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Bar Admissions & Exam

4 Things You Should Do If You Failed the Bar Exam

Dayna Smith


  • Failing the bar exam is emotionally challenging, but it doesn't define your future as an attorney. Allow time to process emotions, seek professional help if needed, and remember it's just an exam.
  • Develop a new study plan addressing identified areas for improvement, including timed practice and comprehensive subject coverage. Evaluate study resources and consider supplementary materials. Failing the bar doesn't determine future success; learn from setbacks for a successful career.
4 Things You Should Do If You Failed the Bar Exam
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Every year, tens of thousands of people across the United States take the bar exam. And every year, thousands of examinees across the country fail the bar exam despite their hard work and dedication. If you are among those who were not successful, you are not alone. The following tips can help you get ready for your next attempt.

1. Allow Yourself to Process Your Emotions

Finding out that you did not pass the bar exam is emotional—you may feel disappointed, aggravated, embarrassed, or a million other emotions. Before moving on to the next steps, you should allow yourself to process and work through those emotions. Take the time you need to do so and seek professional help if needed.

While nothing can eliminate those emotions, remember that the bar exam is just an exam. While it is a requirement for licensure, a failed bar exam attempt does not impact your ability to be an excellent attorney in the future. It does not define you. You’ve been delayed a few months in reaching your goals, but you have another chance to take the exam.

2. Get a Detailed Score Report, If Possible

Many jurisdictions release detailed score reports to examinees who were not successful on the bar exam. These reports will likely include at least a breakdown of your multiple-choice and written component scores, but they may also include your score on each essay and a breakdown by multiple-choice subject. If you did not automatically receive a detailed report, do not be afraid to reach out to your board of bar examiners; in some jurisdictions, you must reach out to the board of bar examiners for your report.

From your score report, you will get a lot of information that can help you understand your areas of improvement. Subject to how much information is in your score report, you may be able to figure out:

  • Whether you are stronger on the written or multiple-choice portion of the exam
  • Your weaker subjects
  • Your stronger subjects
  • Whether timing or exam fatigue was a problem

 Dissecting your score report, either alone or with help, can greatly inform your future studying. By having an exam under your belt, you have hands-on experience that you can now use to your advantage.

3. Contact Your Law School

Many law schools have academic success or bar success teams that want to support you. Setting up a meeting with someone from your law school with the appropriate expertise can help you break down what went well and what went poorly during your attempt, and they can subsequently help you develop a plan going forward.

Before going into this meeting, you should be prepared to discuss topics like:

  • How did you prepare for your last attempt?
  • How much time did you spend studying?
  • Were there other distractions or stressors in your life while you were studying?
  • Did you struggle with timing during the exam?
  • Was test anxiety a factor?
  • Is score transfer an option?

Having open, honest conversations with an academic support professional from your school can help set you up for success in a future attempt. You can send your detailed score report ahead of time to facilitate that discussion. Then, you can use what you learn from that discussion to create your new study plan.

4. Create a New Study Plan

Once you have a framework for what you can improve, it’s time to examine how you should update your study plan from your previous attempt. For example, if you identified that you struggled with timing, add additional timed practice sets. Or, if you know that you significantly underperformed in one subject, you may brainstorm ways to give that subject additional attention for understanding and memorizing that material.

Practice Every Subject

Whatever those changes are, it is important not to neglect the larger picture. You are tasked with memorizing a lot of law, and you probably forgot a large percentage of it after your last bar exam because you have not been actively using it. So, when you’re developing your plan, make sure that it covers all subject areas you will be tested on—even the one you aced on your first attempt! You should dedicate time to understanding, memorizing, and practicing every subject. You may find during studying that some material comes back easier than others, but do not assume that you do not need to devote time to every topic.

Consider Your Study Resources

Finally, you should consider the resources you used to study the first time and whether they were sufficient. Depending on your circumstances, you may get to retake the commercial course you used the first time, so consider whether that course worked for you. You should explore supplementary material, such as additional practice questions, if you think the main course did not have enough content. Additionally, you may consider non-bar-related resources. For instance, if exam anxiety is a factor, perhaps speaking with a mental health professional can provide strategies to quell that anxiety.

Failing the Bar Does Not Define You

The bar exam does not define who you are as a person or future attorney. There are many reasons why smart people fail the bar exam, and plenty of people have failed the bar exam and gone on to have extremely successful careers. With the proper approach, you can learn from this setback and go on to have your dream career.