and money.

This insight from a student is invaluable.

She made a very common mistake — studying the same way for the test a second time. Since that previous method of preparation didn’t work, it is necessary to determine how best to get ready this time.

Some students have a clear reason they didn’t pass: a computer crashed, they were ill, a family emergency occurred.

However, many students didn’t prepare for the test in the right way for them. So, you need to figure out a new approach.

How to Find a New Approach

How do you do that?

1. Find help. There are many different ways you can find help. If you took a large bar review course, oftentimes you can come back to lectures when you retake the exam. However, this is not changing the way you approach the test.

For that, you may need to find someone to help you prepare the best way you can for your next bar exam.

Who are those people? Well, they are bar exam tutors who specialize in helping you conquer the test (this is what I do). And you need to find a tutor whom you trust and have a connection with because you are going to be spending a lot of time together.

Your tutor is going to challenge you, call you out on your mistakes, encourage you, and help you decide the best way to beat the bar exam.

It is not an easy journey and it is important that you find someone you feel comfortable with to help you through it. Read testimonials from other students on their website or ask for references. Have a long phone conversation about the tutor’s philosophy on test taking and studying.

2. And then give it all you have got. Work with your study schedule and commit to this work every day. Don’t succumb to procrastination or self-sabotage. Commit to your goal of passing. Be an active participant in the process.

Your tutor cannot take the test for you. — YOU must take the exam. YOU must be ready. YOU must know you can do it.

Passing is not Impossible

Don’t think it is impossible to pass. It is not.

The best part of my job is getting phone calls on results day from students whose lives have been changed by passing. But those students typically were fully invested in the preparation for the exam. They worked hard and changed their approach to the exam.

Following the above steps will help you get ready to start the exam preparation process again.

I hope you don’t find yourself in this position, but if you do, know that there is hope and success around the corner.

— – —

Thanks, Lee! If you’d like to learn more about Lee and get some of her general exam taking advice, check out the interview we did a while back: Nervous About 1L Exams? Get Advice from a Rock Star Tutor.

And you can also check out the new site we launched together, the Bar Exam Toolbox. It’s got lots of useful advice, reviews of products, and so on.

Want more articles like this in your inbox? Sign up for our weekly mailing list and you’ll get good stuff delivered every Friday!

Got questions for Lee? Leave them in the comments!

Image by visualpani via stock.xchng.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. It helps to know that those of us who failed aren’t alone. There is no way to explain to someone who hasn’t taken the bar what it feels like to know that your name isn’t on the pass list. I’ve been practicing in Oklahoma for over 9 years, but decided that I wanted to live and work in California. So I quit a good paying job at a great firm and started studying. I actually felt pretty good after taking the bar exam. A little too good apparently. I was so confident that I had passed that I sold my house, rented an apartment, interviewed and accepted a job in Newport Beach, reserved an apartment there, and planned my move all in anticipation of my expected triumph over the California bar. It never occurrred to me that I might fail. I logged on Friday night about 8:01 and felt uneasy. I put in my numbers and I only remember seeing a few red letters that said “your name does not appear on the pass list.” My face was suddenly on fire. My stomach hurt. My hands started shaking. Did I enter the numbers wrong? Tried two more times- nope, same red letters. Then I thought that maybe I was looking at the wrong numbers so I started entering other numbers on my bar ticket. As if mocking me, the website informed me that there were no letters in a student’s file number. “Holy ****” were the first words out of my mouth. Right on cue, my mom called and asked how I did. I could only muster a “Nope.” She asked again, “nope” I said. I love her dearly, but my mom did not want me moving to California. On the phone, she sounded like she was suddenly in a great mood. She was joking around about her dogs, my grandparents, and the fact that I was now stuck with her in Oklahoma. I just had to get off the phone before I said something I would regret. I felt very sleepy, but also thought that this would be a great opportunity to get completely smashed by myself at a bar. Instead I spent the next 2 hours googling “I failed the California bar, now what.” That’s actually how I got to this site. It’s Sunday and I’m still upset. Like a lot of people, I don’t want the bar exam to beat me. I’m motivated to take it again even though I swore I wouldn’t if I failed. The financial burden of taking it again is a big issue though. As law students and lawyers, we’ve been successful in school and for the most part, in life. We also have a sense of pride when we tell people we’re in law school or a lawyer because that implies somehow that we’re relatively sharp folks. We don’t fail at many things especially things that are meant to test our intelligence. That’s why failing is so demoralizing. Having to answer the question whether you passed over and over doesn’t help either. Hopefully those of us who failed will get over the initial shock and get on with life. Whether you decide to take the bar exam or not, good luck and remember that a stupid bar exam does not dictate your success in life.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, particularly when you don’t (yet) have the requisite “It all worked out in the end” version.

