Failing the CA Bar Exam After “Following the Bar Prep Course to a T”

Mattie passed the 2024 February CA Bar Exam on her second try 👏🏻

💬 “I am thrilled to report that I passed the February 2024 CA Bar Exam! I took the bar for the first time in July 2023 after graduating law school. I was absolutely devastated when I didn’t pass. But I also somehow did not expect to pass.

She’s got a pretty typical story for a repeater:

  • Trust the system
  • Not pass
  • Hear about MTYLT
  • Shift to a more independent study process
  • Pass

Wait, why is this even typical? Why does this keep happening?

Of course people still pass using mainstream programs. But you may get exhausted and burn out from forcing yourself through a rigid structure that doesn’t fit your needs. Where’s the balance?

Let’s see what Mattie did her first time and differently his second time so you can skip to the part where you pass.

And if you’re a first-time bar taker, how can you still use experience you think you may not have?

💬 “I stopped relying on Barbri. The first time I studied, I thought as long as I followed and completed the Barbri course, I would be good to go! The second time I studied, I started out using some of the Barbri resources to guide the beginning of my studying. But then I shifted to creating my own schedule (with the help of my tutor) and focusing on practice.

Resources Mattie used to pass the CA Bar Exam on her second try

Magicsheets & Approsheets

💬 “Magicsheets and Approsheets were the first things I purchased after finding out I didn’t pass. I used them almost every day. It really helped me consolidate the huge amounts of information that was overwhelming to me before.

▶ Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics for the MBE

▶ [CA only] BarEssays

💬 “I used [BarEssays] to practice essays and familiarize myself with essay topics and structure. Getting my eyes on as many of these as possible and writing out answers every day was key.

  • Use the code here to get $25 off

▶ Critical Pass MBE Flashcards

▶ A tutor

▶ MTYLT emails (get them here)

💬 “Your emails were so encouraging and helpful for me. They validated my feelings about studying for the bar again after failing, and also motivated me to do more and do better.

Strategies of a second-time passer of the CA Bar Exam

First, let’s see what Mattie did her first time around. Are any of these ringing a bell in your own studies?

💬 “The first time I studied for the bar, I was either looking at the huge Barbri outlines or wasting my time creating my own outlines — which I hardly ever ended up using to study after creating them.

Some people like creating their own documents or annotating outlines. It helps them keep track of things they want to keep track.

To each their own.

But let’s say you’re wasting your time because you’re not knowing the material well enough or getting enough practice time. Then consider updating your plan.

For Mattie, following the bar prep course to a T was her downfall.

💬 “The first time I studied, I thought as long as I followed and completed the Barbri course, I would be good to go! I was a Barbri rep after all, and the law school encouraged us to follow the bar prep course to a T. However, this was my downfall. I didn’t know the material well enough and I didn’t do enough practice. I was overwhelmed by all the assigned tasks and was just trying to complete them.

Remember that your course is a supplement that supports your self-learning endeavor.

Your job is not to complete the course. Your job is to use it (and probably other supplements) as a tool to learn.

Completing the course doesn’t mean you’ve completed your preparation. The risk of focusing on completing assignments is that you might end up merely going through the motions.

If your gym trainer prescribes a set, are you doing it for the sake of hitting that rep count even as you sacrifice form? Or are you also deliberately exerting the effort to create a mind-muscle connection? Are you insisting that you do an extra rep even after you finish the set? Are you watching your diet back home?

In other words, do you care more about the end results or performing the act?

Of course, putting in the reps is a way toward getting the gains. Quantity eventually leads to quality.

But what if you’re not building the muscle you want? What if you’re wasting energy on unnecessary movements?

Enough questions. Here are some takeaways from Mattie’s second time studying for the bar.

1)        Identify what should be done (even as a first timer)

Mattie realized that her bar review course was a distraction from what needed to be done—practice and review.

💬 “As for my shift toward practice, I found that I just did not devote enough time to timed practice when I studied for the July bar. And I spent too much time on the Barbri lectures and tasks.

💬 “I hired a tutor to help me improve my writing for the Bar because that’s where my performance was lacking.

💬 “I figured out my performance test strategy because the suggested ones were not really working for me.

The past will guide your future.

But, if you’re a first timer, it may feel like a catch-22: You need prior experience to do what will increase your chances of passing, but you can’t get the experience without failing.

Do you need that first failure to succeed?

💬 “Granted, the second time I was studying I had a base of knowledge of all the subjects that I did not have when I started studying the first time.

If you’re a first timer, you might be frustrated at hindsight advice from retakers who passed.

“Take breaks”
“Try different things”
“Do what works for you”…

Foresight from your predecessors can still give you insight (if you’re willing to take the leap).

But how are you supposed to do that if you don’t have the luxury of time? The advantage of retakers is that they start from experience.

Even if you haven’t taken the exam, why not reflect on your current experience so far?

What have you done so far? What did it result in?

Can you look to your law school days to see what kind of approach to learning worked for you in the past? Do you learn better from listening or writing?

Are you still trying to “get your ducks in a row” first by completing the course? How does that make you feel?

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with trying to complete the course.

But you’re missing the point if you force yourself through the course for completion’s sake without learning.

2)         Create your own plan

There’s no need to abandon your course. Just use it to YOUR benefit. Don’t let it use you.

On her second attempt, Mattie still used her bar review course, but she did it in a way to supplement her own plan. Also, she created her own schedule.

