How hard is the bar exam? I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the bar exam is hard.

Sure, pass rates depend to some extent on the state, but in 2019, 58% of individuals that took the bar exam passed it. The other 42% were smart individuals who got through law school, but who just didn’t study efficiently enough to make it through this marathon of an exam.

Don’t let that be you.

The bar exam is hard, but that's because practicing law is hard. And the MBE is just the beginning of a career of doing difficult things. But you can rise to that challenge.

How?

By preparing yourself, using all the right tools, and learning how to study efficiently and so that what you learn STICKS. For the definitive guide on how to do this, check out 'How to study for the bar exam efficiently'.

In this article, however, we’ll explain the 8 reasons the bar exam is so hard and what you can do to prepare for, and neutralize their threats. So, if you're ready ... let's go!

[Pssst, check out 'The best podcast for law students & bar exam prep' for a totally free study tool that can greatly improve your daily bar prep productivity!]

How hard is the bar exam—and how you can make it easier?

Man studying intensively for the Bar exam

Reason 1: The bar is hard because you need to learn a massive amount of law content

Studying for the bar is like drinking out of a fire hydrant. It feels never-ending. There’s always more to know and it comes at you too quickly.

The challenge is synthesizing the law into a coherent body so that you can apply the content you've learned to intelligently answer whatever question the exam throws at you. You also need to prioritize what’s important and remember what you’re learning quickly and efficiently.

What can you do about this?

Make a study plan to prioritize what’s important.

Break down the entire body of law content you need to do into daily, weekly, and monthly study goals. Allocate time every day to learning new content, reviewing older content, and practicing bar-style exam questions. We talk about how to make an effective study plan in our guide on how to study for the bar exam more efficiently.

It's also a good idea to take a practice bar exam early on in your prep so that you (1) know what you're preparing for and (2) get an idea of where your weaknesses lie. Then, plan your prep so as to attack those weaknesses.

Study using Brainscape’s certified MBE flashcards.

Together with our team of law experts, we’ve curated certified adaptive flashcards for the MBE to help you study for the bar exam way more efficiently (especially if you start early). This collection contains over 2,600 flashcards that provide an in-depth review of EVERY major subject area on the MBE, distilling all that content down into its most essential facts. This saves you a ton of work on determining what’s important to know versus what’s secondary.

Brainscape MBE flashcards dashboard
How hard is the bar exam? Very hard. But it's easier if you use efficient study methods like Brainscape's MBE flashcards.

Additionally, our adaptive learning platform harnesses the power of cognitive science to help you bank the facts twice as efficiently as any other study method or tool. And, trust me, when you're going up against the fire hydrant of information that is law school and your bar prep, being able to efficiently learn and memorize it as it comes at you will be a massively powerful bonus!

Get Brainscape's certified MBE flashcards!

Reason 2: The bar is hard because of the time pressure it puts you under

The bar exam is timed, which is pressure in itself. But more than that, the majority of students are trying to learn and remember everything they need in order to pass the bar in a period of only about 10 weeks. And it's this time crunch that contributes to making the bar exam so hard.

What can you do?

Study efficiently with spaced repetition.

Studies show that the most efficient way to learn is with a combination of actively recalling the information and using spaced repetition. That means repeating the things you know more often than the things you don’t. Brainscape’s algorithm automates this process so you’re always practicing what you need to but without getting overwhelmed. This is the fastest way to learn and remember new material. And it's your "secret sauce" to defeating the bar exam's dreaded time crunch.

Train yourself to complete the test quickly by taking practice bar exams.

There's only one way to get better and faster at taking the bar exam, and that’s by practicing bar exam-style questions, both short-answer, and essay. Through this practice, you'll learn how they work, what to look out for, what information to discard, and how to give the examiner exactly what they're looking for.

You'll also develop an instinct for timing (an average of 1 minute and 48 seconds is recommended, per bar question). So get your hands on as many practice bar exam questions as you can, and put in time every day throughout your prep.

Pro Tip: make sure you read 'How to take a practice bar exam—23 key tips' so that you get the most out of this practice!

Reason 3: The bar is hard because its questions are complex

Hard bar exam questions

Imagine yourself already exhausted from three straight hours of exam writing, and reading: “If Maynard wins at trial, the least likely reason for him losing is … ”. You’ll be ready to tear your hair out. What do they want? The best reason he should lose? Is the best answer the most incorrect answer? The least incorrect answer?

