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Top Ten Reasons why People Fail the Bar Exam. And, how you can pass your next bar exam!

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You were not worried enough.You got by in law school—maybe not the top 10%, but hey, you passed, so you thought you’d nail the bar exam. Many people you know (some not nearly as smart as you) passed their Bar exam so you thought, “It can’t be that tough.”    It was that tough.

The bar exam is a whole different ball game, physically and mentally, from law school finals. First off, it is two full days, not a few hours. You will be exhausted, more tired than you’ve ever been in law school. Second, it is way more material than you’ve ever had to deal with on a single exam. Third, the anxiety level is much higher. People around you are terribly stressed out, and rightly so since so much of peoples’ future rides on that outcome.  Get with the program. Word hard, really hard, now; relax when you pass. If you’re working while studying, realize that you may not be able to do it all. Think about taking out a loan so you can give the Bar exam two totally concentrated months of full time study.

  • You were too worried. You were filled with so much anxiety that you cannot relax enough to learn the material.

To pass the bar exam, you have a lot to study and you are right to be concerned, but you cannot absorb the law if you are completely stressed. Stop. Slow down.  As you work toward success on your next bar exam, sleep more. Take breaks. Do deep relaxation and physical exercise. You cannot study effectively for 20 hours a day, and you don’t need to in order to pass. Just be diligent, disciplined and give it a good 6-10 hour day. Remember: slow and steady won the race. Also, realize you are dealing with more material, more subjects, but the depth of analysis is not nearly as intense as a law school final or law review article. You are not trying to be Justice Holmes, or have your Bar Exam answers published in the Harvard Law Review. You just want to pass.

  • You have not learned the law. Did you brief cases on your own in law school? All your cases Do you really know and understand what a case is—what the difference is between a holding and dicta? Do you know what an easement is? Do you understand UCC Section 2207? If you don’t REALLY get it, it o.k. to admit that now. You can learn before it’s too late. But don’t set yourself up to fail. We all know that people can get by in law school, passing all their classes without really ever having the whole process of legal analysis click.

To pass the bar exam this next time around, do what it takes to learn everything thoroughly.  Be able to teach every testable concept to someone else, know it that well.


  • You were the Dreamer. You went beyond the scope of the fact patterns. You read into things. You assumed facts not in evidence.

Next bar exam, read slowly and force yourself to stay awake. Recall what you read, take notes, and then analyze them thoroughly. Stay away from saying, “But what if the party were an adult?” If the facts say the party is a minor, work with that. Why bother with the “what ifs?” The party is a minor, period, end of story. Analyze the facts and the law accordingly.

  • You have weak reading comprehension skills. You really didn’t understand what you were reading. Either you were too nervous, trying to read too fast, or you had not trained your reading skills thoroughly enough.

The Bar Exam, like all standardized tests, is largely a test of reading comprehension. Your reading must be in top shape to pass.

Do lots of practice tests and study the model answers. Figure out what you did wrong. Re-read instructions. Also, if you want a good exercise: try reading, and summarizing in one to three sentences, all the articles in the opinion section of the newspaper each day; this will train your skills and keep you informed at the same time!

  • You are a Practicing Attorney in Another Jurisdiction. You were licensed to practice in another state, and trying to get licensed in a new state. You may have been practicing for years. You are angry at having to take the Exam in the first place. You are an attorney, after all. You are licensed. You have done your time. You shouldn’t be asked to have to take another test. It’s been a while since you were a student and you resent this imposition.  You are also knowledgeable in the real world.

It’s possible that you know too much, especially practical aspects of law. You think of too many realistic concerns and issues and get hung up on them. You need to pretend you are back in school. Think BIG issues, and write a complete analysis. And, stick to the fact pattern.  

This is not shorthand; you are not resolving a client’s problem on a bar exam essay question or an MBE. This is long hand. Give a complete analysis to prove your skills for the grader –demonstrating why the facts prove or disprove every element of every relevant rule.  You often get just as many points for showing why a plaintiff (or prosecutor) should not prevail on a bar exam as why another should prevail.

