What to do if You Just Failed the California Bar Exam

If you have failed the July 2019 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! There is help out there! Speaking of help, please attend our upcoming, free “How to Pass the California Bar Exam” workshop. Click here to register!The next step chalkboard and feet

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) Attend our Free, “How to Pass the California Bar Exam” Workshop – I am teaching this workshop. I will go over techniques to improve all areas of the bar exam (the essays, pt and MBEs). Attendees receive a free “Pass the Bar Exam Guide) as well as instruction on how to earn more points on the written portion, how to improve your scores, free bar exam writing templates and I will teach you how to approach the MBE. Space is limited: click here to reserve your seat!

3) Find out why you failed – this starts by getting your scores back from the bar. The California bar examiners provide examinees who failed the most recent exam their scores online. It used to be that examinees had to wait for their score sheet in the mail.

When you you review 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: barexamguru@yahoo.com (Note: I offer this on a first come, first serve basis and for a limited time).

To receive a free score review, you MUST email a copy of your actual score sheet (a screen shot will do) 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.

4) 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 2020 bar exam, you will not get your bar results for an entire year from now. That is quite a delay. Taking the February 2020 bar exam would mean you would have results in May and could be a licensed shortly after. Just something to think about.

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, but work smarter – You’re probably thinking, “Duh, Lisa, I know I need to work hard and I DID work hard and I failed.” The key as a repeat taker is to recognize that whatever your study routine or program, it did not work. When I say this, I do not mean that it did not work at all – but, that you did not get the results you wanted. Every unsuccessful and successful bar examinee has weaknesses and STRENGTHS. The most important thing when re-taking the exam is NOT putting in 10 hours of study everyday. But, instead study smarter. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is the first thing you need to do. I find that students often tell me that they did well on a particular area, when in fact that area needs some serious work. Not really understanding the scores and what they mean prevents examinees from identifying and working on their weaknesses and further developing their strengths.

If MBEs are your strength, then do as much as you can to make that an even greater strength. Whether your essays or performance test were passing or not, it is critical to practice and to get feed back so that you can improve your scores. As you may know, it can come down to one essay or 3 or 4 MBEs. That is the reality. Don’t waste your time on reading hundreds of pages of substantive law. Instead, focus mostly on the actual test, practicing and practicing and hopefully getting feedback on your writing from someone who knows what they are doing.

7) Maximize your study time – We work with first time takers, attorney takers and repeat takers. Each of our students has a different study availability. The only way to succeed on the bar exam, in my opinion, is by creating a realistic study plan that addresses both your strengths and weaknesses and makes the most of the time you do have available. Each of our students receives a personalized program designed to adapt to their work and life. Many of our students work full time. In these situations, we put together a study plan that is designed around work and other life constraints so as to make the most of the time that is available, to prepare. It is important to maximize your time (whether you have a lot of time to study or only part time to study). Sitting and reading outlines is a passives pursuit that does not lead to writing a successful exam or doing well on the MBEs. You need to know the test!

And please let us help sort some of these things out for you – we review score sheets for a limited period of time and also provide a free “How to Pass the California Bar Exam” workshop.

Above all, do not lose heart! If it is your dream to become a lawyer, then Do. Not. Give. Up!

All the best,


Lisa Duncanson

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