      For the record, I don’t think the bar exam has anything to do with how smart you are, or how well-educated you are, or whether you’re a good lawyer or not. It’s just a tricky, stupid exam, which trips up lots of people. (Like the Dean of Stanford Law School, for example.)

      And, if you actually did what you’re asked to do on the bar as a practicing lawyer, you’d be sued for malpractice!

      Best of luck, and I’ll just go ahead and say “I’m sure it will work out in the end,” one way or another.

    • I too appreciate you telling your story. What you are going through is not easy for anyone, and given your move, you had a lot riding on whether or not you passed. As I mentioned in this post and as Alison said as well – the bar has nothing to do with how smart you are – it is about being good at taking this test.

      I too wish you the best of luck!

    • Don’t look at it as if you “failed.” Look at it as you did not pass this time. You just didn’t earn the required 1441 points. You can do it again! You’re almost there already. That’s what I keep telling myself at least.

      Good luck with February 2012!

  2. legally fabulous says:

    I failed twice, and recently passed the third time in July. I 100% completely agree with the “change your approach” advice, and that’s the first thing I tell everyone who failed.
    It sucks to shell out the money for Barbri and then have to shell out more money for something different, but it sucks WAY MORE to fail again.
    But the good news is that even if you fail twice, you can pass the third time. So glad that’s all behind me.

  3. I plan on taking the Bar this coming July….this will be my 5th time. I am petrified because I am 10 years out of law school. I got married in law school, took the Bar pregnant the first 2 times and followed up 2 more times unsuccessfully over the past few years. I need to do things differently this time, so my plan is to get organized and start studying…..wish me luck :)

    • Good luck! I definitely second the advice to try and diagnose what went wrong, and take steps to attack whatever issues you have directly. For me, really hammering away on the MBE gave me enough wiggle room not to know everything for the essays. But friends have passed, after multiple tries, with exactly the opposite approach (i.e., really hammering away at model exam answers so they could recognize fact patterns and respond with the correct analysis in their sleep).

    • TazzLaw01 says:

      Kristi,

      You will pass. I too have been out of law school 10 years, going on 11 years come December and I have not mastered the bar. However, those friends of mine that took the bar more than once all said the same thing, practice, practice, practice and go in BELIEVING you can pass. Wishing you GOD’s Speed.

    • Hey, Kristi! I may not have taken it five times, but I was pregnant the first time and trying to finish a dual degree the second time so I understand your frustration and anxiety somewhat. Nine years ago I graduated law school and failing the bar had such a negative impact on my life. It wasn’t until I talked to a former advisor from law school that I realized that I have a contribution to make to the profession and I was capable of passing.

      I finally got down to the core reasons why I didn’t pass, beyond the pregnancy and the dual degree….realizing that I was sabotaging myself by continuing to pile on the stress. I certainly wasn’t managing my stress. I wasn’t studying “my way” and instead was trying to emulate what all my respected peers were doing. I allowed my practice questions to discourage me and wallowed in self-defeat.

      I’m taking the July bar as well. Asking for help was so very difficult for me. But I’m glad I did. I am working with a coach from my law school to assess my essay and PT skills and making sure I try to get in about 30 MBE questions per day. I have to resist the urge to “conform” to what the other examinees are doing. I refuse to indulge in stress-talk with them. Trying to stay centered and calm and despite some significant challenges (such as my brother passing away the day before Barbri started) I am giving myself permission to be more selfish than I’ve allowed myself to be before. And it’s hard as a mom, but my kids have been rockstars this year and my husband doubly so. Trying to also share my journey on YouTube as well.

