“I Feel Like I Failed the Bar Exam—Does that Mean I Did?” (Hint: NO!)
A top source of post-bar exam anxiety for many examinees is that they feel like they failed the bar exam. If you share that concern, you are not alone! It is completely normal to feel unsure about how you did and anxious about receiving your score. The good news is just because you do not feel good about the bar exam, that does not mean that you did poorly on it! In this post we tell you 5 reasons why feeling bad doesn’t mean that you failed the bar exam along with our top 3 tips on how to move past post-bar exam anxiety.
“I Feel Like I Failed the Bar Exam—Does that Mean I Did?” (Hint: NO!)
5 Reasons You Probably Didn’t Fail the Bar Exam
Students fear they failed the bar exam for a number of different reasons. Some are anxious because they ran out of time on part of the exam. Others feel like they guessed on too many questions. Still others are convinced they completely bombed an essay. For any scenario you find yourself in, here are 5 reasons why you didn’t do as bad on the bar exam as you think you did!
1. Feelings don’t always correlate with results.
It is normal to not feel good after taking the bar exam. Many examinees are convinced that they failed the bar exam and feel all or some of the following:
- Anxious or worried that they failed;
- Angry or disappointed for forgetting to write something they wish they would have written on an essay;
- Upset about the difficulty of one or more (or all) of the questions;
- Regretful that they didn’t spend more time focusing on certain topics; and/or
- Worried about what others wrote in comparison to them.
Feelings, however, are not at all indicative of score! Some of the highest-scoring examinees are the most worried about passing, and some of the lower-scoring examinees are the most confident. Neither is an indication of certain success or failure!
2. You only need a “D” to pass the bar exam in most jurisdictions.
You are probably imagining you need a higher score than you actually need to pass based on prior experience with exams throughout your life (not including the bar exam!). Successful students are used to scoring high on exams, which means that they probably know the material really well and walked out of the exam feeling good about it. You probably will not feel the same way walking out of the bar exam. Remember, however, that feeling is normal because the bar exam is hard.
A passing score for the bar exam is the equivalent of somewhere between 65% and 75%. In most jurisdictions, you need around a 266/400, which is 66.5%. That number also is the scaled score (read about how to interpret bar exam score reports here), meaning you can score lower than the 66.5% and still pass. There is plenty of room for error while still achieving a passing score on the bar exam!
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the bar exam is easy to pass, but just remember that you do not need a high score in order to do so. And you certainly do not need to score 100% to pass the exam, so getting some answers wrong is more than okay!
3. You can mess up a lot and still pass!
You don’t need 100% to pass, but you may be wondering exactly how much can you mess up and still pass. The answer is simple: a lot! Here are some examples:
- In many jurisdictions, the MEE is worth 30% of your overall score. Accordingly, a score of “0” on one MEE only counts for 5% of your overall score. That means you can write nothing for an MEE and you’re only down to 95%. And because you typically need a score total between 65% and 70% to pass the bar, it technically is possible to fail the MEE and still pass the exam. The chances are high, though, that you aren’t scoring a “0” on all of your MEEs.
- Also, in many states, the MPT is worth 20% of your score. If you run out of time on an MPT and only answer half of the MPT, that is still only 5% of your overall score. If you are interested in more precise calculations, check out our post breaking down an average passing MPT score.
- Similarly, if you missed a lot of multiple-choice questions, remember that there are hundreds of them. The MBE has 200 questions and 25 of them are experimental and don’t count towards your score. If your jurisdiction requires a score of 133 on a scale to pass, you can get approximately 75 questions wrong and still pass!
It’s difficult for high achieving students (as bar examinees typically are) to accept that you can get a lot wrong on an exam and still pass! The reality is though that missing some questions—or even a lot—does not mean that you failed.
4. Mistakes are magnified in your mind.
It’s human nature to focus on what you didn’t know more than what you could recall. Think back to the many exams you have taken throughout your life. After every exam, you likely spent more time dwelling on what you think you got wrong instead of focusing on what you think you got right. If you only think about the questions that you were unsure about though, it will probably feel like you failed the bar exam! Although it is easy to focus on what you may have done wrong, try to remind yourself of all the questions you felt confident about.
Keep in mind as well that the bar exam covers a ton of material spread over many questions. Once you walk out, you will forget a lot of what you answered. Don’t let your mind trick you into believing that you answered an essay wrong when it is impossible to remember what the full fact patterns and calls of the questions were!
