California Bar Exam: What Should You Do if You Just Failed the bar exam?

Hello all,

With the California bar results finally in, we now know that the overall pass rate (including all takers: first time, repeat takers and attorney takers) was 49%. 62% percent of all first time takers passed the July 2017 bar exam. (Incidentally, in 1994, the first time pass rate was 63%). The pass rate for repeat examinees was 28%.

Below are preliminary statistical analyses released from the California State Bar Examiner’s website for the July 2017 General Bar Exam:

  • 8,545 applicants completed the exam
  • 5,397 (63.2 percent) were first-time applicants
  • The passing rate for first-time applicants was 62 percent overall
  • 3,148 applicants were repeat applicants
  • The passing rate for repeat applicants was 28 percent overall*

*Source: California State Bar Website

For more information on statistics from the California State Bar, click here.

So, what should you do if you just failed the bar exam?

Dont give up

If you have failed the bar exam, keep in mind that the bar exam is not an IQ test. Many very bright and hardworking examinees fail the exam. As devastating as this experience is, it is important to start thinking about what you need to do next. Below are some tips and suggestions. Above all, do not lose heart.


1) Get past being devastated as quickly as possible – I know this sounds really harsh, but the sooner you are able to get back on track and develop a plan for passing – and yes, start studying again – the better. Those that do, have the best chance of passing the next exam. Our students who begin their studies quickly enjoy the highest pass rates. Even if you are uncertain of who you will use for your bar review prep, simply begin studying as quickly as you can. MBEs are now 50% of the California bar exam. Start doing practice MBEs right away, this is critical.

2) Find out why you failed – this starts by getting your scores back from the bar. The bar will automatically mail score sheets to all examinees who failed the bar. This usually takes 1 – 3 days after bar results come out. When you get your scores, don’t panic and don’t make assumptions about any one section. You will receive raw scores and scaled scores. Take the time to read the materials that come with your score sheet that explain the raw and scaled scores. See also, other posts on this blog about making it to re-read and interpreting bar scores. And, if you need help interpreting your scores, you can get it through Bar None Review – contact me (Lisa Duncanson) directly at: (Note: I offer this on a first come, first serve basis and for a limited time. To participate you must email a copy of your actual score sheet, with your name and date of your score sheet shown and a phone number where you can be reached). For more information on what to expect if you have just learned you were unsuccessful on the bar exam, click here.

3) Commit to taking and passing the NEXT exam – in almost every case, I would recommend taking the very next bar exam. Obviously there are sometimes reasons to sit out a bar exam administration – but in most cases, the best advice is to take the very next exam. Think about it, the material seems like it has fallen out of your head right now – just think how hard it will be to put it all back together if you wait another six months – that would be a whole year since your last review – not a good plan. In addition, if you decide to sit out the February 2018 bar exam, you will not get your bar results for an entire year from now. That is quite a delay. Taking the February 2018 bar exam would mean you would have results in May and could be a licensed shortly after. Just something to think about.

4) Attend our free workshop –  I will be teaching a free, How to Pass the New 2-Day California Bar Exam workshop this Monday, November 20th in Costa Mesa, California. Students will receive a free copy of our Guide to Passing the California Bar Exam as well as free bar exam writing templates. The workshop will provide substantive coverage on how to successfully write for the California bar examiners, how to develop a plan for succeeding on the February 2018 bar exam, tips for writing Performance Test, MBE and strategies and tactics for success on the bar exam. Space is limited. Click here to reserve your space now for Monday, November 20th!.

Note: the above workshop may be our only free workshop offering for the February 2018 bar exam. We highly recommend that you try to attend. We will post any additional free workshops if offered.

5) Develop a plan of attack – Your plan might include taking another bar review course, hiring a tutor, or continuing your studies on your own. There are many courses available that cater to different needs – small classes, private tutorials. Do your research and due diligence before enrolling in a course. Ask for references, ask to see the course materials before enrolling, make sure the bar review provider is a good fit for your needs. And, don’t abandon your common sense – if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. But, whatever you do (take a course or study on your own) make a plan – figure out how many hours you will study each day, where you will study, how long will you have to review each topic, how many essays you will write each week, how many MBEs you will do each day, how many PTs you will write – figure it out, map it out and develop a plan.

I will write more about how to create a study plan in future posts.

6) Work hard – no matter how hard you worked the first time, you are going to have to work just that hard again. And, if in your honest assessment of your prior bar studies you conclude that you did not work hard enough – well then you are going to have to work harder and smarter. There simply is no magic bullet. This should not be discouraging to you (although I certainly understand that it can be. Instead, focus on the improvements you have made and see that your prior studies will be part of your ultimate success on the bar exam. And please let us help you sort some of these things out for you – we review score sheets for a limited period of time and also provide the above free workshop as a way to help students have a context for their own scores (this is communicated privately) and to realize that there really is a way to pass this exam – working full time even, we have students do this all of the time. It simply requires a realistic plan.

Above all, do not lose heart! If it is your dream to become a lawyer, then do not give up!

All the best to you and I hope to meet you at our workshop!


Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director
Bar None Review and Bar Exam Cram Session (™)
(213) 529-0990