What’s next after failing the bar exam?

Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and reflect upon your previous bar prep efforts.

As you move forward after failing the bar exam, first thing’s first. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to process. You are not alone. And like those before you, your resilience will help you come back better and stronger. 

Here are a few tips to help refocus and ensure the next time you take the bar exam will be your last. 

Don’t underestimate the foundation you’ve created 

You’re not starting from ground zero. You’ve already done a tremendous amount of work and that knowledge did not disappear. Now you have a foundation from which you can build. 

After failing the bar exam, do an honest assessment 

Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and reflect upon your previous bar prep efforts. Here are some important questions to ask yourself that will help you make an honest assessment of your last attempt:

  • How much of your prep course did you complete? 
  • Did you focus more heavily on one area of the exam vs another? On certain subjects?
  • Did you get stuck in a “perfectionist” mindset and not allow yourself to move on? 
  • Were you present and actively taking notes during lectures? 
  • Did you allow yourself to truly practice and assess, or were you a little too worried that you didn’t know enough to get started? 
  • Did you actively write out and self-analyze practice essays against model answers?
  • Did you submit essays for grading and feedback? 

Everyone’s situation is a little different. While it might be difficult, doing an honest personal assessment will help you take a solid step forward.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

If your state releases exam information that can help you understand how you did on each component of the exam, particularly if it’s broken down by subject, make sure to get that information and use it as your starting point. Did you do well on the MBE but were not as strong on written portions, or vice versa? Were you rock solid in Constitutional Law but scored low in Real Property? That’s all valuable information you can use to make immediate adjustments.

If it’s possible, look at your percentile rank, or how you did versus others who took your exam, by subject. First, look at your state’s overall exam pass rate and subtract from 100. For example, if your state has a pass rate of 65%, subtract 65 from 100. This means that 35% of the people who took your exam did not pass.

In this scenario, look at the subjects in which you were above the 35th percentile and those in which you were below. Any that are below the 35th percentile are your areas of opportunity as you go into your next round of studying. 

Learn more about the bar exam curve and percentile rank.

Move forward

After you have what you need from this backward reflection, allow yourself to move forward. Don’t let fear be your guide. You can overcome this moment and be a better attorney for it. Move forward as early as possible, and adopt steady learning every day, or at least regularly every week. Studying regularly and consistently over time is best for learning and retention. 

Use the three “A”s to guide you: Acquire, Apply, Assess.

Acquire new knowledge from your notes by actively listening to lectures. Really think about what’s being said. You will be astounded by how much more you get out of the materials now. 

Apply and assess regularly. When you work practice questions, make sure to carefully review the explanatory answers for each answer choice. Grapple with and learn from each question. Understand why you got that specific question right or wrong. Put pen to paper and write practice essays and performance tests. Compare your answer to the model answers and study the differences. Actively monitor your percentile rank by subject to understand where you are doing well enough and the areas that need more of your focus and attention. 

Watch this webinar replay, “Retaking the bar exam”

To get more detail on these as well as other study tips as you prepare for your next exam, check out this webinar replay video.


It will be different this time. You can pass the bar. We’re here to help.

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