Well, you did it. You put in hundreds of hours of studying for the most important test of your life, you submitted your application to become a licensed attorney in the state, and you lined up your first job as an associate.
You wait anxiously for your state bar to announce you passed. As you frantically scroll through the names, you look and look but don’t see yours. You look again but there is no change.
It suddenly hits you: you failed.
While this isn’t the outcome you hoped for, it is your reality.
You can take a moment and sit down and cry and lament the last several months of your life. But then, it’s time to get back to work and figure out strategies that can give you a different outcome the second time around.
A Few Kind Reminders
The bar exam is a notoriously difficult test that is difficult to pass the first time around. Just exactly how hard is the bar exam? Well, to throw a number at it, the State Bar of California announced that in 2018, only 40.7% of test takers passed the test. Additionally, only 55% of first-time takers passed the test. So don’t be too hard on yourself; it’s not an easy test! If it were, super smart and successful people like Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt wouldn’t have failed the bar exam.
You’re far from alone. Not passing the bar exam the first time does not mean that you will be a bad lawyer. You just need to figure out some different strategies to help you with the test the second time around.
Thoroughly Review Your Exam Report
Carefully analyze your test results so that you can find out where you went wrong. If this information isn’t clear from what you receive in your state, there are companies that will analyze your score report and give you extensive data on your results. Remember, this information is important to pinpoint so that you know what to focus on the second time around.
Take Control of Your Preparation
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply sit back and rely on the study schedule provided by the commercial program you purchased. Furthermore, this schedule doesn’t factor in your individual needs, strengths and weaknesses. Many people who fail the bar exam took a commercial prep course, so you can’t just rely on this program to get you through.
Additionally, you’ll probably have less time to study for the next bar exam than you did the first time around. There’s likely less time between the results date and the next passage date than there probably was between the time you started studying and the last test date.
Create a study plan that is customized for you and that can deliver results in a shorter time period.
Learn How To Pass The Bar By Testing Yourself
After getting back your not-too-friendly test results, the last thing you probably want to do is test yourself. However, it’s important to know where you stand on certain subjects so that you can tailor your prep.
See how many rules you can remember from each subject without referencing any study books or flashcards. You won’t have these materials on test day, so It’s important to know where you stand without these aids. As you study, test yourself often without any of these additional assistive devices so that you have a better understanding of how much information you are retaining in a particular subject.
Do Something Different
While you might be tempted to retake the entirety of your bar course, this probably is not the most efficient use of your time and may not yield the desired result. If you’re tempted to go this route, remember that it didn’t work the first time. Studying the same way the second time around may simply make you a third exam test taker. Consider adopting a new strategy to pass the bar this time around that really works for you.
Don’t Watch the Videos!
If you do one thing differently, don’t watch the commercial bar prep videos again. They’re boring and they’re unlikely to stick. Instead, focus your attention on content that is targeted to increase your score. Review the rules. Create outlines. Study questions. Do anything besides watch those videos!
Create a Defined Plan for Answering Questions and Essays
Create a step-by-step process to attack questions. This will help you feel more in control of the outcome and will also increase your efficiency so that you are more likely to have time to answer all of the questions. Additionally, this will also help you reduce your test anxiety, which can have a direct impact on your test performance.
Study Real MBE Questions
The bar exam has been around for more than 100 years in most states, so there’s no reason to use “pretend” questions. Get your hands on the real questions and study with them!
First, the LSAC sometimes recycles questions. Hence, by simply remembering the question and answer, you can get a freebie. Second, studying with real questions will get you better acquainted with them so that you can recognize patterns and better attack them.
Just like you studied real LSAT questions before taking the LSAT, you need to study real MBE questions. And they’re not even difficult to get a hold of, so what’s your excuse?
Take a Repeater Bar Exam Prep Course
Repeater courses are designed specifically for people retaking the test. They get to the point right away and don’t waste your time with the same fluff that traditional courses do. Consider adding this option to your arsenal.
Don’t Forget Your Essays
While you could probably use some improvement in the MBE section of the test, don’t forget about the importance of your essays. This can account for a significant portion of your overall test score.
In states that administer the Uniform Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test make up half of your overall grade.
Therefore, you can’t ignore this portion of the test just because essays take longer to prepare when you are studying.