“Show the math.” In other words, make your reasoning explicit.  Write in step by step IRACs. Also, lay off the jargon unless terms are used in the problem. Don’t use flashy terms to impress the grader; you won’t. Don’t use “heretofore,” “the party of the first part” “said party” or “said issue.” Just write out a simple and logical IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion), in short but complete plain English sentences.

  • You have poor typing skills and/or you write illegibly. 

If the bar exam graders can’t read what you wrote, they won’t. They will not assume you wrote the right things. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  Sloppy careless typing or writing with major mistakes in spelling and grammar can bias a grader.  Lawyers are organized.  Present yourself on paper on your bar exam as you would in a job interview –as a competent, organized, clear-thinking and clear-sounding professional.

  • You didn’t manage time well enough. You didn’t bring a clock with you to the Exam, or you didn’t look at the clock you had. Either way, time ran away without you. You were caught with moments to go and unanswered or barely answered questions.

Even one question left unanswered or only partially answered is enough to fail you. Practice every day, under timed conditions.  Practice with a big, easy-to-read analog clock. (Read rules for your jurisdictions about what types of clocks or watches you may bring into the exam.)  And practice with the device you will bring in to the  bar exam with you.

  • You are not ready to be a lawyer. Maybe you went straight from college to law school, and are still a little overwhelmed. You may not even know for sure if you want to be a lawyer, and you are certainly not ready to have someone else’s life or financial future in your hands. This is common, and it is just fine.  Pass anyway; pass this next bar exam!

Many licensed lawyers do not practice law.  Getting your license does not obligate you to any kind of job, or life.  You don’t have to be an “unhappy stressed out lawyer.”  You can be and do anything you want.  Your law license will provide greater not fewer opportunities, in and outside of the law.  

If you are unsure about the career you want to pursue, put your doubts in a box until after you pass the Bar Exam.  Then research opportunities before accepting a law job. Don’t commit ahead of time to a job you are not ready to accept.  Know that there are enormous benefits to passing the bar exam and being licensed to practice even if you choose not to practice law.  And, after you take the bar exam (wholly focused on passing), meet with a trusted career advisor and think carefully about what you want. Read books on what successful people are doing with JDs.  Get informed, and keep every door open wide.  

  • You were simply unlucky last time. 

Some people do just have a bad day.  Family problems, physical accidents or other incidents happen just before or during bar exams.  Bar timing is rotten luck. If you are one of these people, just climb back on the saddle, and do it again. Pass this next bar exam.


More info to help you pass the bar exam in Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals.  You will get there.  The next bar exam is yours to pass!


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Failed the bar exam? Pass the February bar exam!

W. Somerset Maugham said, “To bear failure with courage is the best proof of character that anyone can give…”  A failure is only that if you let it be.  You are in control.

Do you want to pass the February Bar Exam?  Then, do it.  February is yours to pass.  You will go in with a “been there done that” edge, and you will knock it out of the park, if you are willing to do the hard work.  Go to, sign up today, and get the help you need to pass the February bar exam.

“Learn from your past; don’t let it define you. If you weren’t frustrated you would not be normal. How can someone invest so much and not be. You put in years of study –your time, your money, your sweat and your pride. But, you are not alone, and you can turn it around. You did not pass this past bar exam, but you did not fail as a person. Once you get over the disappointment, you can turn this into a challenge, go into problem solving mode –figure out how to pass next time. If you think “success” means never failing, think again. Learn from this so-called failure and make it your step to success this next bar exam.”  Excerpt from Professor Berman’s Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals

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MBE Strategy: Get Ready for Success in July!

The most important part of MBE work in  May and June for July takers is daily, repetitive, completing of questions and carefully studying explanatory answers.  Study must include why the wrong answer picks are wrong and why the correct answer was correct; the more detailed your learning the better.

MBE questions are much like essay questions, only with pointed answer choices. Each wrong choice takes you down an incorrect reasoning path or an incorrect understanding of the law.  The more thoroughly you debrief after completing practice sets the better your understanding.  For that reason, I often suggest that at the beginning of bar review you do fewer questions if need be but really try to understand them thoroughly.  I urge you to complete regular sets of MBE questions every single day, as a ritual.

As the summer goes on, increase the numbers of questions you complete each day, and be sure to do some full sets of 100 questions to train your endurance. Also increase your speed so that you get to completing questions in 1.8 minutes per question by mid-late June.

