Bar Exam Candidates: Common Exam Preparation Pitfalls to Avoid

Law School

Passing bar exam goes beyond just going to lecturers, studying and memorizing the rule books. There are more abstract and totally neglected areas which create the greater pitfalls during preparations.

According to Kerriann Stout a millennial law school professor and founder of Vinco (a bar exam coaching company) there are many different reasons people fail the bar exam but there are three specific things which are difficult to teach and even more difficult to watch students struggle with. In her words:

…believe it or not, there are some things that plague me more than poorly written MBE questions. Watching my bar exam students self-destruct before my very eyes is one. It is true that the bar exam tests the ability to use critical reading, writing, and thinking skills to apply facts to law. Generally, these things are teachable by me and learnable by my students. However, there are a few mental and emotional qualities that are necessary to possess in order to successfully study for and pass the bar exam. From where I sit, these things are a lot more difficult to teach and even more difficult to watch my students struggle with. While there are many different reasons people fail the bar exam, I have repeatedly seen three specific things creep up and create issues for many students.


Making a commitment involves dedicating yourself to something, like a person or a cause. Before you make a commitment, you need to think carefully. A commitment obligates you to do something.

In order for someone to pass the bar exam, he or she has to really want it, fully, completely, and without reservation. It requires hours upon hours of hard work and a clear plan of attack. Preparation and commitment towards applying for bar exam should begin about three years before the actual exam.

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This is the most underrated factor in bar exam success. Students have to undeniably believe they can prepare for and pass the bar exam.  Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in one’s self.

In Kerrian’s words; “When I sense that they don’t have self-confidence, I ask them point blank, “if you don’t think you can do this, what are we doing here?” I don’t mean to be blunt or harsh. But, if deep down they truly don’t think they are capable, that needs to be acknowledged and be addressed.

This does not mean that there would not be moments of doubt. There would definitely be a day where you think, “I literally know nothing” That is totally normal and to be expected. What can be problematic is a constant, underlying stream of negativity. The greatest arsenal is to be able to conquer the voice in your head that says, “I can’t do this,” “ I’m not smart enough,” or “I am bad at (essays, test taking in general).”

It is important for the students to change their inner dialogue to one of positivity. They need to become their own biggest fan. The goal is for the student to be scared enough to respect the exam and work hard, but not to be so paralyzed with fear that it impedes  learning process.

Kerrian advises “To help with this, I discuss with them that they are not alone. Thousands of other students are in the same position and hundreds of thousands have sat where they sit now and lived to tell the tale. We shift the focus from fear to confidence and work on letting go of perfect and aim at prepared.”

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Self-awareness about the effectiveness of one’s own study plan and actual skill level is critical to passing the bar exam. No one likes to feel as if they have no idea what is going on, but that is pretty much how everyone feels during the first month of lecturers. Students are getting so much information thrown at them, and it is extremely overwhelming.

These overwhelming feelings often make students engage in harmful study habits, such as using notes to take untimed practice questions. It feels good to get questions right, so they use their notes and take their time. As a result, they think, “I know this.” But, they are lulling themselves into a false sense of security, because it is important to have an accurate idea of how you would perform on test day. Students must learn to accept that studying hard is simply not enough; they must also learn to study smart. It is essential to know the areas of law that you need to study more, even if this means putting other subjects to the side when you have mastered them.

Students can’t simply will themselves into passing the bar exam by having a good attitude. It takes an unimaginable amount of discipline and hard work. Law needs to be memorized, thousands of practice multiple-choice questions must be completed, and many essays need to be written. However, there is more at play underneath the surface.

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