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How to Move On After a Bar Exam Failure

Welcome to the club of really smart people who've also failed the bar exam. Don't worry--you're not alone, you can still be a lawyer, and yes--you need to take the bar exam again. Here's how. Let's take a closer look.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
How to Move On After a Bar Exam Failure

You failed the bar exam. Don’t worry. It’s a hard exam and you’re not alone. It’s not the end of the world.

It’s an opportunity to do better next time.

Don’t let one failure prevent you from trying again. Let’s take a look at some strategies for moving forward—and for improving that score on your next go-around.

1. Remember: you’re not the only one

Lots of people fail the bar exam on their first try. Some high-profile cases? Franklin D. Roosevelt failed the New York bar the first time. He passed it in 1907. John F. Kennedy, Jr. failed twice in New York. New York’s Ed Koch, Chicago’s Richard M. Daley, and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa all failed on their first tries, too.

It happens all the time—to very successful people.

The key to their success? They tried again. And again. And they kept a positive attitude.

2. Don’t self-sabotage

Take the time you need to be disappointed, but don’t wallow in your disappointment. Allow yourself to feel bad, but not too bad, and not for too long. Yes, it hurts. Failure usually does—but this exam is not a reflection of who you are as a person and your self-worth. Take a break and then pick yourself up.

Once you pick yourself up, make a plan and stick to it. Develop a study schedule or sign up for a bar exam course. Get yourself together and move forward.

Need help? Ask for it. Colleagues, peers, your law school advising office. Make appointments, talk to people, and get the help you need.

3. Practice your response

Friends and family will want to know your results. Rehearse what you will say—and make it quick. Something like, “I didn’t pass, but I’m going for it again in a few months.”

When folks start asking you how your studying is going, or if you feel ready, be ready with something like, “I’m working hard and feel confident.”

Bottom line? Having a simple, rehearsed response that acknowledges your situation and shows optimism will show people that you’re serious—and hopefully get them off your back.

4. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be a lawyer

Failing the bar exam doesn’t mean you won’t be a lawyer (see #1).

Struggling with the bar exam doesn’t mean you won’t be a good lawyer. Nothing will change about your ability to practice law based on some bad test results. The only difference? You have to wait a bit longer than you planned to get your bar license. No biggie. Take the test again, but not without some preparations—see #5.

5. Prepare so you can take the exam again

You can take the bar exam as many times as you want. Don’t give up

If you went to law school, take the exam and pass it—in your own tie. Think about all that time in. undergraduate school, taking the LSAT, and attending law school. The bar exam is the final hurdle do it. You’ve worked for it.

The bar is not an intelligence test—it’s a measure of how well you memorize general tenets of law—and it’s a test of logic, reason, and writing. You can do it, but you might need some extra practice.

Here’s what you need to do: develop a full-on study plan in which you spend 12-16 hours per day studying. Our Study Guide: How to study in law school has useful tips.

Can’t commit to that? Get a tutor, or enroll in a small, reputable class. You’ve invested your undergraduate years, your law school years, and likely lots of money in tuition and supplies—now it’s time to invest some time in passing this exam.

Moving forward in your law career depends on it. Don’t give up. You can do it.

Learn more about studying law.