Top 8 Reasons for Flunking the Bar Exam, and How to Avoid Them

Atty. Jericho Del Puerto

Atty. Jericho Del Puerto

Lawyer, Author, Mentor
  • Preparing for the bar exam requires a strategic approach that should optimize an examinee’s recall of legal knowledge and ensure peak performance on the exam day.
  • The following are the top reasons why many flunk the bar exam, with the objective of making you aware to avoid them.
  • Know your enemy well, it is not the bar exam, it is you.

I am glad to have conducted bar review lectures at different law schools this past few weeks, from Metro Manila to Cebu City, and from bar examinees to seniors and juniors in law school.

I reviewed them on labor law and civil law subjects. During the bar review, I insert a few words of wisdom in the hopes of helping them approach what would likely be the most difficult exam in their lives. They thus have to know what they are dealing with to increase their chances.

The Philippine bar examination is the longest license examination in the country with four exam dates. While it covers eight (8) major subjects, each one is composed of several minor subjects learned in law school for the first three years.

The magnitude of the amount of legal knowledge to be recalled results in many being unable to hurdle the bar exam as its average passing rate tends to range from 20% to 30% (with the occasional 10% to 15% passing rate). The examinees tend to range from 6,000 to 8,000 examinees taking it yearly.

To prepare well for the bar exam, it is important to know first what are the pitfalls why many examinees do not pass in order to avoid them.

Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid:

1. Not completing the review or the bar exams.

The statistics tend to compare those who applied to take the exam with those who passed it.

The data that is not shown is how many actually finished taking the bar exam. If this data is compared with the ones who passed, the passing rate will likely be higher.

Advice: Complete your review and your bar exam.

Nobody knows what will be the contents of the exam and what the results will be – not your friends, law professors, dean, or even you.

There are those who passed the bar exam, despite not having had enough time to review.

2. Being sleepy on the bar exam day.

It is really a bad idea to pull an all-nighter or to sleep late the night before as sleep will come knocking in the afternoon of an exam day.

The bar exam is neither the time nor the place for a power nap.

Advice: Simulate your study time during your bar review with the day schedule of a bar exam day.

Sorry, night-owls. It is best to condition your mind and body to be at peak performance during the day as it is the time when you will be taking the exam.

With this, your sleeping time will likely adjust giving you a good night sleep before a bar exam day.

3. Experiencing discomfort on the bar exam day.

The discomfort could come in many forms, such as lightheadedness, indigestion or an upset stomach, constipation or lower bowel movement, body pain, and analogous thereto.

There can be many causes for these discomfort, which is usually attributable to food, medicines, or stress and anxiety.

Advice: Be cautious and avoid anything that could result in discomfort.

The usual advice is to avoid eating food that you do not regular eat in the weeks leading up to the bar exam months. For the entire month, avoid experimenting or tasting these kinds of food to ensure you will not experience discomfort.

As for medicines, consult with your doctor and get some advice, particularly if these have side effects. You want to avoid experiencing lightheadedness or any other symptoms of side effects during the bar exam.

For stress and anxiety, you will have to explore ways that can help you calm down, such as prayer, meditation, exercising, instrumental music, and so on. You may also want to check with a professional to help you manage stress and anxiety, particularly panic attacks.

4. Not having a system for taking the exam.

Taking the exam without having any plans on how to approach it is a sign of lack in preparation. Remember, there is a time element to the exams. If you have no strategy, you could end up not finishing a subject due to spending too much time on certain questions.

Advice: Create a system.

First, do a quickscan of the exam questions. Get a good feel of the difficulty of each question and how much time will you dedicate.

Second, answer the easy ones first. This will ensure that you will be able to earn the points for the easy questions.

Third, divide your time for the remaining difficult questions. Check your watch regularly to see how much time you have left.

5. Not having mastered the ARAC.

It is surprising that there are those who went through law school and yet have not mastered the ARAC formula, i.e. Answer-Rule-Apply-Conclusion. During our time, it was IRAC with “I” standing for Issue and the rest being the same.

Advice: Practice, practice, practice ARAC.

If you have not yet mastered ARAC, you should practice until you get the hang of it. The objective of the ARAC is to provide structure to your answer, which is an essential skill for lawyers.

6. Being fixated with an oddball question.

Would you know the name of the head of say the United Nations Security Council? Me neither. There was a similar question in Political Law asking the name of a high ranking person in an international organization. Obviously, a good 99% of the examinees will not know, even law professors who do not practice international law will likely not know.

Advice: Skip these questions and finish the exam. If you have time remaining, take a swing at it (yes, g-u-e-s-s).

These oddball questions are designed to mess you up, to make you lose focus, and to make you quit. Don’t let it. They just have 1 point or 2 points. Let it go.

Yes, everyone knows it is an unfair question. Complaining about it will not change a thing. Instead, focus on earning more points with the other questions.

7. Not being strategic with your bar review.

There are many who go through their bar exam review without any plans or strategy. They simply go over the review materials that they have been given. Some, and this is a sad fact, have not even read nor familiarized themselves with the bar exam syllabus.

Advice: Own your bar exam review.

You are ultimately responsible for how you should plan out your bar exam review. As with any final exams in law school, you should start with familiarizing yourself with the bar exam syllabus.

Master the topics, principles, and key concepts that are associated in every topic and sub-topic. For instance, if the syllabus on Labor Law only states “just causes”, there are many associated concepts under it, such as serious misconduct, willful disobedience, gross and habitual neglect of duty. In turn, these associated concepts have their own principles and rules, and so on.

Related to this, and this is key, you should have your own customized bar exam syllabus, which will be your personal reviewer on the day of your bar exam. I highly recommend typing on Mircosoft Word the syllabus (so you are forced to know the contents), and providing enough spaces in between topics and sub-topics so you can handwrite key words, phrases, and clauses.

You do this, rinse and repeat, for all bar exam subjects and you should do pretty well in your bar exam.

8. Not knowing who your enemy is.

While this sounds weird, not knowing yourself can be your downfall.

Advice: Know your strengths and weaknesses.

I am talking both personally and what you know.

On a personal level, learn what makes you perform well in terms of studying and reviewing. We all have our own preferences and sometimes it is unique to us. In my case, I usually went to the foodcourt of SM North in the morning to study until lunch because I can focus more if there is a background noise (indecipherable chattering of people) in contrast with the deafening silence of a library which makes me fall asleep.

In terms of what I know, I followed the approach of mastering the syllabus. I evaluated where I am strong and weak. Hence, I started focusing on my weak areas then went to my strong areas. No first reading, second and third, for me. I am not saying the 3 readings does not work. It may work for some, it just did not for me. It is just not how I study. (I am more of a visual guy. If I can imagine a concept in my mind, one reading is enough for me.)


In all, all the best!

P.S.: The bar exam does not define who you are. It is a license exam designed to test examinees whether they are ready to practice law.



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