One of my students who just passed the February Bar Exam said he only had time to complete 17 MBE questions daily, but he did them (in one half hour) every single day for months before passing the bar exam.  He spent 30 minutes completing the daily sets and 30 minutes reviewing the answers. One hour on MBEs religiously every single day, and slow and steady won the race.

How many MBEs are you doing each day?

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Failed the Bar Exam? (No, you just have not yet passed!)

If you just found out the failed the bar exam, you are undoubtedly and justifiably going through turmoil right now.

  • You are angry.  You put in all this work, and time, and money.  You finished three years of law school successfully.  And, now this!  You may be outraged.  Let it out. Punch some pillows.  Scream at the top of your lungs in private in your car.  Then, in the days and weeks to come, transform that anger into power, motivation, and determination to pass this next bar exam.
  • You are sad.  Others (many you know well from years of law school and you know that they are no “smarter” than you.)  Take a few days, or a week even, to let the sadness out.  Cry. Talk with your “safe” person.  Journal.  Take some long walks. Eat chocolate.  Then, by May 31 at the very latest, (the timely filing to re-take the California Bar Exam), get back on track.  Remember that you are smart enough. You did graduate law school, and you can do this.  It is a step back; it is not defeat. And, if you learn from this so-called “set back” you can eventually come through the process much more appreciative when you do pass and much more embracing of every door that will open because of your knowing how much you put in to earn that license.
  • You doubt yourself. The worst part of failing the bar exam, for many people, is the hit to your confidence. You feel like others think less of you.  Remember that many many brilliant people have failed bar exams and will continue to.  This is not a referendum on you or your ability, and certainly not a pronouncement about your potential.  As a colleague put this recently, “We teach people how to treat us.”  Why you failed the bar exam and what you will do now to pass the next time are your narratives.  And, if you project confidence in yourself going forward, people will treat you as a person who needs no doubting.  But if you walk around with the weight of self-doubt pulling you down, it may cause others to question your capability.  So treat this news that you failed this past bar exam as a simply an issue that requires problem solving.  Let these next two months be about learning everything you need to go in and pass the next bar exam –everything meaning not just the substantive knowledge, but the skills and the study habits. Embrace the process.  Want the positive outcome next time, and want it badly. Fight for success, head held high.

So, if you failed this last bar exam, whatever else you do, the most important thing is to keep this point front and center: You CAN do this!

You are not the kind of person who quits when you stumble or you would not have graduated from law school.  You have the kind of determination to see this through. You completed three or four grueling years pursuing your legal education.  There is a presumption that you are qualified to do the work it takes to pass.

Take the weekend and a few days next week if you need to be angry and sad and frustrated. Indulge, if you need to, in a few hours of self-doubt.  Then, banish that doubt.  Transform the anger, sadness, and frustration into perseverance and commitment.  Dust yourself off. Accept and believe that you CAN pass your next bar exam. Then, get busy problem-solving.

How will you pass the next bar exam?

1)    Re-take a full service bar review course?

2)    Take a supplemental Essay, MBE, and/or PT course to focus on my weaknesses?

3)    Hire a tutor?

Without knowing more about your scores, it is hard to know what each person needs. For some people, a tutor is helpful. But many people do not need the extra expense of a tutor.  If you scored lower than passing on the MBE portion as well as on essays and/or PTs, it might make sense to re-take a full service course. You can complete more practice tests, in all three areas, and continue to review the substantive law in all the areas you are weaker in.

The better you know the law, the easier you will understand the essay questions and answers.  If someone (a tutor) is just showing you technique and you are still weak on the law and have to do all of that law learning yourself, you can easily get overwhelmed.  Having a course may help you to pace yourself, and strike the balance between law and skills.

If you decide to re-take a full service bar review course, you don’t necessarily have to listen to every single lecture again, but you will have access to all the material if you need it.  Sometimes, studying the substantive law again will help it sink in, and help you really to get it. Couple that study with a daily schedule that includes taking practice tests and studying sample answers.

Many successful repeat bar takers skip full service bar reviews the second time around and focus on weaker areas by taking supplemental courses.  If your written work was fairly strong but your MBEs weak, you may want to take an MBE supplement, such as PMBR or another reputable course. If your MBE scores were high and you only missed because of essays or performance tests, it might make sense to take a supplemental Essay or PT course. offers such as do many other reputable bar review providers.

