August 30, 2020 | Kentucky Law
The bar exam is a notoriously tough testing experience that ultimately determines who gets to be an attorney. There are no easy states in which to take the bar exam, but some states have a higher overall passing percentage than others.
Each state has a different bar exam, but more than the difficulty of the exam plays a role in passing rates. Some states have a larger pool of talented candidates, while others, with few or no top law schools, may have a lower ratio of talented candidates.
How Does Kentucky Rate?
Kentucky lands in the middle – both for the difficulty of the bar exam and the overall pass rate. In a survey ranking the difficulty of bar exams in all fifty states, Kentucky ranks 25th. Approximately 61% of those who sit for the Kentucky bar exam receive a passing grade, and Kentucky mints approximately 300 new lawyers each year.
In Kentucky, the bar examination is a two-day ordeal that consist of an essay portion, and 200 multiple-choice questions. The bar exam is offered twice a year, usually in February and July. To become a lawyer in Kentucky, you must pass both portions of the exam. The long, painful wait for results takes two to three months after the test date. Before sitting for the bar exam, you must pass a character and fitness assessment.
Attorneys-to-be often spend months between law school graduation and the bar exam intensely studying for this exam. The pressure to pass is intense, and your career options are limited until you have passed the exam.
Why Do So Many Law Students Fail the Bar Exam?
In some states, such as California, it is not uncommon for more than half those who sit for the bar exam to fail it the first time. Does that mean that over half those who graduate from law school in California are unqualified to practice law? Of course not.
The bar exam is a notoriously difficult test, and people fail the test for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons for failing the bar at least once include:
Failure to Adequately Prepare
Many fresh from law school graduates make a crucial mistake in thinking they have had enough knowledge crammed inside their heads that they can get by with a little refresher studying. Few people pass the bar without adequate preparation. How much preparation you need will depend on how easily you retain information, the quality of the legal education you have, and the quality of the tools you use to prepare for the test.
Test Anxiety or an Inability to Test Well
We all know someone extremely intelligent and talented, yet they struggle to do well on tests. For some, it is a struggle throughout their academic careers. For others, it isn’t a problem until they face something as big as the bar exam.
The average law student finishes law school with an excess of $80,000 worth of student loan debt, which adds fuel to an already stressful situation. Cases of stress-related illnesses skyrocket among candidates in the months leading up to the test.
Stress and anxiety can lead to poor self-care, leading to both mental and physical ailments during the pre-testing period. It is hard to adequately prepare for the bar exam when battling anything from new-onset migraines to panic attacks.
Self-sabotage can take any number of forms, and it is unclear why those awaiting the bar exam engage in such behavior, but it is common. Some individuals overload themselves with projects, volunteering, work, and many other otherwise healthy pursuits in the days and weeks prior to the bar exam. Perhaps it is an attempt to escape the stress of the looming exam, but it takes a toll on test preparation.
Others may partake in more destructive means of self-sabotage, such as turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve the stress. Not only are those actions unhealthy, but they also decrease your chances of passing the bar and increase the likelihood of an arrest for DUI, or other related issues that can derail your future career.
Failing the Bar Exam is Not as Catastrophic as it Seems
There are numerous reasons why individuals fail the bar exam, and they have little to do with their competency or potential as a future attorney. With so much hype and hard work leading up to the exam, it can be a shattering experience to fail on the first attempt.
Remember, you are in good company. Some notable people who failed the bar exam on their first attempt include distinguished names like John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Hillary Clinton. If you have to retake the bar exam, take heart that there have been many top law school professors, judges, governors, and members of congress who also failed the bar on their first attempt.
Use your failure wisely. Dissect the test itself, and your actions and behavior leading up to the exam. What went wrong, and what can you do differently the next time around? Often, taking the test for the second time can be far less stressful, and those sitting for the exam feel more confident as they know what to expect, and they have conquered whatever deficits lead to their initial failure.