10 Tips for Retaking the Bar

The bar exam is one of the hardest tests you can take. Unfortunately, many people that take the exam don’t pass on the first try. Luckily, you can take the bar exam as many times as you need. If you’re looking to retake the bar exam, or take the bar exam in another state, read on. We’re going to take you through 10 tips to pass the bar exam on the second pass.

1) Think Before Re-Enrolling

First and foremost, take a second to think before you re-enroll. Ask yourself if you’re ready to jump right back into round two. You’ve likely been studying for a few weeks or months already, so you might be burnt out. We know that you want to jump right back in and pass as soon as possible, but sometimes giving yourself some time off will help you in the long run. Plus, the bar is offered more than once each year, so it’s okay to miss out on the first one.

With that said, take some time to think before you re-enroll. Consider your schedule and how soon you have to pass the exam. There is a good chance that the bar exam can wait—is another month or two going to change your whole law career? In most cases, the answer is probably not. Therefore, take some time to rest and recover. If you don’t have to retake the exam right away, give yourself some time to recover.

2) Take a Look at Your Scores

This is one of the harder things to do. Looking at your scores might make you feel inadequate, but it’s a necessary feeling. If you want to pass the bar exam on your next try you need to know what made you fail the first time. Plus, knowing what you got wrong and why will help you study for the next exam.

Most states allow you to look at your scorecard. It will show you what answers you got wrong in almost every section. We say almost every section because in some states you might have to request a copy of your essay scorecard. Still, you should look over every section to see what you got wrong and why. These are things that will help you in the future, especially if you go over everything with a tutor.

3) Take Care of Your Body

This is one of our more general tips, but it’s important, nonetheless. Preparing for the bar exam can be strenuous. You’ll face stress, bouts of little to no sleep, isolation, anxiety, and more. These ailments take time to recover from and your body likely needs a rest. So, firstly, get some rest before you hit the books again.

Secondly, make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs. Feeling malnourished or drowsy on test day makes every question harder and will slow you down. Plus, a lack of sleep and improper diet can lead to mental health issues like insomnia, anxiety, and elevated symptoms that come with stress.

Lastly, do something that gets your body moving. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good. While feeling good is great, it also has an impact on your energy levels, mental health, and your overall performance. A little bit of exercise can give you enough energy on exam day and help your brain retain more information. Plus, you’ll look good doing it—it’s a win-win.

4) Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses

This might sound obvious, but you need to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing where you went wrong on test day or during your studies will show you everything you need to know to improve. To evaluate this, we recommend looking over your habits, pacing, and study routine.

To evaluate your weaknesses, take some time to look over your previous exam or go over it with a tutor. Determine where you went wrong and why. For example, if you were running out of time in each section, practice improving your pacing with practice exams and study techniques that emphasize speed.

While knowing where you went wrong is helpful, focusing on your strengths is just as important. What did you do right? Knowing what you’re good at allows you to focus more of your attention and resources on areas where you struggled. So, take a balanced approach when you’re looking at how to improve your strengths and weaknesses.

5) Don’t Get Too Deep

Most people will tell you it’s all about quality over quantity. Well, we’re here to offer you a different perspective. There is a ton of content you need to know for the bar exam. You have to know about specific laws, how the law works more generally, and how to apply the law to real-life situations. Plus, there are tons of questions, and you have a limited amount of time to finish them. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to spend some time focusing on quantity over quality.

When it comes to the bar exam, it’s the opposite of law school. In law school, you needed to know the most about each topic to be the best. On the bar exam, you need to know enough information in each area to give yourself the best chance of success. This is because some areas or topics won’t appear on the exam. So, if you spent a lot of time on a particular subject that was left out, that’s hours of studying that went to waste. Therefore, we recommend taking a broad approach to studying, instead of a deep approach.

6) Don’t Look for Quick Fixes or Tricks

In the past, the bar exam was a tricky test. Questions were worded in ways that were designed to trip you up. While the bar is still one of the trickier exams you can take, it’s more straightforward than it used to be. That said, don’t focus too much of your time on quick fixes or simple solutions to questions. Instead, you want to focus your attention on developing straightforward knowledge and understanding of each topic.

