Why People Fail the Bar Exam

If you could take a magic pill and pass the bar exam, you would totally take it, right? Well, sorry, no such pill exists.

Instead, passing the bar exam takes hard work and diligence. But it also requires you to avoid some very common pitfalls.

The following are the most common reasons students fail the bar exam. Avoiding these traps will drastically increase your chances of passing the bar exam.


  1. Too much passive studying: Engaging in too much passive studying is the number one reason students fail the bar exam. This is what I like to call the “too much time reading and watching and not enough time doing” problem. Bar review companies are great at assigning a bunch of videos to watch and giving you extremely long outlines to read. While these are valuable resources that can and should be utilized, they are not everything. Be careful to not let these activities eat up too much of your precious bar review time.

  1. Not enough practice questions: The main reason to not spend too much time on passive review relates to practice questions, which are the secret ticket to bar exam success. You only have a finite amount of time to prepare for the bar exam, and you must spend that time wisely in order to pass. Practice questions are shown to yield a high return (i.e., added points on the bar exam) on your time investment. Make sure that you are aiming for 2,000+ multiple choice questions and upwards of 20-30 essays/practice tests throughout your bar prep.

  1. They try to outsmart the exam: You simply can’t outsmart the bar exam. I see many, many students unsuccessfully attempt to pass this test through sheer volume of knowledge. At a minimum, you must know a certain amount of law to pass the test; there is no getting around that. However, there are other critical skills you need in order to pass, such as the ability to issue spot, implement process of elimination strategies, formulate rule statements, develop analysis, and complete the test under the time constraints. If you solely focus on what you know and not how to use that knowledge, you are seriously jeopardizing your ability to pass.

  1. Advice and resource overload: Everyone who has ever taken the bar exam has an opinion on how you should prepare. Even though those people usually have the best intentions, this can lead to you having an overwhelming amount of options to choose from and information to sort through. When deciding whether to take a piece of advice or use a particular resource, you should consider the source of the information and what you know about your own learning style.

  1. Self Doubt: This is the most heartbreaking reason students fail the bar exam. Mindset matters when it comes to passing this test. Unfortunately, the only thing many bar exam takers feel confident in is their perceived shortcomings. They believe they “can’t do multiple choice questions” or “don’t have enough time to study.”  Your own self-doubt will be your own worst enemy. Taking the bar exam is extremely stressful. Therefore, it is important that you put guardrails in place to manage stress and self-defeating thoughts, which, left unchecked, can prevent your success.

Keep your eyes open for these pitfalls. And if you notice yourself starting to form one of these bad habits, be sure to quickly address them and reformulate your game plan.


Kerriann Stout is the CEO of Vinco bar exam coaching company

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