      So even though we’re likely from different states, I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you luck from Colorado. You will do it!

      • Aubergine says:

        Janet, I can so relate to your feeling that you have nothing to offer the profession… that is EXACTLY how I feel. I am so very discouraged. I look back and wonder how I clerked fro 3 years and ran a legal non-profit if I’m such a legal idiot–which is how failing the Tn Bar 3 times has made me feel.

        I would LOVE to know if you passed. I certainly pray you did. Every woman on here who passes does it not only for themselves, but for all the other women struggling with this issue.

        • Aubergine: You are so right that it is very discouraging to fail this exam. But don’t let it get you down! If you graduated from law school you are qualified to pass the test. It is all about learning to beat the test!

    • Aubergine says:

      I, too, have been out 10 yrs., graduated in 2002. Had a baby in law school, and went through a divorce in law school. 4 yrs out of law school my fiance died suddenly and I moved home to Tn. Have struggled as a single mom all these yrs. Failed the Tn Bar 3 times, I think mostly because how do you study, work 40+ hrs, and be a single parent. My son is now 12, and am looking at trying again in the next few years, but I’m terrified! I haven’t had the money in the past for an expensive prep course, so just did MicroMash–obviously that didn’t work. I’d LOVE to have a private tutor, but don’t hold out a lot of hope of finding someone close by who does this type of work and gives any kind of guarantee. Suggestions?

      • Hi Aubergine: I know how frustrating it can be to try to come back to studying after years away from it (and while working and being a single mother). The TN bar exam has gone through some grading changes recently (as of 2012) which may be a benefit to you the next time you take the exam. The state has also adopted the Multistate Performance Test which is a practical exercise and doesn’t require that you learn any law! There are some great books out there on the MPT such as Perform Your Best on the Performance Test. If you want to talk about your scores in detail, I would be happy to talk to you although I am not an expert on the TN bar exam. However I am happy to help you find a tutor in TN or research some less expensive prep options. You can also check out Bar Exam Toolbox which is full of bar exam prep tips and different reviews of tools you might find helpful. Hang in there and feel free to email me with any questions.

        • Aubergine says:

          WOW! I would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to talk with you! I am free most days between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. EST. And in the evenings after 8:30 p.m. I am happy to call you, if you’d prefer; just send me your number and when you’d like me to call you.

          Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, in advance! Through all of this, you are the FIRST person who has even remotely made any offer of help or support–thank you! I hope to hear from you soon!

          • Hi there. Even I failed TN bar 3 times. Last time in July 2009. Since then trying hard to find an attorney who can give me a statement that they have reviewed my course work. But I can find no one who is ready to help. I am a GA resident and have friends who appeared with me for the TN bar and passed. But none of them are ready to give the statement which is a prerequisite to appear for the 4th time. Also, with the changes am not sure if I have to start fresh with ncbe application or just fill the TN supplement form which is to be introduced for the 2014 exam. Please help me somebody!

          • Hi Priti:

            Alison forwarded me your note (I wrote the original post). I am so sorry that you are having a hard time finding someone in TN to sponsor you – that is really frustrating. I do know another person who has been struggling in TN who lives there and may know some attorneys they can introduce you to. Please let me know if you would like me to connect you.

            I would recommend contacting the TN bar directly about the new application requirements. Have you called the bar? From this post it seems like you may need to do another application if you are planning to sit after July 2013: http://www.state.tn.us/lawexaminers/.

            This rule seems to be a very frustrating process for many folks. I wish there was more advice I could give.

            Have you been practicing law long enough (or licensed somewhere else) where you could get reciprocity in TN? http://barreciprocity.com/tennessee-bar-reciprocity/

            Good luck!