Talk with trusted colleagues and ASP faculty.  Honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses.  Continue maintaining your strengths and push hard to improve in any areas that were weaknesses.  (In other words, review subjects you know well to remain current in them, and study in more depth those you don’t know as well.  Continue a small number of practice MBEs if those were your strength and throw yourself into essay and PT writing if those were weaknesses.)

Develop a solid plan and get on track for success on the next exam!  You will go in to the bar exam test site with a “Been there, done that” edge.

July is your bar exam to pass, so long as you lick your wounds, get back up, and get going.

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If you or someone you cared about did not pass the February bar exam

It might not be in these words, but those who learn tonight that they failed the bar exam may well feel not just like the proverbial rug was pulled out from under them, but that the entire world has turned upside down.  Too many times, I have heard, “I just found out that I failed the Bar Exam. I am devastated. All that work for nothing.  I don’t see how I can pick up and go on and do that [expletive] thing again.”

Know that you are not alone.  You have friends, family, and significant others who love you and support you, and think just as highly of you today as they did yesterday. They were and are still your team, and they will not abandon you.  

Also know that your frustration, sadness, and anger is completely understandable. You worked hard in law school. You prepared hard for this exam, maybe harder than on anything else in your life.  And, it did not turn out as you expected.  The result is that you have another mountain ahead of you to climb. Anyone who says, “No worries” or “No big deal” just doesn’t get it.  It is a big deal, and you likely are worried.  

But you can climb that mountain.  And, you will.  You will need a while to heal, to go through the stages of grief, and then to get the reliable information you need to figure out what contributed to your missing last time and how to get you where you need to be next bar exam.  But just like you got up as a child when you fell and learned to walk and even run, so too will you pick yourself up from this experience, learn what you need, and soar to heights you cannot begin to even imagine now in your future careers.  

And, believe it or not, (lemons to lemonade and all that) there are even some advantages you have as a repeat taker, that when you are ready to see them will become clear:

     • Your effort is not all for nothing. The harder you worked before, the easier it should be to pass the next time you take the exam. While you may feel that you forgot some (or even many) of the rules, you did not forget what you learned but merely what you memorized.

     • You likely won’t be as nervous as students going in for the first time. You know what to expect. “Been there, done that.” Use your relative comfort level as an edge and try to remember just how worried everyone around you really is. Stay calm and focused. You want this, and you can do it.

     • You can make a thoughtful plan as to how to improve. You will have raw data – the scores from your past exam(s) to tell you what you have to work on. Aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you can tailor your studies for success.

So, let yourself have the time you need this weekend to grieve.  Next week, get going. Go out and get on the path to success for this next bar exam.  The next bar exam is yours to pass.

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Congratulations to all who passed!

Passing the bar exam is an unparalleled joy.  If you passed, we wish you all the very best and are sending you our heartiest congratulations.  If you have a moment to take out of your celebrating to write in and tell us your strategies for success, we would be very appreciative.  We will be posting tips and advice over the days and weeks to come, for those who are taking the July bar exam.

Once again, congratulations!!!!

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Prioritize Your Time During Finals

You have one final on Monday, another on Thursday and then two the following week. Oh, and in between you have a paper to finish, you have to pack to move back home for the summer, and a bunch of other commitments.  What to do first?  Do you ever feel paralyzed??   This is perfectly normal.  Finals are stressful, and tough!  No one can tell you exactly what to do when for success, but here are some thoughts and strategies to help you make an effective game plan:

  • First, and perhaps counterintuitive, get enough sleep, exercise, and good healthy food in you to sustain “high gear” concentration during final exams.  Your instinct may be exactly the opposite: burn the midnight oil.  But, to work super efficiently, many of us need the sleep, sustenance, and energy producer that is exercise.  (Working out also burns off stress that distracts us.)
  • Next, during all of finals period, reduce (try to eliminate) distractions including social media, people who are not supportive, and any commitments you can put off until after exams. Put your phone away altogether while you study for a final exam.  (This may be something you have never done, but trust me when I say you will learn more when you are not checking social media sites every few minutes.)
  • Then, consider which subjects are more difficult for you.  Study subjects that you find most challenging when you are most awake and alert.  Work on subjects that come more easily when you are “taking a study break” from a more difficult subject, or when you are not quite at your peak performance times.  (Let’s say you are a morning person. Study the toughest subject when you first wake up.  Tackle one that is easier later in the after or evening.)
  • Try to get a sense of how much time each task will take.  If you have a paper to write and it’s a 15-20 page paper, you will likely need much more time than if it’s a 5-7 page paper.  Obvious point, I know, but many students leave only a relatively short amount of time for any paper, regardless of its length or complexity, and then get frustrated with themselves when it is hard to “knock out” quickly.  (Note: I say “likely” in the previous sentence because sometimes it is not the length of a paper that makes it difficult to write, but rather how much you like or are interested in the subject, how easy it is to find references if it is a research paper or some other factor.  To effectively estimate how much time a paper will take, think about those types of concerns and how much time a previous, similar task took you to complete.)
  • Study generally, and particularly for difficult subject,  in long enough blocks to really learn well, and retain information.  You may need to read a concept several times to master it. You might need even longer if you need to memorize something.  I know the trend is to spend just minutes on something before changing thoughts.  Our brains are used to clicking on a new link every few minutes, if not every few seconds.  But for college, graduate school, or law school, you may need more focus than for reading a typical blog.  Expect to spend more time initially on concepts so that you can learn them more thoroughly.
  • Be in one subject at a time.  Do not study for your first exam while worrying about the others.  But all the “worry” in a box, and forget about everything else while studying each  particular subject.  Resist the temptation to let you mind wander.
  • Carefully review any instructions, hints, or other information your professor has given you about the exam.  Know the format.  Know how much the exam is worth, and if it will be broken into components, how much each component is worth. This can help enormously in strategizing about how to allocate your time and energy, and knowing what to focus on, during your preparation before the exam and on the exam itself.
  • Take practice tests.  See if your professor or another professor teaching the subject of your class has any old finals on file anywhere and study them.  This will help you master the material in the subject but also the form of testing that your professor will use.
  • Take a break after each exam, even if it’s a meal and a walk, but do something to make a physical demarcation between the end of one exam, and getting ready for your next exam. This will help you mentally shift focus.

These are a few strategies for success.  Write in and share your favorite exam time tips!!

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Organize and Outline Before Writing

Here’s an example of why it helps to organize and outline.  Version A below shows how you might “tell” a friend about your dinner, bouncing from appetizer to dessert then back to main course, throwing in a random note about the server, the company, etc. But if you are writing an exam or a paper to turn in to a professor, Version B is better. The clear organization of Version B shows the reader exactly where your thoughts are starting, heading, and concluding.  The words, “The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb” tell the grader/reader to expect that you will first discuss the company, then the food, and then the service.  They know what to expect; you deliver.  And, notice the difference in slang and tone in A versus B.  Try hard to use a more professional writing tone when writing for school than you would, for example, when texting with friends.

Most of us do not “talk” like Version B.  So, we have to take extra time before writing, to plot out (brainstorm about) everything we want to say, put it into a logical order (outline), then write using your outline as your “road map.”

Practice with topics you like and are comfortable talking about, such as food, and see if you can transfer the organizational process to writing for your courses and/or exams.


Version A

We ate at Chic.  It was so good!  Steak was awesome.  It should get a Michelin star. Waiter was so cool, nicest dude ever, came back after every course asking how we were. He killed it.  Chic is new restaurant.  My soup was yummy.  The strawberry shortcake rocked. Fresh tomatoes from vine and strawberries like they were picked just before dessert.  Oh, the bread on the soup, actually on the side of the soup –appetizer was a soup and grilled cheese combo thing. That bread was freshly baked deliciousness. Waiter brought soup out in a kick-ass ceramic bowl and told us all about the origins of every food on the table.  Steak was perfectly cooked, served on a cedar plank.  Bill is doing well.  So are Susie and John.  We all picked up right where we left off.  I used to work with them every day and haven’t seen them for ages, but we still have so much in common.

Version B

I went with Susie, Bill, and John to Chic Restaurant last Tuesday.  We had a wonderful evening.  The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb.