Also, it does not matter what you wrote or didn’t write, or if you got a multiple-choice question wrong, or didn’t have time to finish an answer. For better or worse, the exam is over, and it is out of your hands now. There is no use in obsessing about something that you can’t change!
5. You feel anxious when you cannot immediately see your score.
The waiting period between taking the bar exam and finding out your results can certainly be stressful. Generally, bar exam results take between 1-4 months to be released, depending on the jurisdiction. The smaller the jurisdiction is, the more likely the results come out quickly since there are fewer exams (although this is not a hard and fast rule!). The results timetable is also affected by the timing of the administration. Because more examinees take the bar exam in July, results usually take a little longer to release than in February.
Waiting for results can be especially difficult after preparing for the bar exam. Normally, you can take a bar exam practice exam and immediately see your score. Now, you need to wait months to find out if you passed. The waiting period increases anxiety, which in turn, increases the feeling that you failed the bar exam. Although easier said than done, try to focus your energy during this waiting period on doing something awesome and productive! After all, you have more time on your hands now that the bar exam is over.
3 Tips on How to Move Past Post-Bar Exam Anxiety
Remember that regardless of whether you pass or fail, you did it—you finished law school, you took the bar exam—and that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment! If you still feel uneasy about your performance though, below are some tips on how to handle the post-bar exam feelings of anxiety.
1. Take a post-bar exam vacation.
After months of studying, you finally have some free time to do the things you enjoy! Don’t let post-bar exam anxiety get you down. Use your post-bar time wisely, even if you only have a couple days off before starting a job! There are a couple reasons why a post-bar exam vacation is beneficial:
- First, a post-bar exam vacation can help keep stress to a minimum when the bar exam is over. The bar exam is a huge mental and emotional task. A vacation can help you hit the reset button.
- Second, you won’t have time to obsess over what the “right answers” were after the bar exam is over – you will be too busy getting ready to go on vacation and enjoying yourself!
- Third, besides allowing you to get away and have new experiences, travel can put things in perspective. Wherever you are in the world, travel has the ability to make the bar exam seem less scary.
Check out this post with tips for planning a post-bar exam vacation.
2. Take a break from people that induce anxiety.
You know that old adage “misery loves company?” It can apply to the bar exam as well. While it may not be your friends’ intention to drag you into their cycles of anxiety, it is an unfortunate consequence of examinees focusing too hard on the bar exam after it is over. So, don’t join in the misery!
If you have friends that took the bar exam that will not stop talking about it or that are increasing your post bar exam anxiety, either take a break from them or politely explain that you do not wish to talk about the exam. Many people are more than willing to follow this request.
Sometimes just changing who you talk to or what you talk about can make a huge difference in your outlook toward the bar exam!
3. Formulate a game plan.
If you find it impossible to not let go of the feeling that you failed the bar exam, formulate a game plan for what you will do next—and then once the plan is formed, stop thinking about the bar exam until the results come out!
First, think positive. What if you passed? If you don’t have a job lined up yet, look into jobs requiring bar passage. Find a new section of a state bar committee to join. Consider what suit you will wear to your swearing in ceremony. Do something to plan out what your next steps as a lawyer will look like. This will be Plan A.
Hopefully, you won’t need to use a Plan B. But, if you really think that you failed the bar exam (even though you probably didn’t!), and it will make you feel better, form a Plan B. If you already have a job lined up, talk to your employer about what will happen in the event that you don’t pass the bar. If you don’t have a job lined up, determine if you are going to keep looking for a job to start right away or if you prefer to put off the job search until you’ve passed the bar in order to focus full time on studying.
Additionally, as part of your Plan B, consider how you would prepare for the bar exam differently a second time around, and even whether you will take it next administration or wait a full year (or even longer)! Our free guide describes what to do if you fail the bar exam.
Try not to dwell to much in making your Plan B. After you worked so hard during law school and while preparing for the bar exam, you deserve to relax and have fun!
If you are still feeling anxious, check out these posts with tips on how to relax and stop obsessing over the bar exam and ways to avoid worrying about bar exam results before they are released. Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you find yourself consumed with post-bar exam anxiety. Many law schools (especially those involved in larger university networks) offer counseling services or can refer you to places where you can get help. Do not hesitate to utilize these resources if you find yourself struggling post-bar exam!
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