So, you didn’t pass the bar exam. Oof. While it might feel crushing in the moment, it’s absolutely not the end of the world and definitely not the end of the road for your legal career. Once you’ve taken the time to feel all the feelings (frustration, anger, sadness – whatever it is for you), it’s time to pick yourself back up.
Most people will decide that it’s worth it to try again. Retaking the bar is different from the first time, though. That means that if you’re embarking on the bar once again, there are some things you’re going to want to do differently. Here are my top tips for second-time bar takers:
Get Honest With Yourself
Before you jump right back into taking a bar course, watching old videos, or studying your outlines, assess your first experience. Get honest with yourself about the entire process. The idea is to figure out what went well and what can be improved on.
A key way to do this is to review your bar exam score report. While it depends on your state in terms of exactly what information you’ll be given, some will provide a detailed breakdown of your score on each essay and performance test, as well as your performance on each topic area on the MBE. This is extremely helpful information in diagnosing not only what areas you need improvement on but also which topics you should focus your time on.
In addition to the exam itself, you’ll want to know what went wrong (and right) in your study habits. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started on figuring this out include:
- How much time did I dedicate to studying?
- Did I use my time efficiently?
- Did I have the environment I needed to study productively?
- Do I need to make more time for studying?
- Practice exams:
- Did I take enough practice exams?
- Did I practice for all of the sections (the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE))?
- Did I time myself when taking practice exams?
- Did I review my results and study where I went wrong?
- Which topics do I feel most confident in? Least confident in?
- Was this reflected in my score?
- What did my score tell me about the topics I need the most work on?
Take all of this information together to come up with your new approach. Which leads me to the next tip….
Change What Needs To Change
Studying the exact same way might lead to the exact same results. But that won’t happen to you if you address what needs to change. Based on your brainstorming session above, decide what you are going to change.
Not everything needs to change. If you feel confident in your study habits, stick with them. But if anything feels amiss, try something new. Maybe you need to change up where you study, or get honest with yourself and add more study hours to your schedule.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. If you need more time to study, ask your partner to pick up your household duties for a month. Make sure your family and friends know you’re dedicated to passing the bar and tell them how they can help you do just that.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You no doubt listened to hours and hours of lectures and prepared outline after outline when you first studied for the bar. Don’t repeat that same process again this time around. While there is a time and place for watching videos, especially for subjects you need some more help with, nothing replaces practice.
Take as many practice tests as you possibly can. This should be your primary focus. Time yourself and try to recreate the bar environment at home as best as possible. By taking essay after essay, MBE question after MBE question, you’ll build on the knowledge you already have from prior study sessions and learn how to better take the test efficiently and successfully.
Get In The Right Headspace
It can’t be said enough, but you probably need to keep hearing it – failing the bar exam is nothing to be ashamed about! That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt or that you might feel embarrassed going into work the day after results come out. But it does mean you should still hold your head up high as you tackle round two.
A negative or anxious headspace can seriously impact your focus and productivity. And that’s not where you want to be when you’re embarking on the bar for a second time. In the midst of figuring out what went wrong, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Clear your mind and start fresh. Maybe that means taking some time away, getting a massage, or clearing out your office/study room.
Whatever it is, do something to signal to yourself that this is a fresh start. That will help you leave behind any doubts you have, and get into the right mindset to conquer the exam.
You got this!
Nobody wants to take the bar exam more than once, but the reality is that many people will. If you find yourself in this group, rest assured you’re in good company and you’ll get through it. By combining new study habits with lots of practice tests and a good mindset, you’ll set yourself up for the best chance of success.