How to Recover from Failing the Bar Exam

by Ashley Heidemann

Students that fail the bar exam often find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of negative emotions. Many students feel shocked and disappointed after all of their hard work. Some feel embarrassed when they get text messages from friends and family members who innocently inquire as to whether they passed. Others report baking ten dozen cookies and eating all of them as they angrily sift through the happy Facebook posts of their soon-to-be sworn-in classmates. Virtually all students that fail have trouble imagining sitting through another bar exam.

If you failed the bar exam, how do you motivate yourself to move on and start the studying process all over again? 

The best approach is twofold. First, take some time to mentally digest the fact that you did not pass the exam. Clear your head. Go on a walk. Vent to friends. Avoid Facebook for a while. Understand that the bar exam does not measure your intelligence and it does not measure how good of an attorney you will be. Many great attorneys have failed the bar exam. You are not alone.

Secondly, after you have accepted the fact that you have to take the bar exam again, set aside time to truly reflect on why you did not pass. Ask yourself the following questions:    

Do you understand the material well enough? If you do not understand the material or if your bar review course’s study suggestions are not helpful, consider what you can do to learn the material better the next time around. Maybe you know Torts well but you need to dedicate more time to studying Real Property. Maybe you need to start actively learning your outlines instead of watching lectures. It may be wise to consider utilizing the services of a tutor. A tutor can provide you with effective study strategies and demystify difficult topics.

Do you need more time to study? Sometimes the traditional study period is not long enough to learn all of the multistate topics and state-specific material. Or sometimes an unexpected event will lead you to devote a less-than-optimal amount of time to your bar exam studies. Maybe a relative got sick. Maybe you had a medical problem that interfered with studying. If this is the case, the solution might simply be to ensure that you devote the time and energy you need to study for the next bar exam.  

Is your work schedule getting in the way of studying? If you are working, consider taking time off of work so that you can dedicate sufficient time to the bar exam. It is difficult to come home after a long, stressful day at work and review bar exam material for several hours.  

Is anxiety inhibiting you from passing? It is normal to feel some anxiety. However, some students feel so much anxiety that they cannot think during the exam. Other students have trouble sleeping or focusing throughout the study period. If you notice anxiety taking its toll on you, consider talking to a physician about ways to control your anxiety.

Are you sleeping enough and getting enough exercise? Keeping your brain and body healthy will enable you to concentrate and learn the law. Make sure to get enough sleep. Plan time to exercise, and try to maintain a nutritious diet. 

How many points did you fail by? In general, a person that is fifteen points away from a passing score will likely need to take more drastic measures than a person that is one point away from a passing score.   

These questions are just some of many that you may have to ask yourself. The fundamental point to remember is that if you change your approach to the next bar exam, you will maximize your chances of changing your result as well. 

Many students have failed the bar exam and have succeeded after changing their study routines. You can do it too. Good luck!


Ms. Heidemann is a bar exam and law school tutor. She graduated Number 1 in her class of over 200 students at Wayne State University Law School in 2011 and scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam. Her website can be found at