What to do if You Failed the Virginia Bar

If you failed the Virginia Bar Exam, you are not alone. Hundreds of people retake the bar exam each year. Take heart in this: The vast majority of people who retake the bar end up successfully practicing law after they pass. You will succeed. These exams are tough, and more than a handful of test-takers failed the bar this time. But don’t sweat it. Instead, take action.

failed the bar examWhat to do After You Failed the Bar Exam

Take a little time to gain some perspective. Realize this is not the end, but rather another opportunity to accomplish your goal of practicing law. Don’t wait too long, though. Delay can be an excuse not to move forward. Take concrete steps soon to guarantee yourself that you will retake the bar. If you failed the bar exam, register for the next one right away. You can submit your application for re-examination here. Complete this process now, and see it as a commitment to yourself that you will pass this time.

Analyze Your Virginia Bar Results

The Board of Bar Examiners will send your results to you, and you can take a look at how you did.  Many people immediately assume that they should work extra hard on whatever part of the exam they scored the lowest. Someone who didn’t do particularly well on the MBE might conclude they should do much more MBE practice this time. That conclusion, however, is not always right.

Remember that scoring for the Virginia Bar is cumulative (unless you are transferring to Virginia from another state or electing to only retake the essay portion of the exam). In other words, better performance on one part of the test can overcome a weaker performance on the other. Some students find that with practice, they can increase their essay section scores dramatically, but they have been unable to improve their MBE significantly.

Here is how the VBE explains the scoring:

​”[T]​he essay raw scores are converted to the same scale of measurement as that used to report the MBE scaled scores. As a result of this step, the average essay scaled score in Virginia will be equal to the average MBE scaled score.”

The VBE scaled score is a calculation where the MBE scaled score is weighted at 40%, and the Essay scaled score is weighted at 60%, and then the two scores must be added together to calculate the final scaled VBE score. That final score must be 140 or higher to pass.

It looks like this:

Total Scaled Score = (.40 x MBE scaled score) + (.60 x essay scaled score).

As an example, someone who scores 130 on the MBE would need to score 147 on the essays to pass the exam. Conversely, someone who scores 130 on the essays would need to get their MBE score up to 155 to pass the exam.

So even if your MBE score was weak, it may be that you should focus on driving up your essay score to compensate rather than trying to increase your MBE score.  My point is this: think outside the box and use study strategies that are proven to work. Just because you failed the bar doesn’t mean a new plan won’t ensure you pass this time around.

After a failed exam, should I retake the MBE or just retake the essay (state) part of the exam?

A recent rule change from the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners makes it possible for students who fail the exam but who scored 133 or higher on the MBE to retake only the essay exam. This is an individualized decision, but I generally advise people who scored 137 or higher on the MBE not to retake it. This is especially true if their essay score was also in the 130’s.  Many students can increase their essay score dramatically, but their MBE score is relatively stable from attempt-to-attempt.  To learn more, see our comprehensive guide to passing the Virginia Essay Exam.

LexBar Helps Many Students Who Failed the Virginia Bar Exam

after you failed the bar

If you think improving your essay score would be helpful, register for the LexBar Online Virginia Essays Course. 

Many people retake the Virginia Bar and succeed.  You can be one of them. Take some time to regroup, but don’t wait too long. Don’t let your mental impression of what others may think of you take over. The truth is, every bar exam taker realizes that there are no guarantees with that exam, and it could have been any one of them that didn’t pass. If you have the idea that everyone will think less of you, it’s not true. Everyone knows a handful of high-achieving, successful lawyers who took the exam more than once. Don’t let your concept of what others believe hold you back.

Jump back in. Don’t throw a pity party — the legal world awaits your contributions, regardless of whether you failed the bar exam.