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Failed The Bar Exam? Here Is What To Do

April 14, 2023


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 01/18/23

Have you failed the bar exam and are wondering what to do next? This article will talk about next steps and potential solutions after failing the bar exam. 

The bar exam evaluates if candidates are eligible and able to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. It is the final major step to becoming a practicing lawyer. While it varies from state to state, the majority of states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) or Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). 

No matter what variation of the exam you take, it is notoriously difficult and requires intensive studying as the exam covers a wide variety of legal topics. 

If you have failed the bar exam and are unsure about what to do next, don’t panic. Keep reading as this article discusses moving forward after failing the exam.

What To Do If You Failed The Bar Exam

Failing anything is never a good feeling, and failing can often make us insecure and question our abilities. 

However, don’t worry too much! Your journey to becoming a practicing lawyer is not over. You have a lot of options you can pursue after you’ve failed the bar exam that can help you reorganize yourself and move forward. 

Infographic outlining what to do if you failed the bar exam

1. Take a Breather and Reflect 

Let’s face it: failing is a bad feeling, and failing an important exam can feel very overwhelming. 

However, you are definitely not alone if you have failed the bar exam. According to the American Bar Association, 79.86% of people pass after taking the bar exam for the first time in recent years. That averages out to two out of every ten people failing the bar exam the first time they take it.  

It is also key to remember that the bar exam is just an exam. It does not define your knowledge or capabilities. You may have had a bad day the day of the exam, felt unwell or distracted, or had an ineffective study plan. There are many factors that can impact your performance on the exam. 

As you reflect and prepare to take the exam again, ask yourself some questions:

  • How much prep time did I complete? 
  • What study methods did I use?
  • Did I ensure I fully understood and comprehended the materials while I was studying?
  • Did you take advantage of bar exam prep resources, such as clubs, study groups, and/or online practice tests?

There are just a few questions you should think about as you create a plan moving forward. 

2. Look at Your Score Report

Looking at your score report and seeing areas where you did well and areas where you didn’t is beneficial, especially if you plan on taking the bar exam again. 

While it may be tempting to ignore the score altogether if you didn’t do well, the only way to know where you went wrong and work on improving is to look at your score report. 

3. Identify Areas of Improvement and Areas of Weaknesses

Examine your scores and essays (if possible) on the bar exam and find areas where you performed poorly. 

The bar exam usually consists of various exams, including the MEE and the MPRE. Familiarize yourself with the expectations of each exam, so you know what to expect and can strategize a more successful study plan. 

4. Figure Out Your Next Steps 

You will need to decide how you would like to proceed. Remember, people have taken the bar exam again after failing and have passed. However, there are other factors to consider than simply just jumping back in to retake the exam. 

You should develop a comprehensive plan to help you successfully pass the bar exam the next time you take it. The plan may include studying more, getting one-on-one exam support and consulting, or taking extra classes. It is advised to be strategic about your next steps to be as successful as you can be when you retake the bar exam.

FAQs: Failing Bar Exam

You may still have doubts or worries about what to do next after failing the bar exam. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions to help you make a decision moving forward.  

1. Is It Normal To Fail the Bar Exam?

It is fairly common to fail the bar exam, especially for first-time test takers. In fact, the pass rate for first-time bar exam takers dropped 3% from 2020 to 2021. If you failed the bar exam, you are not alone. 

If it makes you feel better, Kim Kardashian failed the baby bar exam (a less extensive bar exam for first-year law students in California) three times and passed on her fourth!

Anyone can fail the bar exam, or any major exam for that matter. Moving on and moving forward is what matters most and will ultimately define your future success. 

2. What To Do if You Keep Failing the Bar?

You can try to take the bar exam in another state. Sometimes a location change can make a huge difference in your performance. However, if you failed the bar exam in one state but passed the exam in another, you will only be able to practice law in the state you passed. 

There are some states that do offer bar exam reciprocity with other states, which allows you to practice law in a state that you didn’t take the bar exam in. US Legal outlines which states have reciprocity agreements

There is more good news. There are many states that have no limits on how many times you can take the bar exam. According to BarExam, these states are: 

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

There are also states with absolute limits on how many times someone can take the bar exam. BarExam identifies these states as:

  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

However, even states with absolute limits will still allow people to take the bar exam at least four times. So even if you have failed the bar exam more than once in any of these states, you still have the chance to try again. 

3. What To Do if You Feel Like You Failed the Bar Exam?

Firstly, wait until you get your results before jumping to conclusions. It is common to feel insecure and anxious after any major test or exam, especially an exam that is vital to your career. 

You may come out of the bar exam feeling like you failed, but actually performed well and passed.

Moving Forward After Failing the Bar Exam

You already have solid foundations of knowledge and skills to be a lawyer, even if you have failed the bar exam. Law school, studying and prep work, and even actually taking the bar exam means you are capable of being successful in the field of law. 

You have already done tremendous amounts of work to get where you are now, so don’t underestimate your skills and work and don’t give up. To get to where you are, you have already conquered major milestones of being accepted into law school and graduating from law school, which is no easy feat. 

The journey to becoming a practicing lawyer is definitely not easy, and it’s totally normal to have some setbacks. Don’t let failing the bar exam hold you back and stop you from achieving your dreams.

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