💬 “The second time I studied, I started out using some of the Barbri resources to guide the beginning of my studying. But then I shifted to creating my own schedule (with the help of my tutor) and focusing on practice.

Is the schedule the course gives you supposed to be for you as well as tens of thousands of others who might (or might not) have a job or a family to tend to?

If a schedule is for everyone, then it’s for no one.

It could still work, but it’s just one out of a million ways to do it.

Another way is to create a tailored plan that fits your needs like a handmade glove so you know what to do on any given day.

Mattie hired a tutor to make her study schedule.

But you can create your own schedule without a tutor. Refer to this guidance, or base it on one of dozens of examples and sample schedules spanning from 1 week to 12 weeks, 20 weeks, and 90 days (and detailed scheduling guidance) in Passer’s Playbook.

3)        Do what you’re going to do on the exam

Mattie turned to solving problems instead of thinking about how to solve problems.

💬 “The second time, I was doing more full essays per day and dense outlines of essays if I didn’t have a bigger block of time. I did more sets of MBE questions (non-Barbri) which helped me get used to the exact forms of questions used by the bar. I started picking up on patterns in the questions that I hadn’t before. I got a lot faster at MBE too.

This helped her get used to what she was going to see and do on the exam. That’s what preparation does for you. It helps you be prepared!

💬 “For both the AM and PM sections of Feb bar Day 2, I had a little time to spare at the end. In July, I was rushing at the end to finish.

There are different sources of questions, like Strategies & Tactics for the MBE linked above and past essays available here.

But at least as important is checking your work and getting feedback.


Thanks Mattie! It’s encouraging to see the changes you can see from more intentional efforts.

Does this inspire you to change something you’re doing (or not doing) right now?

Full story

Text version

Hi Brian,

I am thrilled to report that I passed the February 2024 CA Bar Exam! I took the bar for the first time in July 2023 after graduating law school. I was absolutely devastated when I didn’t pass. But I also somehow did not expect to pass. I had a lot of time to think it over from July to November when results were released. 

When figuring out what my new game plan was going to be for studying for the Feb bar, I came across your Magicsheets and thought it would be a great addition to my new plan! Your Magicsheets and Approsheets were the first things I purchased after finding out I didn’t pass. I used them almost every day. It really helped me consolidate the huge amounts of information that was overwhelming to me before. 

The first time I studied for the bar, I was either looking at the huge Barbri outlines or wasting my time creating my own outlines — which I hardly ever ended up using to study after creating them. Your Magicsheets filled that hole for me. I saved time and had a concise outline at my fingertips whenever I needed it — either for review or for a quick reference. I brought printed copies of some of the Magicsheets subjects to look over the day before the Bar to help me feel at ease. 

Other things I did differently the second time around:

– I stopped relying on Barbri. The first time I studied, I thought as long as I followed and completed the Barbri course, I would be good to go! I was a Barbri rep after all, and the law school encouraged us to follow the bar prep course to a T. However, this was my downfall. I didn’t know the material well enough and I didn’t do enough practice. I was overwhelmed by all the assigned tasks and was just trying to complete them. The second time I studied, I started out using some of the Barbri resources to guide the beginning of my studying. But then I shifted to creating my own schedule (with the help of my tutor) and focusing on practice.

– I hired a tutor to help me improve my writing for the Bar because that’s where my performance was lacking. 

– I figured out my performance test strategy because the suggested ones were not really working for me.

– I used Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics for the MBE. I technically passed the MBE portion of the Bar, but I still had a ton of room for improvement. Mentors suggested it for MBE practice because the Barbri multiple choice question bank is not very good. I highly recommend this book for practicing MBE!

– I used CA Bar Essays to practice essays and familiarize myself with essay topics and structure. Getting my eyes on as many of these as possible and writing out answers every day was key.

Finally, your emails were so encouraging and helpful for me. They validated my feelings about studying for the bar again after failing, and also motivated me to do more and do better. Thank you for your help!!


My tutor was Adam Ferber! He was awesome — both in helping my studies and being my bar exam therapist. 

My PT score from July was quite low. I kept finding that I would run out of time and that I was not writing enough. So we wanted to maximize the amount of time that I could spend getting words onto paper so I could get my word count up — while completing the PT task. A lot of the suggested strategies were advising to not start writing until you had everything mapped out. That just wasn’t working for me because once I was done mapping out, I didn’t have enough time to fully write. I started writing a fuller outline from the beginning so I could get a better start on my word count goal, and then was not rushing at the end. It gave me more time to add in specific facts from the file and make analogies to the cases for those extra style points. Hopefully some of that makes sense!

As for my shift toward practice, I found that I just did not devote enough time to timed practice when I studied for the July bar. And I spent too much time on the Barbri lectures and tasks. Granted, the second time I was studying I had a base of knowledge of all the subjects that I did not have when I started studying the first time. The second time, I was doing more full essays per day and dense outlines of essays if I didn’t have a bigger block of time. I did more sets of MBE questions (non-Barbri) which helped me get used to the exact forms of questions used by the bar. I started picking up on patterns in the questions that I hadn’t before. I got a lot faster at MBE too. For both the AM and PM sections of Feb bar Day 2, I had a little time to spare at the end. In July, I was rushing at the end to finish.

Another thing I did differently that I forgot to mention before — I used the Critical Pass MBE Flashcards a lot more than the first time I studied.

Thanks for your response!

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