What determines your ability to pass an exam?

1. Adequate preparedness of the exam

Inadequate Preparation

Regrettably, too many of these students will approach the exam minimizing the importance of preparation. And discounting their ability to control circumstances which will enhance their ability to prepare. They will resort to old study habits like cramming and passive study. Using them may have gotten them to the point of passing exams. But they are almost always counterproductive to passing the exam.

  1. Proper study Habits

Inappropriate Study Habits

Once a student is able to discard old notions of testing and test preparation. Those based perhaps on negative school exam experiences, he or she is ready to prepare for the Examination with the requisite openness. New approaches and testing techniques to succeed on the bar exam. Unfortunately, students’ preparation is often compromised by their old study habits.

There are people who have dedicated much of their adult lives to studying the bar exam. And preparing students for it. These gurus have been able to spot trends in testing; identify patterns in answers; and develop successful strategies for test-taking. Most of them will tell you that students must put in the time to pass the bar Examination.

That may mean studying anywhere from 6 to 10 hours per day, 5 to 6 days per week, for 6 to 10 weeks prior to the exam. This advice is often lost on some students. Relying on tried and true school study habits, which may have been developed in college, these students do not follow the advice given to them to put in the required amount of time. Instead, they cram.


Cramming does not work. It often proves unsuccessful for the simple fact that the student is now cramming the subject matter of the year-long or semester-long courses, which has already been crammed or condensed into three-hour lectures and even shorter outlines by the bar review programs. Consequently, students who cram, in effect, are merely touching the surface of an already superficial treatment of an area of law. It will not work for most of them.

Passive Learning

Another way in which the adequacy of a student’s preparation is undermined is by the way in which they study. Many students still engage in “passive study.” They will simply read the materials or listen to tapes, one or more times, believing this process will result in retention.

Studies have shown, however, that a more “active” learning approach results in greater learning. Active learning requires “handling,” shaping or manipulating the information read, e.g., reading and outlining, summarizing, or answering questions about what was read.

Most bar review courses include a component that requires students to take practice exam questions. This component affords students the opportunity to discern what they know from what they do not know and make necessary corrections in time. Successful bar attempts are often the result of this key bar preparation component.

For the bar exam, it is beneficial to unlearn certain study habits and adopt new ones.Whatever the habit, successful ones are those which result in consistency of study and ability to concentrate. If a student is studying evenly and effortlessly, then the study habit employed is the right one.

  1. Be Confident

Unproductive Exam Anxiety

We now turn to a final consideration-unproductive Examination anxiety. A little anxiety is a good thing. It keeps people motivated and alert. Too much, however, may result in dysfunction. As such, a student’s appreciation of the need for preparation and productive study habits may be undermined if he or she is too anxious to sit down to engage a consistent study program. Bar study is work best done alone. Forget study groups. This is not work done by committee. Yet, it is when we are alone that some of our deepest fears and anxieties surface.

In the exam context, to avoid the fears, many students avoid the situation. They take jobs they do not really need. They obsess over matters that are either not within their control, for example a friend’s martial problems, or over matters within their control, but for over which they may procrastinate, for example contacting creditors so that they will not bother them during the study period. With either situation, students lose valuable time and energy needed for successful exam preparation.

While there are fears and anxieties best dealt with by mental health professionals, many of those of the typical bar exam candidate stem from one main source. As we noted in the beginning, fear of falling. This fear is two-fold. It is not just that one has failed. It is that the failure is such a public event. At one time, the only way candidates learned that they had passed in certain jurisdictions was the presence or absence of their names in the major newspaper.

The public humiliation thus connected to failure was often enough to deter students from even attempting to take the bar Examination. The best way to address this fear is head-on. First, students must recognize that it can happen. They must then put the thought out of their heads and give the exam effort 100%.

While students can control many factors connected to bar preparation, there can be situations that arise, which they cannot control, and negatively impact their preparation. The worst that can happen in any event is that the student will have to take it again. If passing the exam is the goal, then the student will take it as many times as is necessary to achieve it.

  1. The reasons for the failure of repeat-takers are often markedly different from those of first-time takers. Accordingly, we must leave to another article an exploration of the reasons for repeaters.
  2. I am fond of the expression, “Fix the problem; not the blame.” I cast no aspersions upon any person, student or institution, I merely restate a view shared by many students in an effort to suggest solutions to those who may have experienced, or, are apprehensive about the possibility of failing the bar exam .
  3. Nothing is impossible, however, and where there is a will to tamper’,. there probably is a way. Thus, there have been challenges to bar examiners for what amounts to “wrongful failure” of individual bar candidates.
  4. Some studies show a relationship between LSAT/GPAs and success on the bar Examination. There are, however, bar preparation courses and tutorials which address this relationship and which attain pass rates rivaling the overall state rate. No student, therefore, should fear failing simple because of he/she falls within certain groups or groupings. It may just take a little more work to avoid becoming a statistic.
  5. Work must be performed within bounds. Thus, we always recommend a study program to include all the priorities a student my have (work, family, study) and one which seeks to balance the need to work with the need to rest and maintain those other priorities.

About Author

Sabina Kamene