While some questions will make you stumble, the principles are all the same. Each question will have a result, a connector, and a reason. If you know these areas well, you can eliminate most answers without needing to remember fancy tricks. Sure, some tricks work, but stay focused on general knowledge and your gut instincts instead of quick tricks. Unfortunately, sometimes trying to take the easy way out will hinder your performance.

7) Time Yourself

One of the many reasons that students struggle on the bar exam is pacing. On the bar exam, you have to pace yourself for each section. The time you have for each section varies, so it’s important to practice beforehand. This way you minimize your chances of running out of time and leaving points on the table.

If you’re retaking the bar or studying for your first test, spend some days on pacing. Get your hands on some practice exams from reputable sources like BarMax and grab a timer. For each section, do your best to simulate testing scenarios to the best of your ability. On test day, this will have you feeling prepared and take away some of that anxiety that comes with watching the clock. Plus, you’ll save valuable seconds by not having to look up at the clock.

8) Create a Schedule and Stick to It

Scheduling is the glue that holds everything together. It doesn’t matter how good your studying methods are if you don’t stick to a schedule. This is because inconsistent studying habits lead to a lack of knowledge retention. Plus, you’ll lack the discipline needed to study on the days or nights that you don’t feel like it. For these reasons, we recommend keeping a short-term and long-term studying schedule.

Short-Term Scheduling

Short-term scheduling is easier than long-term scheduling, but you still have to plan everything out. If you want to study for three hours one day, how are you going to accomplish that? Make sure you set some time aside and keep any distractions away. We also recommend leveraging techniques like the Pomodoro technique or the 90/20 rule. These studying methods keep you engaged for long periods without getting burnt out.

Long-Term Scheduling

Long-term scheduling is about consistency. Take note of any obligations you have each week and make sure you stick to your studying routine. Even if something comes up on one of your studying days, make sure that your friends and family know that those time slots are for studying only. We’re not saying you can’t relax from time to time, but don’t fall victim to keeping a loose schedule—it will cause inconsistency in your study routine.

There are many scheduling tips and tricks you can use, but the most important thing is to have good, routine studying habits—whatever scheduling method/s you pick. Without structure, it’s hard to remain disciplined and hard to stay focused.

9) Work with a Tutor This Time

If you haven’t worked with a tutor yet, it’s a good idea to look for one you can trust. Working with a tutor helps you keep a consistent study routine, and helps you gain new perspectives and ideas about different topics. Plus, tutors can help you leverage your strengths and work on your weaknesses with you. Still, finding the right tutor can be challenging.

First and foremost, we recommend working with reputable resources like BarMax or Varsity Tutors. These resources can help you find online tutors that have flexible scheduling and diverse backgrounds. You’ll be able to read reviews and work with tutors that have passed the bar in the 99th percentile. Still, if online tutoring isn’t for you and you prefer the classroom-style approach, you can always look for other options in your area.

Once you’ve found your tutor, it’s time to get to work. Spend some time creating a schedule and allow them to hold you accountable. For some students, this is the most important part of tutoring. Having someone else monitoring your progress and habits can help you identify poor habits that need fixing.

That said, if you failed the bar without a tutor or are looking to take the test for the first time, leveraging a good tutor is one of the best things you can do.

10) Motivation vs. Discipline

Many people rant and rave about motivation. People will even give you tips and tricks to stay motivated. Unfortunately, motivation will only take you so far. In fact, if you’ve failed the bar exam in the past, your motivation reserves are running empty. For this reason, we recommend focusing on discipline instead of motivation.

Motivation is a feeling. You get this feeling when you feel inspired or ready for a big event. While feeling good will get you started and begin to build good habits, it’s only half the battle. Discipline is what comes after motivation. When you know you have to do something and get it done, even when you don’t want to—that’s what discipline is all about.

Unfortunately, building discipline is easier said than done. To do so, you have to have good habits and stick to them. For something like studying, this might take a month or two to develop. So, when you make a schedule, make sure you stick to it—your future self will thank you.

Wrapping Up

The bar exam is one of the hardest tests you’ll come across. For many students, it takes more than one attempt to pass. Furthermore, if you want to practice law in another state, you might have to take the bar again for that state. While taking the bar exam more than once is rough, it doesn’t have to be. If you implement these tips into your study routine and focus on recovering from your last attempt, retaking the bar can be easy.