    • As a three-time CBX taker, who passed on the third try, my advice is to pick two of the parts of the bar exam that you are strongest at. The MBEs, PTs or essays. Really prepare for those two areas to rack up maximum points and then drag yourself across the finish line with the third area. The strongest areas for me were the MBEs and PTs. The essays were my weakest part because I am not a good memorizer and the essays require so much memorization. So I practiced 2400 MBEs and if I missed on or had to guess, I made a flash card for that question to help me remember the point of law. I was really weak on ConLaw so I read the Conviser Mini-Review from BarBri ConLaw outline. My ConLaw scores went up dramatically. For the PTs, it is all about learning a method to organize the information as quickly as possible so that you can start writing your answer in about 1.5 hours. You want to have at least 1.5 hours to write your PT answer. I used a PT writing workshop given by John Holtz. He was recommended by classmates who used him and passed. If I had used him the first time, I would have passed the first time. I get no remuneration from Mr. Holtz, I just believe in his method. For the essays, I went through the BarBri Essay Writing Workbook and issue-spotted all of the questions one at a time. After issue-spotting a question, I would look at BarBri’s sample outline to see what issues I missed. I then looked at BarBri’s sample answer and wrote it out, basically transcribed it so that it would go into my brain. That way when I saw a similar issue on a bar exam essay question, it jogged my memory and I could write about that issue.

      I had a classmate who was terrible at MBEs (multiple choice of any kind) so she focused on the written parts of the test, i.e., essays and PTs, because she was a great writer. She did not even practice any MBEs. She passed on the first attempt. So play to your strengths on two sections of the exam and drag yourself across the finish line with the third section.

      Rack up points with your two strongest areas and then do your best on the third area. That worked for me.
      Hope this helps.

      • I think this is potentially a good strategy. I was great at the MBE and PTs, but my essays were pretty awful, substantively. I couldn’t memorize all the law, and just didn’t really want to. But, on the plus side, they looked good and were easy to read, even when I didn’t know what I was talking about!

  4. Janet:

    Thank you for sharing your story! Sounds like you are doing your best to set yourself up for success. So many students don’t take the steps (that you describe above) to give themselves the best opportunity to pass. Thank you for taking part in this discussion. You are right – figuring out the right help for you is the key. I would love to learn more about your journey on YouTube. Could you email me some of your videos? Many students just love knowing that they are not alone!

    Happy studying and good luck in July!

  5. Hi Lee, Thanks for the comment. Of course right now I’m feeling very far behind in my bar studies, but I’m happy to share the link with you: http://www.youtube.com/user/RoseSolutions
    It should take you to all the videos I’ve made thus far. Enjoy!

  6. Hi Everyone! Well unfortunately I had to withdraw from taking the July 2012 bar…I was not prepared and had some very unexpected personal/family issues to deal with along with working a 2nd shift job (and finishing up a 1st shift job simultaneously) that drained me even on the best days. I did not want to set myself up to fail AGAIN, so I sucked up the $$ loss and I’m determined to succeed in February 2013. I am now working part time so I feel much better about being able to put the time and energy in. I am so inspired and grateful to hear all of your stories and struggles that have been similar to mine…..it helps to know I’m not alone on this long journey. Thank you for your comments!!! Best of luck to everyone!!

    • That sounds like a smart decision! Far better to focus and pass when the time is right, rather than stressing out when the time is wrong. Best of luck!

  7. Aubergine,

    Your story sounds very familiar. I earned my J.D. over ten years ago and have yet to pass the TN bar exam. I am gearing up take it again. Maybe we can offer support to each other. Before reading your post, I thought micromash was the way to go. Email me if you’reinterested in sharing.

    • K Spears,

      I’m not taking the same bar, but it sounds like we are in similar situations. I’d like to keep In touch for support….Let me know :)

  8. Every post I have read about failing the bar involves someone who already has a decent job, and for some reason or another failed the bar and are now worried about what to do.

    Try going to a T4 after graduating with honors from your undergrad institution, no job prospects, maxed out credit cards, 150K in law school debt, and then failing the bar by 3 points.

    Now that’s a real blog.

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