How Hard is the Bar Exam?

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The bar exam is one of the most difficult tests – there is no sugar coating it. When you stop and think about it, the Bar exam is hard because law is hard. It’s the gateway into an important career that will affect many lives. Of course that gateway must have high security.

So why is it that nearly 40% of test takers fail this exam? They study inefficiently. Anyone who practices law must know how to study (perform research) efficiently.

How hard is the Bar Exam? This article will walk you through this test and show you where it’s most difficult. More importantly, you’ll learn how to study efficiently and pass it.

Summary: We review how hard the Bar exam is. Review passing rates, tips to succeed, and more.

How Hard is the Bar Exam?

We can keep telling you that the Bar exam is hard, but instead of us telling you this, why don’t we show you? You can view exam passing rates for various states below and see for yourself how challenging the Bar exam actually is.

StateExam Overall Pass Rate
New Jersey43%
New Mexico72%
New York49%
North Carolina60%
North Dakota55%
South Dakota56%
West Virginia48%


Why So Many People Fail the Bar Exam

Is the Bar exam hard? Yes. But that’s a vague answer so here are some of the reasons that this test has such a poor pass rate.

Inefficient Studying

There are several causes of inefficient studying. The two most common causes are passive studying and outdated materials. With passive studies, a student spends too much time reading and memorizing without putting that knowledge into practice. So they fail to understand the context of it.

One of the biggest threats is studying outdated material. Law changes so rapidly that students must take steps to ensure their study data is up-to-date. A Bar prep course is one of the best ways to prevent this.

Not Taking a Practice Test

This directly corresponds to passive studying because students must put their knowledge to the test in order to review the context of that information. Law is one of the most difficult career paths and it requires a deep understanding.

By not taking practice tests, students won’t have the experience of utilizing the information they are learning. In short, they have not taken the steps required to transition from studying law to practicing law. Use some of the Bar practice tests we put together to start preparing.

Trying to Beat the Exam

Many people approach the Bar exam like other tests that they’ve encountered throughout their academic career. This strategy simply doesn’t work. You must understand law in order to pass this exam.

With that said, there are other critical thinking skills that are required to pass. If you go into this test leaning on information rather than your ability to put that information into context, then you probably won’t pass.

The Bar exam requires a balanced combination of studying and practicing.

Information Overload

Another huge issue is the sheer volume of information being thrown at a law student preparing for the Bar exam. It’s not just the information regarding law either. Everyone is telling them what to do and how to pass the exam. It becomes overwhelming and adds pressure.

Information overload can be avoided by having a plan. If you have a plan, then you don’t have to worry about which advice to take or how to incorporate it. You already have your studies planned.

How Hard is the Bar Exam – Tips for Passing

This section will walk through some of the individual challenges associated with the Bar exam and then provide some useful tips for navigating these sections.

Learning the Expansive Library of Law

Law is a never-ending cycle of information that seems to loop back around and go on forever. The sheer volume of information is overwhelming so it puts a lot of pressure on students. That’s why the Bar exam is designed to be difficult. Individuals who practice law must be able to navigate all of this information.

The first thing you have to do is get into the proper mindset. No one masters law. No one memorizes every single piece of information. It takes years of practicing law before a person can even think about becoming a judge or overseer of law. So don’t try to memorize every piece of information. You must synthesize it into a contextual body of knowledge so that you can answer questions.

Create a study plan and prioritize the most important information. Take a Bar practice exam every week so that you know your weaknesses and gain context into the information you’re learning. This ensures that all of your studies are efficient and organized, removing a lot of stress.

Pressure From Timed Testing Environment

The time allowed for the Bar exam is strict and gives a small window for answering each question. This is designed to add additional stress that students will be expected to endure when practicing law. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate this pressure.

Rule one is to time all of your practice tests and simulate the actual testing environment as closely as possible. You want to be prepared for the stress involved in taking the test. This one step will improve your awareness by a lot.

Next, be prepared. The more prepared you are for the exam, the faster you’ll get through each question. Study by using a combination of active recalls of information and space out repetition. In other words, repeat information that you already know more often than the things you don’t quite understand.

Preparation is overwhelming and without a proper plan in place, it will cause you to stress over studies. This leads to inefficient studying, which is the number one cause of failing the Bar exam.

How hard is the Bar exam? The answer directly correlates to the amount of prep work you put into it.

Mental Fatigue From the Bar Exam

The Bar exam is a monumental undertaking and can involve several 6 to 8 hour days of testing. This is downright exhausting and will test your mental limits. That’s not even accounting for the sheer volume of stress involved. Again, there are ways to mitigate this exhaustion and put yourself in the best position to pass.

The first rule is to eat well, sleep well, and get plenty of exercise. Remember that the healthier your body, the clearer your mind will be so exercise should be a normal part of your studies. Stay active. Don’t stay crammed up in a room studying all day. Try going for a walk and listening to audio while you exercise. Invest in some audiobooks based on law that are relevant to the Bar exam and listen to them as you work out.

Get your body on a consistent sleep schedule too. At least 8 hours of sleep is encouraged but everyone is different in this regard. What’s important is that you are consistent.

The Unknowns of the Bar Exam

The Bar exam will force you to venture into the unknown but the trajectory actually changes depending on the state. For instance, some states will give students the essay topics ahead of time while others don’t. So you need to read up on the exam in your specific state so that you remove as many unknowns as possible.

The key is to be ready for the basic, commonly tested topics that are true of all states. These common law knowledge questions will comprise most of the exam so getting these down will get you most of the way to a passing score.

Another note is that a lot of study materials will teach about grey areas in law. However, the Bar exam doesn’t focus on these areas so you should keep most of your studies to actual laws and not loopholes.

Invest in a Bar Exam Prep Course

This is one exam where you absolutely have to study efficiently. A prep course will help mitigate every issue listed in this article and provides enough practice tests that you will never fall short.

You can review our team’s thoughts on the best Bar prep courses.

Here are the three essential reasons why you should invest in a prep course for the Bar exam.

  • Structure: A prep course gives you what you need most – structure and direction. You will be able to create an efficient study plan that will keep you on track. It removes the guesswork and gets you right to studies.
  • Accountability: Having access to a prep course is a great way of holding yourself accountable. When you have a plan in place, it’s less likely that you’ll procrastinate.
  • Material: Having access to updated study material is essential to success on the Bar exam. Go into each study session with confidence. Having access to updated materials is a huge step in the right direction.

How Hard is the Bar Exam – Final Thoughts

Yes, the Bar exam is difficult – perhaps one of the most difficult tests that a student will ever take. But the key is to manage it properly. If you follow the advice in this guide, you will increase your chances of passing.

Once again though, using a prep course vastly improves your chances of passing this important exam. You have the materials and practice tests at your disposal. Pass the first time and save yourself stress and money!

Gianni Evangelisti
Gianni has been working in the test prep industry for 6+ years. Gianni has created test prep materials across multiple different exam categories.