The Waiting Game: What If You Fail the Bar Exam?

So you find yourself in an unbelievable situation: You failed the bar exam.

Procedures in case of failing the bar exam

Reality is undeniable. You dust off your tears. It’s time to take action.

You wonder: What’s the next step?

Should you retake a bar prep course? What’s the alternative? 


Should you retake a bar prep course?

Let’s say you took a full bar prep course with Kaplan, Barbri, Themis, BarMax, or whatever. Fancy/grainy videos and annoying “professors,” the works. Maybe it was for this past July exam or another one in another state.

Let’s also pretend it turns out you need to retake the bar in February, and you’re worried about making up for your deficiencies or wondering about the new material for Real Property…

1) Should you retake the prep course?

My recommendation is NO. You can activate the repeater version of the course as a reference, if they offer it for free.

You’ve already taken the course, and it didn’t help you. I don’t think it’s going to change anything if you do the same thing again: passively watching lectures (or worse, pausing the video to take notes and thereby doubling the time spent), doing the preset assignments, and going to bed clasping your hands over your chest hoping to die in your sleep.

You must CHANGE your approach if you hope to make significant improvements.

2) So what’s the alternative?

Self-study. (Or tutoring or coaching if you need personal help, which I won’t get into here.)

More and more, it appears like self-directed studying and feedback are the way to go to lower your costs and improve a repeater’s chances of passing.

I took Kaplan and failed the first time. Then I passed with used Barbri books and other references. I did watch Kaplan’s MBE bootcamp review with Chris Fromm at the beginning of my studies, but that’s the only set of lectures I watched.

Otherwise, my stance is that your $4,000 lectures have negative worth because—instead of helping you go at your pace—they are often a distraction from actively building your skills, actually understanding what the hell you’re learning, and applying it in practice.

The bar exam doesn’t just test you on how to recognize or even remember rules; it tests you on applying them correctly.

Think it’s worth the price to have Barbri on your side? Sure, it’s a great program overall, but plenty of people have failed with it.

I’m just saying if the cookie-cutter approach didn’t work for you last time, it’s probably not going to work for you this time. If the “safe path” let you down, who can you rely on? Yourself!

Exception 1: You were very close to passing, in which case you probably don’t need the lectures anymore. But using the lectures as a review or sleep aid won’t hurt as long as you’re making the time for practice.

Exception 2: You truly learn best by listening. Not the delusional “oh, psh yeah, I can hear something once and remember it forever” kind of people who then can’t remember jack on a serious exam, let alone apply what they remember in theory. It’s not just about learning the law; that’s merely the cost of entry.

Instead, you want to be practicing (AKA testing yourself AKA doing what you’ll do on the actual exam). There are past exams all over the place for free. You also have Barbri CMR, BarEssays (CA bar only), essay workbook from Barbri, Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (7th ed. is out) …

See, resources are available, and using them is not the most “fun” activity. However, the more you do the uncomfortable work and reflect on your mistakes, the more you’ll improve.

I will also release a tested, self-study guide by November or December hopefully, which may also help.

As always, the choice is yours. Just don’t let the fancy videos draw you toward the light.

3) “Should… should I start studying for the next bar exam now or…?”

Some people study between August and results to hedge themselves against a fail result. If they pass, the most they lose is the time studied. And it would be a trivial loss at that point. If they end up failing, they’re that much ahead and familiar with the material.

Personally, I think the ideal length of time to study is 3-4 full-time months. It’s enough time to master the material without feeling burned out, demotivated, or maybe even unable to retain the material as everything blends together over time.

If you’re going to have most of November-February open, that’s probably enough time to close a decent gap but not a big gap. If you’re the latter, consider closing the gap over two bar exams.

But again, you know yourself best.

If you foresee yourself only having time for part-time studying come November, perhaps it would be even more prudent to plan ahead and start crafting a study schedule that focuses on your deficiencies.

Many ways to go about this. There’s no one set way. You don’t need to follow some formulaic regimen when you can get creative.

You don’t even have to listen to me.

But if you want to follow along, sign up for my weekly emails here (and get goodies like coupons for AdaptiBar and BarEssays, and my free and not-that-lengthy PT guide).
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