Five Tips if You Failed the Bar Exam (and How to Increase Your Likelihood of Passing the Next Time)


If you have failed the Bar Exam, how do you pass the Bar Exam?  Below are five tips to increase your chances of passing the Bar.  For goodness’ sake, if you have failed the Bar at least once, take a legal writing course!  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.  Begin your next Bar preparations by taking a short (and effective) legal writing course.  It may be that your legal writing is holding you back, and you can remedy the problem and pass! For all of you who have failed the July 2021 Bar (Bar repeaters), check out our online legal writing course, Legal Writing Launch.  Take the Zoom mentoring level in December 2021 for 20% off to gain a solid foundation in excellent grammar and top-notch IRAC and issue-spotting skills.  (Use the coupon code 20% OFF.)  Then, undertake your Bar Review studies for the February 2022 Bar.  We have had students who had failed the California Bar two and three times before taking our Course.  Once they took Legal Writing Launch, they passed!   These students took the Weekly Zoom Meeting (which includes Assignment Editing) Add-On in addition to the basic course. The assignments are like the Performance Test on the Bar.

I have mentored hundreds of students who went on to pass the Bar exam.  Feel free to reach out to me at (415) 939-6460 to see if the Course is right for you.  

Bar repeat takers likely fail the Bar exam because of a lack of writing skills

Pass the Bar!

Below are the five tips that have worked for my students and experts have recommended. 

  1. Take some time off.
  2. Improve self-confidence.
  3. Design your Bar study plan.
  4. Decide when you will memorize all that substantive law.
  5. Take a legal writing course.

Take some time off

It is critical that you are fresh when you sit for the Bar.  Because you have failed the exam already, you may feel “burned out” or angry with the Bar examiners. You must be in the positive space necessary to take the Bar.  You should be present, focused, and relaxed enough to concentrate on the actual exam.  In Marooned: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates Who Fail the Bar Exam, interviewers noted that Bar exam non-passers expressed the emotional toll they experienced from failing:  

First of all then there is . . . the whole depression . . . this is [a] reality and now what do I do with my life?  You felt you worked so hard and nothing was good enough.[i]

So, take a break.  Take some time away from the rigorous studying that your bar review course will require.  Go to the gym, have lunch with your family, watch a movie during the day.  Do not take off too much time, but just enough so that you are refreshed when you head back to your studies. 

Improve self-confidence

Now and when you begin studying again, work on your mindset and confidence.  In research on Bar exam preparation, the author in The Incorporation of Elements of Bar Exam Preparation in Legal Education, concluded that applicants not only fail because of a lack of skills but also due to their mindset.[ii] 

The article states:

Applicants fail because of a lack of will.  The term ‘will’ can be defined broadly. [Lack of will] include[s] psychological impediments to success: lack of discipline, lack of resilience, and, lack of persistence.[iii]

How can you develop your confidence?  Every day think of five things that you did well.  When you do study for the Bar, give yourself credit for every task that you perform well.

Design your Bar study plan

Draft a detailed plan estimating when you will study what and how.  The authors in Yes We Can, Pass the Bar, noted that Bar preparation experts found that those who failed the bar exam also “fail[ed] to plan in advance for the bar preparation period.”[iv]  Be sure to build into your plan: studying the specific subject matter, and practicing the multi-state questions, essays, and Performance Test components.  If you are taking an established Bar Review Course (e.g., Barbri, BarMax), work with their draft schedules.  Take time off from studying when you are doing your actual Bar preparation (e.g., Sundays).  If you plan to retain a Bar exam tutor, find the right person timely, and run your schedule and game plan by that professional.

Under how you will study for the Bar, please note that it is imperative that you understand how to apply the facts to the legal elements.  There is generally tension in a legal issue–each party’s position.  Find that tension, name it, and work with it.  For example, if there is a burglary issue, note that there must be a breaking and entering.  If the only evidence is that the defendant had possession of stolen whiskey, note that there is tension here.  That is, the prosecution will argue that the mere possession of the whiskey shows that the defendant must have broken and entered the dwelling to obtain it.  On the other hand, the defense can argue that with no eyewitnesses or fingerprints, there is no evidence that the defendant actually broke and entered the dwelling.   You must “roll up your sleeves” and work with the facts that the Bar examiners provide.  Be sure to practice this skill–legal analysis and counter-analysis–using the specific law and facts in the problem.  

