How Many Times Can You Take the Bar Exam

Written by: Will Bond

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How Many Times Can You Take the Bar Exam

Whether you’re tackling the bar exam for the first time, contemplating a move to a new state, or grappling with the aftermath of a failed exam, you’ve probably wondered if there’s a limit on the number of times you can take this test.

In this How Many Times Can You Take the Bar Exam article, we’ll provide some clarity about each state’s limits on bar exam attempts as well as guidance on approaching retakes to help put your mind at ease.

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Understanding Bar Exam Retakes

To gain admission to their state bar, many candidates consider a retake in order to obtain a passing grade. However, your state may place a specific limit on the number of times you can take this test.

While the majority of states (around 35) don’t have a limit on the number of times you can take the bar exam, the remaining states typically allow candidates between two and four attempts.

These remaining states also fall into two groups: those with absolute limits and those with discretionary limits. Absolute limits are exactly what they sound like — absolute. This means candidates may not retake the exam after reaching the limit imposed by the state.

By contrast, candidates in states with discretionary limits have a certain number of attempts at the bar exam. If they don’t pass by the time they reach this limit, they must secure special permission in order to make another attempt.

Now that you understand the typical scenarios regarding retakes in most states, let’s explore the set of rules relevant to your state.

How Many Times Can You Take the Bar

As noted above, the number of times you can take the bar will depend on your state. Each state falls into one of three limit categories, as outlined below.

States With No Limits

The states and US territories that don’t place a limit on the number of times you can take the bar exam include:

AlabamaLouisianaNorth Carolina
HawaiiNew JerseyGuam
IllinoisNew Mexico
IndianaNew York

If you’ve already used up all your attempts on the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) in any other state, it’s worth looking into instead taking it again in a UBE state from the above list. That way, you’ll get tested on the same content.

Note: You can find a full list of the states that adopted the UBE on the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website.

States With Discretionary Limits

The table below lists all the states and US territories with discretionary limits as well as the specific number of attempts available in each before candidates will need special permission for another retake.

StateDiscretionary Limit
District of Columbia4
South Carolina3
South Dakota3
West Virginia4
Puerto Rico6
Virgin Islands3

Importantly, states and US territories with discretionary limits can apply these limits in different ways. While some may require proof of extraordinary circumstances to grant another attempt, others can be more lax.

States With Absolute Limits

The table below lists the states with an absolute limit on the number of times candidates may attempt the bar exam.

StateAbsolute Limit
New Hampshire4
North Dakota6
Rhode Island5

Thankfully, very few states place a hard limit on the number of times you can take the bar exam. To ensure one try is all you’ll need to pass this test, it’s definitely worth investing in a high-quality, reputable bar exam prep course.

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What Should You Do if You Fail the Bar Exam: Retake Now or Delay?

In general, most students who fail the bar exam should aim to retake it again in the very next exam cycle. If you failed a bar exam in July, for example, you’d typically want to take the next bar exam in February (and vice versa).

However, certain situations can make it may be more beneficial for a candidate to take a small break before pursuing a bar exam retake at a later date.

We’ll explore both of these potential situations in more detail below.

When to Take the Next Bar Exam Immediately

There are a number of advantages to taking the very next bar exam, including better retention and recall, a decreased likelihood of giving up, and quicker licensure — all of which enables you to begin practicing law sooner.

Candidates need to be in a position to take advantage of these benefits, however, which isn’t always the case. Here are some examples of specific types of candidates who’ll likely benefit from diving back into the bar exam without delay:

  • Recent Graduates with Fresh Knowledge: Newly graduated law students are in an advantageous position to promptly retake the exam because their legal coursework is still fresh and they’ll likely recall the material more readily upon immediate review. Waiting too long also can result in the loss of critical information and require extensive relearning
  • Near-Miss Candidates: Candidates who fail the exam by a narrow margin should retake the test in the next exam cycle without hesitation. They’ll likely have a solid understanding of the material, as evidenced by their near-passing performance on the exam, and delaying their retake could prove detrimental because they’ll have to start from scratch after a prolonged break
  • Candidates With a Strong Work Ethic: Individuals with a strong work ethic are prime candidates for immediate retakes because they’re less likely to get discouraged by a failed attempt. Instead, these individuals will view it as an opportunity for growth. By promptly resuming their studies, they can capitalize on their determination and drive to quickly achieve success on their next attempt
  • Candidates With Access to Comprehensive Study Materials: Candidates who enrolled in commercial bar review courses are well-positioned to benefit from immediate retakes. Delaying their retake too long may be more expensive because it could lead to their course expiring thus obligating them to purchase a new subscription if they want to retain access to these resources

When to Wait to Take the Bar Exam

For some candidates, quickly retaking the bar exam may not be in their best interest. Here are some common examples of situations in which it’s likely best to hold off before making another attempt:

  • Candidates Who Failed by a Considerable Margin: If you fall short of the passing score by a large margin, you’ll likely benefit from an extended period before your retake because it’ll allow you to get a good grasp of the material. If you continue to attempt the bar exam without adequate preparation, it’ll only perpetuate a cycle of repeated failures
  • Burnt-Out Candidates: It’s not uncommon for individuals who’ve taken the bar exam multiple times to experience burnout. This persistent sensation of exhaustion at the mere thought of studying is a clear indicator of needing a break — and it’s commonly observed in students attempting the bar exam for the third or fourth time although exceptions do exist
  • Candidates With Many Commitments: If you’re grappling with significant time commitments that’ll hamper your ability to dedicate sufficient time to study, it’s often prudent to delay your next attempt at the bar exam until you can allocate the necessary preparation time.

Whether or not you decide to wait before your next attempt at the bar exam, making sure you use reliable and high-quality resources during your preparation is the key to success.

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How Many Times Can You Take the Bar Exam FAQ

How many times can you take the bar exam in the USA?

In the US, the number of times you can take the bar exam varies based on your state. While most jurisdictions allow unlimited attempts, some states have an absolute or discretionary imposed limit on the number of exam attempts candidates may have. For more details, check out our How Many Times Can You Take the Bar Exam article.

Which state has the toughest bar exam?

Determining the toughest bar exam is subjective and depends on various factors, such as the exam format, the state’s pass rates, and the difficulty of the content covered. However, the California bar exam is often considered among the toughest due to its comprehensive content and lower passing rates of graduates of law schools. For guidance on how to succeed regardless of your state, check out our What is the Bar Exam article.

What happens if you fail the bar exam?

While failing the bar exam can be disheartening, it’s not the end of the road because most states will allow you to take the bar exam multiple times. After failing, you’ll typically receive a score report that outlines your performance in the exam’s different areas. You can use this report to help you identify your weak areas and then improve your study approach for the next attempt.

How many times do people usually fail the bar exam?

The number of times people fail the bar exam varies widely. Some individuals pass on their first attempt while others may need multiple attempts before they can practice law. It also depends on which areas of the exam you personally struggle with because the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) will all assess different skills.