The company: Susie, Bill, and John

Susie, Bill, and John are former co-workers. They are each funny and bright.  We used to work side-by-side every day, and it was heart-warming to catch up with them and realize we still had so much in common.

The food: stylish comfort cuisine

This new restaurant served “comfort foods” in truly a chic manner.  (They earned their name as Chic Restaurant.)  For my appetizer I ordered a mouthwatering tomato bisque garnished with rustic grilled cheese.  It was presented in beautiful ceramic dishes with a garnish of fresh herbs. The cheese, a sharp cheddar, was perfectly melted in between two slices of a right-out-of-the-oven sourdough delight.  That bread was amazing.  It reminded me of the safety and security of Mom’s after school snacks with the exquisite flavors of gourmet bread, cheese, and vine-ripened tomatoes. My main course was a perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, served on a cedar plank.  And, my dessert was an outrageously whipped cream covered strawberry shortcake.  I shared it, but could have eaten the whole thing myself it was so tasty.

The service: 5 Stars

The fellow who waited on our table, it seemed, knew every item on the menu. He not only described in detail how every dish was prepared but told us the origins of all the ingredients, where the produce was grown, where the meats were raised, and more. He made us feel welcome, and continued to be attentive throughout our entire meal. The graciousness and knowledge of the server helped make the entire dining experience a truly lovely one.

I am not sure what the newspaper reviews of Chic Restaurant will look like, but in my book it should definitely get a Michelin star.


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Final Exam Success Tip of the Day

Many law students and college students are in the home stretch now, with final exams in the next two months.  That seems like a long way off.  It is not.  Now is the time to start thinking about finals –not the week before the exam.

It is an empowering feeling to walk into a final exam ready and prepared to the best of your ability.  It is an uncomfortable destructive feeling to go into an exam knowing you are winging it.  The choice is yours.  Start now!

How to take advantage of the lead time?

  • Prepare a timeline.  Note when any papers or other assignments are due between now and final exams.  Note when each of your exams will take place.  Write what each exam will test and in what format.
  • Try to clear your calendar as much as possible to prioritize your studies in these last laps. Tell people (family, friends, etc.) you will see them more in June (or after your exams are completed) and lay the groundwork to declining all social invitations when you need to prioritize studying.  Say No to any new commitments such as with organizations, clubs, and internships.
  • Plan a study schedule that allows you to spend time on each course respectively –paying attention to factors that allow you to determine which finals (which courses) will demand more of your time and energy to adequately prepare.

Future posts will provide other final exam preparation tips, but, for Today’s Tip of the Day, as part of your slow and steady final exam preparation:

  • Find out if any of your professors have released any of their former exams and if so, get copies of those exams.  Exams given by your professor(s) in the past will often give you insights into how particular professors test, what might be covered on the exam, etc.  In addition, it can be helpful try to obtain “practice exams” from other professors who have taught the same course.  It can be helpful to take past exams as practice exams, under timed conditions, to prepare.

Set yourself up for success.  Start on finals preparation now!

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Collecting Bar Exam War Stories

For years I have collected bar exam war stories, and I am renewing that mission now. Many have heard tales of something horrible that happened during the bar exam: earthquakes during the bar exam, people passing out during the bar exam, and applicants continuing to write as a fellow test taker was taken out of the bar exam test site on a stretcher. But there are so many untold near tragedies, and a few really comic ones at that.  Do tell!

Just a few days ago a student told me that on Tuesday of this past February Bar exam in California, apparently the fire alarm went off at 8:45 am, at the Ontario location. Allegedly the bar exam applicants all had to leave their seats and started moving towards the exits, just minutes before start time.  Thankfully, the situation was resolve and they did not lose any time in taking the actual exam.

A recent graduate told my class of her stories of being seated near the back of the room during her bar exam, close enough to the bathrooms to literally hear people throwing up throughout the exam.  She said in a perverse way it made her feel better.  (She may have been nervous but at least she wasn’t literally sick, she was better off than the folks she was hearing through the walls.)

A close friend of mine had a contact lens drop out on day one of his bar exam, just as he was about to read the first essay.  (He did not have glasses with him.)

What is your bar exam horror story?  Please share!!

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