Coming Back After a Bar Exam Failure — Gearing Up to Study Again

If you sat for the summer bar exam, you now know whether you passed or failed. And if you failed, it is time to decide whether you are going to take the next bar exam offered and how you are going to prepare for it (hopefully, to get a different result). Many students are exploring preparation options or interviewing bar exam tutors. But no matter what preparation approach you take, you still have to decide how you are going to overcome your disappointment and fear of failure and find exam success.

So to support you in getting ready to study again, I want to talk about failure. Most of us hate to fail. Let’s be honest, most of us are used to being high achievers. We aren’t used to failure. It is almost shocking. So since this is a foreign concept to many bar applicants, I want to talk about how you can move past failure and get ready to take on this challenge again.

Prior to starting to study again, you must deal with the sadness around failure. 

Of course, a bar exam failure is a huge disappointment. It can create financial and professional challenges. It can throw a wrench in your future plans. You have every right to be sad, upset, and even devastated. But you must acknowledge this sadness and then choose to move forward. The sadness will get better with time. It need not be permanent. But ignoring it will not help you deal with it or move past it. (You know, some people find meditation helpful in dealing with stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. This is just one suggestion on how to acknowledge and cope with these emotions.)

You must take this failure as an opportunity to learn how to perform better. This means you can’t do the same thing that you did the last time. 

Learning how to perform better is a two-step process. First, in order to learn from this experience you need to identify what went wrong. This is a difficult process because it requires you to be very honest with yourself and self-evaluate what happened leading up to and on the bar exam.

Second, you need to determine what you are going to do differently. This can be exploring different study tools or working with a bar exam tutor. The key is that you can’t study in the same way and expect a different result. “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” (Coco Chanel) You must determine the tools you need to help you get where you need to be. This isn’t the same for everyone (so if someone is telling you about a “quick fix” or perfect answer for passing the bar, in my opinion, he/she is lying to you).

If you can learn to deal with failure, you will be a better lawyer (because this isn’t the last time you will have to cope with failure). 

If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you want to open a solo law practice. This means that you are going to try to build something from scratch. You are going to be an entrepreneur. And you know what comes with that? Some failure. It has been about four years since I started working for myself and one of the things I have had to learn is how to cope with failure. Because greatness doesn’t comes without risking failure. And it isn’t the failure itself that prevents you from succeeding; it is the fear of moving forward. “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try one more time.” (Thomas Edison)

So try one more time. Get the help that you need to make this attempt a success. Edison also said (turns out he failed a lot and had a lot to say about it!), “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

This bar exam failure doesn’t have to define you; it can actually be something you can learn from.  You can still become a great lawyer. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” (Maya Angelou, one of my favorite authors)

Good luck with your bar studies.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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2 comments on “Coming Back After a Bar Exam Failure — Gearing Up to Study Again

  • I would think it is hard to know how to prepare to retake a bar exam until you have the results from the one just taken. I know each state is somewhat different in the make up of the exams. However, it makes a big difference on what portion of the exam one did not pass. If it is the multistate portion, that is often more an issue of testing experience than a lack of knowledge, in my opinion. If, as in Texas, it is a failure of the evidence and procedure portion, that is an issue of rogue memorization and recall. These are very different skills, and not all students are expert in each method. Also, it is my understanding that some states will allow one to retake only the sections missed, and opt out of the those passed. So, for example, if one did not achieve a passing grade on the multistate, but did on the other sections, he or she only needs to retake the multistate. It seems to me that limiting the scope would put the test taker at an advantage of success on the next exam it seems to me because the test taker can concentrate his or her efforts. And, even if the test taker must retake the entire bar exam again, this time they at least know the terrain, and familiarity should breed confidence. The frustration should not be with failing to pass the exam the first time. The frustration is with the length of time one must wait to get licensed as a result. Nobody every much cares, and no client asks how many time you took the bar exam.

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