Ask The Professor: Why You Failed The Bar Exam

Marino Ask The ProfessorI should have studied harder.

I did not know enough law.

Maybe I am not cut out to be a lawyer?

Friends that spent less time studying than me passed. How is that possible?

What’s wrong with me?

These are but a few of the comments I have heard over the last 40 years preparing students for the bar exam. I am often asked, “Why did I fail?” Nearly every student I met that failed the bar knew enough law to pass, but just did not know how to get points with the law they knew.

And that is why you failed the bar exam, too.

You did not need to study harder, you did know enough law, you certainly are cut out to be a lawyer, and nothing is wrong with you (at least not when it comes to studying for the bar exam).

Why do I know this? I specialize in helping students retaking the bar exam to pass. I have created and teach the only bar course exclusively for those repeating the New York and New Jersey Bar Exams. I have also designed Maximizers for other state bar exams that train you on how to score points and answer questions when you do not know the law, and what to do with your knowledge to maximize exam performance when you do .

A first-time bar course teaches a lot of law. It tells you what to do, but does not train you to do it. You have to decide on what to memorize and how to apply it. You do this alone — using the same skills and ways you studied during law school. And thus, bar results mimic law school standing; you pass in GPA order at the time of graduation and a bar course does not help you do better on the bar exam then you did in law school.

When students fail, they often study on their own or retake a first-time course and wonder why they failed again. When retaking the bar, you need to focus on memory and exam performance. If you studied hard the first time around, you know or at least have the rules. You do not need to take a first-time course to gather more rules. Your problem now is that you need to learn how to apply the rules you know to the test questions to increase your score.

Why did you fail? Because you could not get enough points to pass. It is why first-timers and retakers fail.

Here is some advice about restudying for the exam.

First: Do not go it alone. Don’t just squirrel up in some room and study prior bar material. Get some help. Consider a tutor or a specialized course like my Retaker Coursefor New York or New Jersey or one of my Maximizers. You need structure and guidance. You need a plan.

Second: Do not “surgically” study. Do not decide you failed because of a certain subject or part of the test and concentrate on just bringing that portion up; your score on the other section will drop. You need balanced preparation while attempting to correct what did not work for you the last time.

Third: Don’t just do lots of questions without laying a substantive and skill foundation. Be strategic, reacquaint yourself with the law, learn a method, practice it, and then perfect it by doing lots of questions when you are ready, not right from the start.When it comes to doing questions, quality not quantity is key. The bar examiners wrote each question with a specific answer in mind. To find that answer, you need a method and you need to develop that method to work within the time allotted. If you are having issues with the MBE consider using my MBE Workshop. It teaches and trains you on a method.

Fourth: Don’t confuse familiarity with knowledge. Students go over the same notes they studied the first time and get less out of them because they are familiar and the student thinks they know them. Do not just read over your notes without considering whether you truly understand how to apply the rules.

Fifth: Study rules, not subject areas. Learn a rule and how to score points with it. Don’t worry about the big picture. Concentrate on what rules are tested and memorize them.

The reason why people fail the bar is they did not get enough points. You studied the law. This time, focus on how to apply that law to earn more points. Improve your methods and your strategy and your score will improve.

Good Luck!!!

P.S. If you failed, send me your score report and I will go over it with you. There is no charge or commitment. I will tell you exactly what went wrong and what you need to do to pass. Just email your score report to along with your phone number and I will call.

Professor Joseph Marino has been a fixture in the world of legal education for the past 40 years. Whether you’re just starting law school, about to take the bar, or an attorney in need of CLE, he and Marino Legal Academy are here to help. He is the Director of Marino Bar Review and the Marino Institute for Continuing Legal Education. He writes a bimonthly column, Ask the Professor. Visit the Marino CLE page on ATL, connect with him onLinkedIn and Facebook, or email him via