5 Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam

Why did you fail the bar? The reasons may be on this list

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According to Law.com, nearly one-quarter of all those who took the bar exam—24.9 percent to be exact—failed the test in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available. But Karen Sloan, writing on the legal information website, notes that as many as 36 percent failed the exam in Mississippi, making it the state with the largest failure rate, and nearly 60 percent did not pass in Puerto Rico. There are five key reasons why so many test takers fail to pass the bar exam each year. Learning to avoid these pitfalls may help you pass this all-important test.

They Tried to Learn Every Detail of the Law

The bar exam requires minimum competency knowledge of the law. However, many test takers are overwhelmed at the amount of material they need to study. So they try to study as they did in law school, learning every nuance and every detail.

This usually results in hours of listening to audio lectures and making flash cards or outlines but 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 of the law, not a lot about a little. If you concentrate on the minutiae, you won’t know the heavily tested areas of the law on the exam and that may put you at risk of failing.

They Failed to Practice and Seek Feedback

Many students find they don’t have time to practice. This is a problem because practice is particularly important when studying for the bar exam. For example, California requires applicants to take a performance test as part of the bar exam, as do many other states. The State Bar of California notes that the performance test is designed to evaluate test takers':

"...ability to handle a select number of legal authorities in the context of a factual problem involving a client."

Yet students often scrimp on practicing for this difficult part of the exam, even though past performance tests are available for free online. Essays are also an integral part of bar exams in most states. So, it's important to practice this part of the test, and it's simple (and free) to access sample exam questions. The New York State Board of Law Examiners, for example, offers essay questions with sample candidate answers for free download from bar exams as recent as February 2018. If you are a bar exam candidate, it behooves you to access such free questions, familiarize yourself with the material, and practice writing essays or grappling with performance test scenarios.

Once you practice, compare your answers to the sample answers, rewrite sections if necessary, and self-evaluate your work. Also, if your bar exam review program offers you feedback, turn in all possible assignments and be sure to get as much feedback as possible. You can even hire a bar exam tutor to help you with this.

They Ignored the "MBE"

Most bar tests include a Multistate Bar Examination, a standardized bar test created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which is administered to applicants taking the bar in nearly all states nationwide. Yet, as with sample performance tests and sample essay questions, it's easy to obtain actual—and, again, free—MBE questions from past bar exams, says JD Advising, a bar exam tutoring and preparation firm. Ashley Heidemann writing on the JD Advising website says that it's important to practice with real MBE questions because they are "written in a very specific style."

Though her firm does charge a fee for MBE questions, it also offers free tips on how to pass the MBE. The National Conference of Bar Examiners also offers free MBE questions from previous tests. Indeed, the nonprofit NCBE is a great resource for preparing for all aspects of the bar, regardless of the state where you plan to take the test. The group even offers a "Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements" for $15 as of 2018. It's not free, but considering the importance of passing the bar, it would likely be well worth the money for any bar exam candidate—especially since the NCBE developed and distributes the MBE.

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, bleary-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 a major element of bar exam success, says Bar Exam Toolbox.

They Engaged in Self-Sabotaging Behavior

This kind of behavior can come in many different forms: You might agree to volunteer for a time-consuming summer program, and as a result, lack adequate time to study. You might 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.

Bar Exam Toolbox offers a host of tips for mentally preparing for the exam, including how to streamline your bar exam prep, choose a bar exam preparation course (if you decide to take that route), or assess whether you need help studying for the exam if you are taking it for the first time.

Remember, you want to take this exam only once: Do everything you can to focus and stay on track with your bar exam preparation.

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Burgess, Lee. "5 Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/reasons-people-fail-the-bar-exam-2154767. Burgess, Lee. (2023, April 5). 5 Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-people-fail-the-bar-exam-2154767 Burgess, Lee. "5 Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-people-fail-the-bar-exam-2154767 (accessed June 7, 2023).