Decide when you will memorize all that substantive law

There is no avoiding it—you must have all that substantive law at your mental fingertips (in your head) when you take the Bar.  Researchers have noted the need for examinees “to engage in specific memorization activities (i.e., memorization, practice, review).”[v] Work into your Bar study schedule when you will memorize all this substantive information, and how you will do this (e.g., a detailed outline, flashcards, etc.)  Remember to use the memorization techniques that have worked for you in the past.  For instance, what worked for me was to prepare a mini outline of each substantive course (e.g., contracts) from a larger outline.  Then, I would memorize that mini outline.  Because I am and was a visual learner, I could literally see my mini outline in my head during the Bar.  I have heard of some Bar students making an outline of their mini outline and memorizing that.  The point is to compress all of the subject matter in your brain, and find a quick way to access it.  Some Bar-takers, during the Bar, note the topic (e.g., Remedies) and write down key words to trigger the necessary elements.  They do this before they even start drafting the actual analysis.  In the memorization phase of your Bar preparation, find a memory-triggering technique that works for you. 

Take a legal writing course

Your failure to pass the Bar could be because of your lack of writing skills.  In fact, researchers have concluded that a failure to pass the Bar is often caused by the Bar examinee’s failure to communicate in writing or a lack of reasoning and/or writing skills.[vi]  Consider taking a legal writing course.  Billionaire investor Warren Buffet states, “[b]y far the best investment you can make is in yourself.” [vii]  Buffett added that  developing one’s communication skills–both in writing and in-person–“can increase [one’s] value by at least fifty percent.”  [viii] 

Check out our Course, and see if LWL might assist you in improving your legal writing skills before you sit for the next Bar Exam.  You might require assistance with writing essays or the Performance Test on the Bar, and our Course could help.  (View the introductory video, and access the actual contents of the Course.)  You can also click on the bottom below.  

What students have said about LWL

“LWL provided me the legal writing tools that law school did not. . . [LWL] would have made a huge difference in my legal education and my Bar performance. The assignments in LWL are similar to those that students write on the Performance Test on the Bar Exam.

Having taken the California Bar twice, I then took LWL (Weekly Zoom Meeting, which includes Assignment Editing.) I passed the California Bar Exam on my third try!”

Richard Rose,
John F. Kennedy School of Law, J.D., Class of 2019
California Bar Exam passage, October 2020 Exam

“Having a solid foundation in legal writing is critical to the preparation for and the taking of a State’s Bar Exam, specifically, the Performance Test.  LWL provides this solid foundation.

I took the California Bar Exam three times. Then, I took LWL (Weekly Zoom Meeting, which includes Assignment Editing.)  I passed the Bar on my fourth attempt!”

Justin Swiercheck,
John F. Kennedy University, School of Law Graduate, J.D., Class of 2016
California Bar Exam passage, October 2020 Exam

Click here to learn more about Legal Writing Launch

[i] (Yakowitz, J., Marooned: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates Who Fail the Bar, Journal of Legal Education, Volume 60, Number 1 (August 2010), p. 30.)

[ii] (Reeves, E. P., Teaching to the Test: The Incorporation of Elements of Bar Exam Preparation in Legal Education, Journal of Legal Education (2015), p. 648.)

[iii] Id.

[iv] Alphran, D., Washington, T., & Eagan, V., Yes We Can, Pass The BarUniversity of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law Bar Passage Initiatives And Bar Pass Rates – From The Titanic To The Queen Mary!*, University of the District of Columbia Law Review, Vol. 14, Issue 1, Art. 3 (2011), p. 26,

[v] Yes We Can, Pass The Barsupra, pp. 32-33. 

[vi] Yes We Can, Pass The Barsupra, p. 26 and The Incorporation of Elements of Bar Exam Preparation in Legal Educationsupra, p. 648. 

[vii]  Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make,, (Jan. 2021).,by%20at%20least%2050%20percent.%22

[viii]   Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make, supra. 

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