People will tell you the bar exam is one of minimum competence, which means that it tests for the minimum level of law knowledge and critical thinking skills required of an individual to embark upon a career in law. While this is technically true, it doesn’t mean that the questions are easy.

The content is riddled with exceptions and nuanced parts of the law. Moreover, many of the MBE questions are designed to trick you with many of their multiple-choice answers being, arguably, correct. There's just no way around it: you'll need to become comfortable with the nuanced "voice" of bar exam questions.

How can you do that?

Practice (and process) the test questions.

Like we said before: practice, practice, practice. Also, very importantly, spend just as much time working through your assessed questions/tests as you do answering them in the first place because this is where the real learning takes place! For every question you answer, try to understand:

  • WHY you got that question, for example, wrong
  • WHY the correct answer was the correct answer
  • WHY the other multiple-choice answers provided were incorrect, too.

In other words, you're not just processing your wrong answers. You're understanding why the best answer was the best answer and the others, not. You should also do this for the answers you got correct because there's just as much learning available there as with wrong answers.

It's only by digging through the weeds like this that you're really going to start deeply understanding the nature of bar exam-style questions and how to answer them.

Pro Tip: Use Brainscape to make flashcards for the facts you learn along the way, and the lessons you want to drill yourself on so that you never forget them.

Attack your weaknesses.

Most people avoid the subjects they’re not good at but sticking your head under the sand isn't a good bar exam strategy. You need to actively target your knowledge and skills weaknesses so you can hone them to a razor's edge. You can do this by making flashcards in Brainscape for the areas of law you tend to struggle with. And, you can create decks of the areas of law you’re the least confident in. Part of using your time effectively is practicing the areas you’re not comfortable with.

If it feels uncomfortable, shine your attention on it!

Reason 4: The bar is hard because there are lots of unknowns

What subjects are tested by the bar exam?

Part of what makes the bar exam so difficult is not really knowing what to expect from it. While some states will provide possible essay topics ahead of time, many don’t. For example, If you’re taking the UBE (Uniform Bar Exam) or you’re in California, you'll have no idea what the essay topics are in advance.

This means you can't cherry-pick your bar prep. You'll need to cover everything, but while paying particular attention to the most commonly tested subjects.

How can you do that?

Devote more study time to the highest-yield subjects.

While you can never be absolutely confident about what you’ll see on the test, it’s widely available information on what the most commonly tested subject areas are on the bar exam. For example, while you know that the MEE (Multistate Essay Examination)—the essay section of the UBE—could ask questions in any of the 15 areas of law, there are 5-7 that are the most commonly tested. Learn what these hot subjects are and make sure you know them really well!

Check out the following awesome blogs from law educational institution, JD Advising:

Reason 5: The bar is hard because it's a marathon of an exam

Man running on the road; Bar exam

The bar exam is a surreal, mind-bending affair. Most states’ exams consist of 2 or 3 consecutive days of 6-hour exam sessions. Factoring in the time you need to get to the test venue and back, prepare and settle, and take breaks, and you're looking more at 8 to 10-hour days of high-stakes, nervous-wracking work. It’s mentally exhausting.

But that’s part of the gig: to pass, you need mental stamina. And like physical stamina, you can become an athlete.

Here's how to do that:

Eat well, exercise, and sleep.

Too many law grads set aside their fundamental biological needs—like proper hydrating, nutrition, sleep, and exercise—while they study for the bar. But rather than saving them time, it actively sets their learning back.

Being sleep-deprived, highly caffeinated, and immobile is only going to make you sluggish and forgetful. You'd get so much more out of your study sessions if you get a good night's rest, eat balanced meals, and get out everyday for at least a good walk.

Our guide 'Optimize your brain health for effective studying' will give you ALL the tools and advice you need to get your physical health right so that your brain becomes your ally in your studies and not your enemy!

Practice taking full bar exams.

The bar exam is a marathon. The way to make it through a marathon is to train, starting with shorter distances and then longer ones. It’s the same with the exam. You need to train by taking questions, fewer at first, and then increasing your sessions. Eventually, you should attempt a full practice exam so that you understand what the real thing is like and, therefore, what you should do to prepare.

Discover Brainscape's MBE Hands-Free Studying videos, making studying as easy as possible. We read you key questions & answers that give you important background knowledge, allowing you to juggle studying and ... anything else (exercise, anyone?).

