Repeating the Cal Bar Exam

Failing the California Bar Exam is not a disgrace, but there’s no glory in it, either. Sure, it’s possible to learn a lot from the experience, and a lot of hugely successful, happy lawyers did not make the grade the first time (or the first few times) they sat for the exam.  Mostly, unsuccessful applicants need to know what they did wrong, and what to do differently next time – aside from getting a higher scaled score.

First, look at your raw MBE score.  Usually, the passing MBE raw score in California is somewhere between 128 and 134. If you got a raw 130, you probably knew the law reasonably well, and your language skills are good. If you got less than 120 on the MBE, you need to emphasize that section as you prepare for the next exam.

Next, look at your raw essay scores. The Examiners have suggested that something around three-quarters of all answers to any given essay question will get scores between 60 and 75. Any paper that gets 60 or less almost certainly is an incomplete answer. The author missed issues.  The graders have been instructed to award a 70 to any paper they’re not sure is passing or failing. Since 70 is a passing socre, that means there’s a presumption going in that you passed.  (Of course, many candidates are able to rebut that presumption.)

Order copies of your essay and performance exams and look at them. Are they full of boilerplate? If so, you’ve made a common error that is easy to correct with practice. Read a few paragraphs aloud. Do they make sense? Check out The Master Essay Method.  I have a lot to say about how to succeed on the written section of the California Bar Exam.

How much practice did you do last time? Given how many pages on this web site (including this one) use a big headline to stress the importance of practice, you can understand why we would focus your attention on practice. If you didn’t do a couple of thousand MBE questions and dozens of essays and PT’s, in our opinion you didn’t seriously prepare for the exam and it’s no surprise you failed.

How was your physical and emotional health? The physical and emotional aspects of preparation are more subtle than the substantive ones, but nobody disputes the most basic idea: how you feel – both physically and emotionally – has a big impact on your performance. You need to take these factors into account when you begin to consider how to approach taking the exam again.