Should I Postpone The Bar Exam If I’m Not Ready?
You’ve been studying for weeks (maybe months) and the bar exam is quickly approaching. Nonetheless, you are nervous and don’t feel prepared to take the exam. You may be wondering if you should postpone taking the bar exam and wait until the next administration to give yourself some additional time to study. Although there is no one right answer to the question of whether you should postpone taking the bar exam, we discuss some of the considerations that can affect your decision in this post.
Should I Postpone The Bar Exam If I’m Not Ready?
1. Everyone is nervous before the bar exam.
Are you sure that it’s not just nerves? Everyone gets nervous before the bar exam—the bar exam is a big deal! However, don’t let your nerves stop you from accomplishing this important task that you just spent three (or more) years in law school preparing for! If you are feeling especially nervous about taking the bar exam, consider taking a practice exam in conditions that are as close to the actual bar exam conditions as possible. Use released questions. Set up a quiet location where you will not be disturbed. Take the practice exam under timed conditions similar to the bar exam, including breaks. If you don’t want to dedicate two full days to a practice exam, you could even take half of a practice exam (e.g., if you are taking the UBE, you could complete 1 MPT, 3 essay questions, and 100 multiple choice questions).
Completing a practice exam will help you see that you can do this! Some people have such severe test-taking anxiety that they postpone the exam to temporarily quell their anxiety, even though they are ready to take the test! If you are just feeling nervous or anxious, consider Ways to Conquer Your Bar Exam Test Anxiety before resorting to postponing the exam.
2. Remember that you don’t need to score 100% to pass the bar exam.
Because the bar examiners curve your raw score to a scaled score and only tell you the scaled score you need to pass the bar exam, it can be difficult to determine what raw score you need to pass the bar exam. Depending on your state’s passing score, your MBE raw score needs to be about 60-67% in order to achieve a passing score on the multiple-choice portion of the exam (check out our post on What MBE Raw Score is Passing for more detailed information about how to figure out your jurisdiction’s passing raw score). If you are taking the UBE in a jurisdiction that uses a 0-6 scale for essays, you need an average score of approximately 4.0 to pass the essay portion of the exam.
This means that you are aiming for the letter grade of a “D”! You don’t need a perfect score on the bar exam to pass. It is entirely possible that you answer multiple-choice questions wrong or fail an essay and still pass the exam! Even though it can be tough as you are studying and continue to get questions incorrect, try to keep your overall score in mind. Remind yourself that you don’t need to get every question correct!
Also, if you are using software that tracks your overall MBE score on practice questions, remember that you are probably getting a higher percentage correct as you get closer to the exam than you were getting when you first started doing practice questions. So, for example, if you were getting 50% of the questions correct when you first started, but are getting about 70% of the questions correct now, your overall score might be 60%. You may be worried that this is on the lower side of what might be considered a passing score. Your current score, however, is more like 70%, which very likely puts you in the passing range!
3. Try to objectively evaluate your performance.
It can be hard to evaluate your own writing and figure out how you are doing on the written portion of the exam. Thus, it can be difficult to know whether you are actually on track to pass or whether you might be behind. There are a few ways that you can evaluate your written performance to make sure you are on track.
First, self-grade your answers. After writing an answer to an essay question, take the time to carefully review your answer, and compare it to the model answer and/or sample student answers (if available). Try to calculate what percentage of the answer you got correct. Did you correctly discuss three of the five issues? Did you correctly state the rules and most of the analysis? Remember, you don’t need to write perfect essays to get a passing score! You might be doing better than you think on the essay portion of the exam! Check out more information about self-grading your essays, as well as where to find sample student answers to the MEEs.
Second, quiz yourself on the substantive law. Make a list of the highly tested issues, and then try to write down (or state out loud) a rule statement for each of the issues. Some students make the mistake of equating identification with memorization. Just because you can identify an issue does not necessarily mean that you can explain the rule for that issue. If you are taking the UBE, check out the MEE Highly Tested Issues and quiz yourself on the rule statements!
Third, consider getting an outside opinion. You could have a friend or study partner review your written answers and provide feedback. JD Advising offers written essay feedback (for a fee) on MPTs, MEEs, Michigan, and California bar exam essays. This will give you a great idea of where you actually stand with the essay portion of the exam!
4. Consider how much of your bar prep you have completed.
Most commercial bar prep programs provide some structured guidance regarding what you should be doing outside of lectures each day. This often includes setting aside time to focus on memorization/review, practicing essays, and practicing multiple choice. Have you completed most (or all) of the assignments? Some students feel like they need to do more than what is assigned for the course. Although there is nothing wrong with doing more, and it is definitely a great idea, if you have been doing the course assignments, you are probably doing enough! That being said, make sure that you are actually doing the assignments. For example, if the course homework is to review Torts, and you flipped through your Torts outline for about 10 minutes with the TV on in the background, you probably didn’t get much out of that assignment and should not count it as completed. If you have completed most of the coursework, you probably don’t need to postpone taking the exam!
On the other hand, if you are significantly behind with the assignments, you may want to consider postponing the exam. Consider whether you will have the motivation to make a huge push and get a lot accomplished in the limited time you have remaining. If you don’t anticipate getting back on track, you might want to give yourself more time to study. This might involve postponing taking the bar exam until the next administration.
5. Are there personal or external circumstances that could affect your performance?
Unfortunately, life does not stop as you are preparing for the bar exam. It is not uncommon to face unexpected circumstances outside of studying for the bar exam that could impact your ability to continue studying for and take the bar exam. Unexpected personal circumstances are probably the most common reason why you might need to postpone the bar exam. Whether you are facing an unexpected illness, perhaps a death in the family, or some other unforeseen circumstances, this is something that could impact your performance on the exam, regardless of how prepared you are to take the exam. If you find that you are not able to concentrate, cannot find the motivation to study, or simply have too many personal obligations on your plate to make time for the exam, consider whether postponing could alleviate some of the pressure. If you know things will be easier by the next administration, you may want to wait to take the exam.
6. Consider the mental implications of not passing
Even if you aren’t actually ready to take the bar exam, sometimes it is worthwhile to take it anyway. You will get a sense of what the test center and the exam are like. You will also receive (in most jurisdictions) a score report. Your score report will show your strengths and weaknesses so you will know how to better prepare next time. However, if you take the exam knowing that you are unprepared, you may want to consider how you will feel if you find out that you didn’t pass. For some, finding out they didn’t pass can be crippling and creates additional anxiety for the next exam administration. For others, it is not a big deal and they just brush it off. If you know you aren’t prepared and you don’t handle bad news well, you may want to consider postponing. On the other hand, if you know that you can brush off bad news and pick up to begin studying again, there isn’t really a huge risk to taking the exam (other than spending two long days of your life at a test center taking the exam).
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