Reason 6: The bar exam is hard because there's so much riding on you passing #freakingout

The bar exam isn't only a gateway between you and a career in law, but also your results will determine the caliber of the law firms who will want to hire you—which therefore plays a major hand in career opportunities, salary, and your ability to pay back your student loans! It is, in other words, the biggest hurdle yet in your law career. Of course, you're afraid of failing.

Read: 'The biggest reasons people fail the bar exam'

Bar exam anxiety is perfectly natural but it becomes problematic when it derails your study focus, ability to sleep, and on-the-day exam performance. That feeling of “I’m failing this test” while you’re writing it, can be super demoralizing so being able to work through that anxiety will be key to performing well.

What you can do about bar exam stress ...

Be prepared for it to feel really hard.

Even if you feel like you’re failing, don’t let that get in the way of you continuing to the next question and giving it your best shot. Don’t let previous difficult questions throw you off of the next questions. Just know that everyone feels like this and most people still pass.

Did you know? Depending on the jurisdiction, you can miss 40% of the questions on the bar exam and still pass?

Develop strong support.

The best way to build mental resilience is to have a support system of good friends, peers, and family. Get your "wolfpack" on board when you begin your bar exam study plan, and make sure you spend quality time with them throughout it.

And, finally, definitely read our seminal guide 'How to deal with bar exam stress' for exponentially more tips and advice on handling the heat!

Reason 7: The bar is hard because you need to remember to manage your time

Clock on the wall; Bar exam

A majority of students say the hardest part of the bar isn’t the exam itself; it's the time management and the months-long preparation leading up to it! It’s not easy to continually evaluate what you know, what you need to know, and how you should best spend your time.

So, you'll need to develop effective ways to prioritize and focus your effort.

How can you do that?

Draft a detailed effective study plan

We mentioned this earlier, but the best way to manage your time is to have a strategy of attack. It can (and should) change as you go, but you need something to use as your guide so that you know what to do from hour to hour and from day to day. For more detailed advice on creating an effective study plan, check out our guide on how to study for the bar exam more efficiently.

Be efficient in your study methods

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to emphasize that not all study methods are created equal. There’s a reason people only remember a small percentage of what they read: reading is not an effective study method. Brainscape has leveraged decades of cognitive science research to engineer the most efficient method for learning and remembering large amounts of content, and it’s flashcards.

Using flashcards with spaced repetition is the fastest way to learn so make the most of your time by using study methods—like Brainscape's certified MBE flashcards—that will help you learn and remember quickly.

Reason 8: The bar exam is hard because you have to wait for AGES to get your results back

Waiting for bar exam results

If you think studying for the bar exam is hard, wait until you’ve finished sitting for it and are waiting for the results. In what many find to be a cruel joke, the results of the July exam often only come back just before Thanksgiving. This part is tough because it’s out of your control. Maybe you’ll be a lawyer … and maybe you’ll just go back to working for your uncle’s construction company.

You need a way to cope with the wait. How?

Take a little "you time" and then get busy.

You've just spent the past 3 to 4 years of your life working your butt off to graduate from law school and prepare for the bar exam. Now, it's time to treat yourself to a little R&R, even if you don't know if you've passed on not.

Get out of the house, away from your study nook, and take a trip somewhere. Watching the sunrise over some dramatic mountain peaks is sure to take your mind off the hurdles of the past months.

Then, once you've taken a week or more off, get busy again. Your career isn't in the balance here; you're merely waiting the obligatory time everyone else is waiting to get your results back. What could you be doing to move your career along while you wait? Well, lots of law firms offer internships to law grads, so you might consider applying somewhere. The point is, if you get busy, the time will pass a lot quicker.

Yes, the bar is hard ... but you've got this!

You can pass the bar exam

Yes, the bar exam is hard ... but every year, thousands of students pass and go on to pursue exciting and rewarding careers in law. Now, it's your turn and you've absolutely got this!

The difference between the 58% of people that pass and the 42% that don’t is just this: efficient WORK. Those who pass work hard and work efficiently.

So, be that person. Be the person that draws a line in the sand and says, “I’m going to do this.” Be the person that makes a study plan, uses effective study methods, takes practice exams, learns from their mistakes, and develops healthy study habits.

If you do all of these things, you can and you will rise to the challenge of the bar exam!