A three-step plan for those who fail the bar exam

Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising, a law school and bar exam prep company offering services ranging from LSAT tutoring and application assistance to bar exam tutoring, courses and seminars.


If you failed the bar exam, right off the bat we want to say that we are sorry. We know that failing the bar exam can be very difficult and emotional. We hope that this three-step plan will help you move past this bar exam and conquer the next one.


Step One: Let yourself be sad.  

It is important that you take some time to let yourself be sad, angry or disappointed. Work through it however you need to−call a trusted friend, write in a journal, or just take the time to process the news. While you are processing the news, it is also helpful to remember these few things:

1. Failure, as odd as it seems, can actually be a good thing. It sounds almost unbelievable, but students have told me time and time again that they are glad they failed! Sometimes it is because of how many good qualities they developed from having to overcome the bar exam obstacle−resilience, patience, and the ability to move past a difficult situation. Otherwise, it is because of the timing−failure gave them the opportunity to reflect on what kind of career they really wanted, or happened to put them in the right place at the right time to get a certain job or meet a certain person. Blessings and burdens always go hand in hand.

2. Failure does not have to define you. Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Benjamin Cardozo, and John F. Kennedy Jr., among others, have all failed the bar exam at least once. They all moved past it to have great careers. You can too!

3. Ten years from now (or even five years, or one year) this failure will not seem like such a big deal. It will seem like a blip in the road.  

4. You are not alone. Nobody advertises on Facebook or Twitter when they fail the bar exam, but trust that there are plenty of people who fail the bar exam time every administration all over the nation.


Step Two: Figure out what went wrong.

After you have taken some time to process failing the bar exam, take a few days to answer the question: “Why did I fail the bar exam?” We recommend you write down everything that you think may have contributed to failing the bar exam.

Was it because you did not know the law well enough? Was it because you did not spend enough time studying? Or did you not practice enough questions? Did you struggle with the essays or the multiple-choice portion more?

The question of why you failed the bar exam can be a hard one to answer, in part, because there may be multiple factors that may have contributed to failing the bar exam. However, it is worth it to take time to truly reflect on this question because figuring out the reasons you failed can help ensure that you do not make the same mistakes twice.


Step Three:  Figure out a plan for the next bar exam.

After you figure out what went wrong, start figuring out how you can move forward for the next bar exam. For example, if the problem was you did not know the law well enough, how can you fix that? Do you simply need more time to review the material or do you need private tutoring? If you did not practice enough questions, how are you going to make sure you practice enough this time?

Going through everything that you believe contributed to your failure, one-by-one, and figuring out how to address it will help you tremendously. It will also help you feel more in control and less lost as you move forward to the next bar exam.

Throughout this process, remember that failing an exam does not define you. It is just a stepping stone on the road to your ultimate success. 


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You can follow Ms. Heidemann and the JD Advising team on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn. Additional resources (including a blog which is updated daily) are available on JD Advising’s website at www.JDAdvising.com