Ten Reasons People Fail the Bar Exam

If any of these resonate, do something now to get on track; make the necessary necessary so you do not fail the next bar exam.  

  1. You are not worried enough. You got by in law school.  You did not come to class prepared and you knew it, but you got lucky.  You passed all your classes, so you think you will get by now.  You say to yourself, “The Bar can’t be that tough.  I know tons of stupid people who passed.” OK, but it is that tough. It is a whole different ball game, physically and mentally, from law school finals. You need a strategy to sustain two full days of high gear.
  2. You are too worried. You are filled with so much anxiety that you cannot relax enough to learn the material. You have a lot to study and you are right to be concerned, but you cannot absorb rules of law if you are completely stressed. So, stop. Sleep more. Take breaks. Do deep relaxation and physical exercise. You cannot study effectively for 20 hours a day, and you don’t need to in order to pass. Just be diligent, disciplined, and give it a good 8-10 hour day. Remember: slow and steady won the race.  You are dealing with more material, but the depth of analysis is not as intense as a law school final or law review article.
  3. You have not learned the law. Do you know what an easement is? Do you understand UCC Section 2207? Can you explain equal protection and due process, with examples? If you don’t REALLY get it, admit that now. You can learn before it is too late. But do not set yourself up to fail. Do not pretend you know what you really do not.  The time is now to dig in and engage in deep learning.
  4. You are the Dreamer. You are going beyond the scope of the fact patterns. You read into things. You assume facts not in evidence.  Read more slowly. Read every word of the fact pattern aloud, under your breath. Recall what you read. Stay away from “What ifs.”  Resist, if you find yourself saying, “But what if the party were an adult?” If the facts say the party is a minor, work with that. Why bother with “what ifs?” The party is a minor, period, end of story. Analyze the facts and the law accordingly.
  5. You have weak reading comprehension skills.You really don’t understand what you are reading. Either you are trying to read too fast or you have not trained your reading skills thoroughly enough. The Bar Exam, like all standardized tests, is largely a test of reading comprehension. Your reading must be in top shape to pass. Complete mountains of practice tests and study the model answers to learn what you missed and why.
  6. You are a Practicing Attorney in Another Jurisdiction.You are licensed to practice in another state, and trying to get licensed in a new state. You may have been practicing for years. You may be angry at having to take the Exam in the first place; you are an attorney, after all. You are licensed. You have done your time. You shouldn’t be asked to have to take another test. It’s been a while since you were a student and you resent this imposition.You are also knowledgeable in the real world. But in some instances, you know too much. You think of too many practical issues and get hung up on them. You need to pretend you are back in school. Think BIG issues, and write a complete analysis. This is not shorthand to help you resolve a client’s problem. This is long hand. Give a complete analysis to prove your skills for the grader. “Show the math.”Also, lay off the jargon unless terms are used in the problem. Don’t use flashy terms to impress the grader; you won’t. Don’t use “heretofore,” “the party of the first part” “said party” or “said issue.” Just write out an IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) in short but complete plain English sentences.
  7. You have poor typing skills. If the graders cannot easily read what you write, they won’t. If you do not finish questions because you type slowly, they will not give you the benefit of the doubt. They will not assume you included the right points in an essay or MPT answer. Sloppy careless typing with major mistakes in spelling and grammar can bias a grader.  Lawyers must be organized.  Present yourself on paper as you would in an interview: as a competent, organized, clear-thinking and clear-sounding professional.
  8. You don’t manage time well enough. Time flew. You were caught with moments to go and unanswered or barely answered questions. Even one question left unanswered is enough to fail you—especially an MPT. Practice, under timed conditions, and watch the clock.
  9. You are not ready to be a lawyer.Maybe you went straight from college to law school, and are still a little overwhelmed. You may not even know for sure if you want to be a lawyer, and you are not ready to have someone else’s life or financial future in your hands. This is common. You can solve this issue creatively in a number of different ways, without having to fail the Bar. For example, decide before taking the Bar that you will give your yourself some time after you take and pass the Bar Exam before seeking or accepting a law job.  Work doing something else for a bit to take the pressure off, and then decide if law is what you want. 
  10. You are simply unlucky. This does happen. Some people do just have a bad day, family problems, physical accidents or other incidents that occur with the worst of bad timing.  If you are one of these people, you will just climb back on the saddle, and do it again. Don’t plan for this. But don’t beat yourself up if it happens. Do your very best. That’s it, plain and simple. And, make sure you don’t all into any of the nine traps outlined above. You’ve got this! This is your bar exam to pass!

Author: Sara J. Berman

Sara J. Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a Professor of Law and Assistant Dean at the Touro Law Center. She formerly served as a Director at the Washington DC-based Center for Legal Education Excellence.

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