I Failed the Bar Exam by Five Points (or Less). What Should I do?
If you found out that you failed the bar exam by five points — or even fewer! — you may feel both very frustrated and encouraged! Students tend to have two conflicting reactions — first, they think of all of the things they wish they would have done (“I wish I would have written XYZ”). Then they are also somewhat encouraged because at least they don’t have that far to go to pass! Students also wonder what their options are. Here we tell you what to do if you are that close to passing!
I Failed the Bar Exam by Five Points (or Less). What Should I Do?
1. Consider an appeal.
Most states do not allow you to appeal your bar exam score. That is, you have no right to say “you graded my essays unfairly” or “there was some extraordinary circumstance,” etc. You just have to accept that you failed and move on.
However, a bar exam appeal is definitely something you should at least look into if you failed the bar exam by five points or less. The jurisdictions that appear to allow some kind of appeal based on the allegations of unfair essay grading are: Michigan (we wrote five of the six passing appeals in the state last administration, so we are very familiar with this appeals process!), Indiana, Mississippi, and Guam. Some states (Connecticut, Iowa, Utah, etc.) allow appeals for “extraordinary circumstances.” Usually, these are unsuccessful. Many states (New York, South Carolina, and the vast majority of them) make it very clear that there absolutely is no appeals process! Read the rules of your jurisdiction carefully if you are considering appealing.
Even if you appeal, do not put all your eggs in that basket. Still study as though your appeal will not win! Most do not.
Update: As more states are adopting the Uniform Bar Exam, appeals are becoming even less common than they were. (Even some of the states listed above are eliminating their bar exam appeals process in 2023 with the adoption of the UBE).
2. Study your score report, request the written portion of your exam, and figure out where you fell short.
Your score report should, at the very least, break down your MBE score and your written score. Rather than just assuming the MBE was where you fell short (as many students do!) actually analyze your score report! To determine exactly what your MBE score means, please see this post. If your state grades on a 400-point scale and the MBE is worth half your score (*this is how all Uniform Bar Exam states grade) then simply divide the passing score by two to determine what your MBE score should be.
So, if you are in New York, you need a 266 to pass the exam. 266 divided by 2 is 133. Your MBE score should be 133 or higher if you want to technically “pass” that portion. (If your state grades on a 200-point scale, like Michigan, which requires a 135 to pass, you want to aim for a 135 on the MBE to pass!).
If you are in a Uniform Bar Exam state, check out this post called “What does my Uniform Bar Exam Score Report mean?” When looking at your score report, analyze what area you fell short on – the MBE, the MEE, the MPTs, or some combination of them. This will help you decide where you need to change your study strategy.
Also, request your essays from your state bar! Most state bars allow you to pay to see your essay/MPT answers. Some allow you to make an appointment to review them. Take advantage of this opportunity! You can glean a lot of information from it!
3. Pretend as if you failed by 30 points.
I hate to even tell this story, but we have one student who came to us to use our bar exam services on his seventh time taking the bar exam. (This means he has been taking the bar exam for almost four years of his life.) When looking back on his bar exam history, he had failed the bar exam by five points or less on every single exam that he took. He told us that he wishes he would have just completely changed his approach and expended the time, energy, and resources into his second attempt at the bar exam, rather than being in bar exam limbo for almost four years!
He is actually not that unique. We have a few students on their fourth or fifth try who have come remarkably close to passing the bar exam in the past. Some of them give up. Others finally make a change and pass the bar exam after coming so close so many times.
We do not say this to scare you, but to motivate you to take any bar exam failure really seriously. Pretend as if you failed by 30 points. If you need a 260 in your jurisdiction to pass, aim for a 290. Come up with a bar study plan. Start studying early. Invest in new resources. Give it your all. The fact that you came close can be motivating, but you should not let it make you lazy in your approach or you may find yourself in the same exact position in six months.
4. Figure out what you need to change moving forward.
If you scored lower on one portion of the bar exam than the other (particularly if it was a big difference — like 10 or 20 points), you will need to dedicate sufficient time and energy to that portion and make it a priority. However, you should not neglect the portion you scored well on.
Let’s say you scored a 145 on the essay portion and a 121 on the MBE and your state requires a 270 to pass. Yes, you will need to work on your MBE and this should be your focus. Make sure you are using released MBE questions. Focus on your weaker subjects. Get a tutor for those if necessary. (A 121 needs work!) Work on timing if that was the culprit! But don’t ignore the essay portion — that is your strength, so turn it into a super-strength! Study the highly-tested areas of law. (Get MEE one-sheets if you are in an MEE or UBE state). Practice more MPTs if you neglected those. Figure out how to improve both portions of the exam, even if you have to concentrate on one more than the other. You may even want to consider a new course option. Like we have several On Demand and Premium bar review courses available and we specialize in helping repeat takers pass!
5. If you are working and want to invest resources in a new approach, consider asking your boss for help.
Most firms (even biglaw firms) will not fire associates who fail the bar exam once. However, many firms will seriously consider firing someone who fails the bar exam more than once. You do not want to be out of a job, especially when you came so close to passing. We highly recommend that you make sure you make the bar exam an absolute priority. There are two ways you can do this with work:
First, ask for time off. Again, it does not matter that it was “only” five points. You do not want it to be “only” five points for seven bar exam rounds. Ask for the last month of studying off at the least, or for a reduced schedule. This will also show your boss you are taking it seriously.
If you want to invest in any resources (including the ones we list below) as your boss if the company will contribute to them. We have had several lucky students whose firm paid for their entire bar review course, tutoring, or for even an essay course. Remember, they want you to pass as much as you do! You are much more of an asset once you are a licensed attorney! You may be surprised at how willing they are to help you.
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