What can I do differently when retaking the bar exam?


Mike Sims, BARBRI President

When students receive the incredibly disappointing news that they were unsuccessful, many ask what they can do differently when retaking the bar exam.

My advice is to first, take a moment. Let yourself process and reset. The bar exam is very hard. Do not allow yourself to be mentally pulled into a place of fear. You now have a foundation that you didn’t have before. You also have a greater understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. You can do this.

Here are three fundamental truths that can reduce bar exam stress and, more importantly, increase the likelihood of passing the bar exam.

Truth #1: Study broad, not deep when taking or retaking the bar exam

In law school, students who know the most about a subject are the students who get the highest grades on final exams. Deep, thorough understanding of the subject is the goal of every top law student. Not so on the bar exam.

Whether taking the bar exam for the first time or retaking the bar exam, you don’t have to be great in any one area to pass. You need to know just enough, in enough areas, to land on the passing side of the bar exam curve. A good bar exam study strategy is to build a base of knowledge that is wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep. And remember, just because something CAN be tested on the exam doesn’t mean it’s likely to actually be tested on the exam.

Truth #2: Scoring high on the MBE is not about avoiding tricks and traps

We’ve helped students pass the MBE since it was first administered in 1972 and, once upon a time, the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) had a well-deserved reputation as a tricky test. There were questions that required leaps of logic through double conditional hoops. Today, the MBE is much fairer and more straightforward.

We suggest that you treat each MBE question like an essay question – albeit a short one with the answers already provided – and use a systematic approach to solve the problem. Read about BARBRI’s systematic approach to MBE problem solving and additional bar exam study tips.

Truth #3: Measure what matters when practicing MBE questions

Everyone knows that the bar exam is pass/fail. Yet few truly consider the implications that has on their approach to preparing for the exam.

Most people are pre-conditioned to define success in terms of grades and percentage correct  – “I got a 9 out of 10 or a 90 percent on a test.” Achieving an “A” is irrelevant on the bar exam. Thinking that way can actually be a distraction and hindrance to an effective bar exam study strategy. Again, the key to passing is doing well enough, in enough areas – broad, general knowledge.

How do you know if you’re doing well enough in enough areas while you’re studying? The key is to measure and watch how many you are getting correct compared to everyone else preparing to take the same exam – or your percentile rank. In other words, you want to measure where you are on the score distribution or curve. Learn more about the bar exam curve here.

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