Five Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam

Wondering why you failed the bar? The reason may be on this list.

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One question that has come up a bit recently is why people fail the bar exam. I think different people fail for different reasons, but generally speaking here are five common reasons folks are unsuccessful.

1. They spent too much time trying to learn every detail of substantive law.

The bar exam requires minimum competency knowledge of the law. However, even with that low standard, many folks are overwhelmed at the amount of material they need to study (I mean, who wouldn’t be?). So they try to study as they did in law school, learning every nuance and every detail. This usually amounts to hours upon hours of listening to audio lectures, hours upon hours of making flash cards or outlines, and very little time actually reviewing the heavily tested areas of the law. Getting buried in the details can actually hurt your chances of passing the exam. You are required to know a little about a lot, not a lot about a little. If you get too buried in the details, it is likely you won’t know the heavily tested law on the exam and that will put you at risk of failing. Here are tips on the best way to study for the exam. 

2. They did not practice and get feedback.

Typically, because of reason one (above), many studiers find they don’t have time to practice. This is a problem because practice is a fantastic form of active learning. And we all need practice to perform our best. Sometimes, students tell me before the exam that they’ve written only one or two essays or performance tests. This is terrible! Practice is how you rehearse how to approach a fact pattern on exam day. You never want to ignore this incredibly important part of your exam prep! And once you do the practice, then you need to compare your answers to the sample answers, re-write sections if necessary, and self-evaluate your work. Also, if your bar exam review program offers you feedback, you must turn in all possible assignments and be sure to get as much feedback as possible (or you can hire a bar exam tutor to help you with this). Bottom line— set aside plenty of time for practice.

3. They ignored a portion of the test.

I have heard students say things like “I am really good at MBEs so I don’t need to study them that much.” Or they will say something like “The performance test is easy, so I don’t need to practice it at all.” I warn you, this is not wise!

Sure, you want to focus on the areas that are most troublesome for you, but don’t ignore entire portions of the exam. Each part adds to your overall score—resulting in passing or failing.

4. They did not take care of themselves.

Students who take terrible care of themselves—thus, putting themselves at risk of sickness, added anxiety, burnout, and inability to focus—often have difficulty passing the exam. Sure, this isn’t a time to start a new diet and/or workout regimen, but you won’t do well on exam day if you are tired, blurry-eyed, stressed out, and hungry because you haven’t been taking good care of yourself or didn’t eat properly. The condition of your physical body is an element of bar exam success. Here are other tips on how to stay healthy while preparing for the exam. 

5. They practiced self-sabotaging behavior.

This one is a tough one because it is different for different people. But over and over again, I see students take part in self-sabotaging behavior. This can come in many different forms. You could agree to volunteer for something time- consuming over the summer and as a result lack adequate time to study. You could spend too much time online or socializing with friends instead of spending quality hours studying. You could pick fights with your significant other leaving you too emotionally drained to study. And the lists go on …. If you are worried that you might be partaking in self-sabotaging behavior, it is important, I think, to set aside some time to evaluate what you are doing. Bringing yourself down about the exam is another self-sabotaging behavior; you have to stay positive and focus on a plan. Here are more tips on how to mentally prepare for the exam. 

Remember—you want to take this exam only once! So do everything you can to focus and to stay on track with your bar exam prep. 

Updated on November 19, 2015 by Lee Burgess.