There are effective strategies to help you with the essay portion of the test. For example, you can identify the issues, outline an answer to an essay question, and compare your outline with the rubric to see how many issues you correctly identified. Also, complete essay questions on a regular basis under timed conditions so that it will become second nature to do this work.
Consider using a program like Baressays (California specific) for additional help. This will give you a template to attack essays; you can see real bar exam essay questions and actual law students’ responses. You can check out the grade the test taker received and why.
Furthermore, you can review successful answers and what test takers did right. Practice your essays by applying the templates, and remember to focus first on the subjects that are more likely to be tested.
Keep a Notebook of Rule Statements
As you go through practice questions and answers, write down the rule statement that applies. After your study session, read back through the rules. Every few days, read over all of the rules that you‘ve written down. You’ll notice that some of them repeat, but reading this information over and over again can help lock it in.
Track Your Progress
Many commercial bar prep companies will help track your progress. However, you might want to track your own progress, especially if you’re doing different types of prep with various tools and programs. Keep an excel sheet or other document in which you record critical data, such as:
- How many MBE questions you answered for the day
- How many essay questions you answered for the day
- Your grades on these subjects
- How much time you spent studying
- Your practice test scores
You might find that simply by requiring yourself to keep track of this information that you will hold yourself accountable for it. After all, it’s hard to deny when you’ve been slacking when it’s in black and white!
Learn Your Outlines
Read over your outlines as part of your bar prep every day. Then, review them periodically throughout your studies. Don’t make the mistake of reading them once and then putting them away. They’re a great resource, so use them!
State bars won’t tell you that a big portion of doing well on the test is simply to memorize rules. However, it is! Here are some effective strategies that you can use to efficiently learn and memorize your outlines:
- Focus on important subjects – You’re going to have to focus on certain subjects because you can’t possibly learn everything. Hence, spend more time learning your MBE subjects, such as negligence, rules of evidence, contract formation and hearsay exceptions. Also, hone in on the state subjects that tend to be tested at higher rates than others.
- Make it interactive – Many test takers read through their outlines over and over again. However, they might not notice whether they’re spacing out or actually retaining the information. Make the process interactive by color coding your outline, drawing diagrams, and testing yourself on them.
Learn one section at a time – Don’t try to tackle the entire outline in one sitting. Instead, learn one section completely before moving onto the next. Then, review the old and new sections together before moving onto the third.
Learn the Law
Okay, we know that your goal is just to learn how to pass this f$%^ing test! However, remember that this test is designed to see that a person has learned enough in law school to actually practice law and become an attorney.
This step goes hand-in-hand with your outlines, which are basically a summary of the law. Use your outlines as you go through some test prep questions and apply them to multiple-choice and essay questions. You must first know the law in order to apply it correctly.
Consider Private Tutoring
While this might be one of the more expensive options, it is also one of the most effective. A private tutor can customize your study for the areas where you need the most improvement. Additionally, a private tutor can personally guide you through the process. Furthermore, having another person to be accountable to may make you stay on track and hold your feet to the fire.
Your tutor can give you valuable feedback on your MBE, MPT and essays. While you might think it’s too expensive to hire a tutor, really think about the financial consequences of failing the bar exam again. Will your dream job vaporize? Will you have to take more time off work to continue studying? Can you really afford to live off of non-attorney fees for another round of test taking and waiting for test results?
It will probably cost you a lot more to keep taking the test without individual guidance than hiring a private tutor for a few months. Do what you have to in order to afford it. Beg, borrow, or steal if you have to. Okay, maybe not steal; you’ll still have to pass the ethics portion of the test before you can become licensed, but you know what I mean!
Stack The Deck in Your Favor
Crush is committed to helping you learn how to pass the bar exam, no matter how many times you’ve already taken the test. Passing the Bar the second time is more about studying smart and knowing how. Check out our reviews on some of the leading bar prep courses and read our blog for new study ideas.
And good luck to you! You’ve got this.
Valerie Keene is an experienced lawyer and legal writer. Valerie’s litigation successes have included wins for cases involving contract disputes, real property disputes, and consumer issues. She has also assisted countless families with estate planning, guardianship issues, divorce and other family law matters. She provides clients with solid legal advice and representation.