Ask The Professor: What Should You Do If You Failed The Bar Exam?

Your phone suddenly pings as an email arrives from the Board of Law Examiners. The bar exam results are here. You nervously open the email and quickly scan through until you see, “We regret to inform you …” Why bother reading any further, you already know what it says. A rush of emotions pour over you. Shock. Anguish. Embarrassment. Anger. Then questions start popping up.

What am I going to tell my parents? Why didn’t I study harder? What is wrong with me? What do I do now?

Over the coming days, people will tell you how Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama failed the bar exam before passing, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo failed several times, but none of this information will make you feel better. You’ll get words of encouragement from friends and family, but that will only make things worse. What you really need is a plan…

Marino Bar Review is known for helping students who failed the bar exam pass on their next try. Every retaker student who has taken our course shared the same problem: They all believed that if they just studied a little harder they would pass the next go around.

However, the fact is that students very rarely fail the bar exam because they didn’t know enough law. They fail because they didn’t know how to score points with what they do know. The bar exam is a test of analytical skills, not an exam of who can regurgitate the most law.

So how do you learn these test taking skills? If you took a bar review course the first time, it’s possible you qualify for a free or discounted “do over” course. Even students who are not eligible for this often just use their old bar course notes and materials. However, as Albert Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” You took a traditional bar review course and it did not work for you. This time you need to step outside the box a bit to give yourself a better chance of passing.

So, here is our advice:

1)  You have the basics, now learn how to score pointsIn most of bar review, you accumulate information. As the formal course comes to an end it is up to you to build exam performance through practice and memory. Do not go back to accumulating information again. Don’t just take the do over course or switch to another full bar course. This time, seek out a bar course specifically for the retaker or use tutors and supplemental training programs to help with the exam performance part of your preparation. This, and not your substantive knowledge, was most likely what cost you the most points on your last try.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Tutoring is sometimes seen as a remedial measure for those who aren’t smart enough to understand basic concepts. But the reality is that many of the students at the top of the class work with tutors. That’s why they are at the top of the class. A tutor is so much more than just someone who goes over your homework. A tutor can help you manage your time, diagnose your problems, and help you break down the most difficult concepts in your problem subjects.

3) When it comes to doing MBE questions, quality not quantity is keyRemember, the bar examiners wrote each question with a specific answer in mind. To find that answer, you need a method. Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice does. First, learn a method to do MBE questions. Practice mastering the method doing a limited amount of questions a day; usually 25 are enough. A few weeks into your studies and once you have a method down, increase the number of questions you do daily to 50.  Then, in the last few weeks before the exam, tackle 50 questions a day, doing questions from mixed subject areas. Quality of practice is key. And by using this approach you will still do a sufficient quantity of questions to improve your score.

4) The written section is worth at least half of your grade. If you are taking a bar exam in a state that offers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) essays and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) section make up 50% of your grade. With both, you need a method to practice. In the beginning, instead of completing full essays, outline the answers and focus on getting the method down. During the last few weeks however you must write essays and MPTs to completion. The written section is not just about issue spotting.  It also tests how you resolve the problem at issue and assesses your analytical skills.

5) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on your strengths and make sure you maximize your score on your strong subjects. The Rule against Perpetuities is rarely tested. So don’t go nuts trying to figure it out. On the other hand, two thirds of the Torts MBE questions will be on negligence — so make sure you master the rules of negligence! Focus on the major topics to maximize your points. If you cannot nail down every single nuance of subtopics that are not tested that much, that’s fine — just move on from them.

6) Don’t panic. Most of all, if you did fail the bar exam, don’t panic! While this is likely the first time in your life that you failed at something, it’s just a small speed bump on the way to something much bigger. So, take a deep breath (and a shot of whiskey) and come up with a plan.

Feel free to send your score report if you need any help understanding exactly what went wrong and how to fix it. Or you can just email your score report to [email protected] to receive an entirely free evaluation.

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