Is it common to fail the baby bar exam?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is common for law students to fail the First Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSX), known as the “baby bar exam.” The pass rate for first-time takers is typically around 50-60%. Failing the exam does not mean a student cannot become a lawyer, but they will need to retake and pass the test within the next three administrations to continue their legal studies in California.

What is the baby bar exam?

The baby bar exam, officially called the First Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSX), is a one-day test required of all law students attending unaccredited law schools in California. It covers four subjects: criminal law, contracts, torts, and constitutional law. The exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions and four essay questions.

To pass the baby bar, students need a minimum scaled score of 560 out of 900 possible points. This equates to around 62% correct answers. The State Bar of California administers the test three times per year in June, October, and March.

What is the pass rate for the baby bar exam?

The pass rate for first-time takers of the baby bar exam is typically around 50-60%. This means about 40-50% of students fail on their first attempt.

For example, on the October 2022 administration of the exam, the pass rate was 56% for first-time takers. 44% of students failed.

The table below shows FYLSX pass rates over the past few years:

Exam Date First-Time Taker Pass Rate
October 2022 56%
June 2022 49%
March 2022 61%
October 2021 58%

As you can see, pass rates fluctuate from exam to exam, but tend to hover around 50-60% for first attempts. Failing on the first try is common.

Why do so many students fail the baby bar exam?

There are a few key reasons why the baby bar exam failure rate is so high:

It covers complex legal topics

The exam tests students on four challenging legal subjects before they have completed their full first year of law school. The content includes nuanced concepts in criminal law, contracts, torts, and constitutional law that some students may not have fully mastered yet.

Strict scoring

Students need to achieve a minimum scaled score of 560 out of 900 to pass. This means getting around 62% of the questions correct. Some students may fall short of this strict scoring threshold on their first attempt.

Different from undergraduate exams

The baby bar uses complex multiple choice questions and essay prompts that differ from undergraduate test formats. Some students struggle to adapt to these new testing methods.

High stakes

Since the exam is required to continue in law school, the pressure to pass can negatively impact performance for some first-time takers. Test anxiety is common.

No previous bar exam experience

Most students take the baby bar exam before any other bar exams. They do not have experience with bar study and testing strategies. This contributes to lower pass rates.

Does failing the baby bar mean you can’t become a lawyer?

No, failing the First Year Law Students’ Examination does not preclude someone from becoming an attorney. California law allows students to retake the baby bar exam up to three times within the first three administrations after their first attempt.

Most students who fail on the first try go on to pass the exam on their second or third try. As long as the test is eventually passed within the allotted time frame, students can continue in their J.D. program and work towards bar admission. The baby bar mainly serves as an early assessment tool to ensure basic competency in core legal topics. First-time failure does not mean a student is incapable of being a lawyer down the line.

Requirements after failing the baby bar:

  • Students must retake the exam within the next three administrations after failing (so within one year).
  • Schools may require or recommend retaking a foundations course for a subject failed.
  • Some students choose to take a baby bar preparation course before retaking.
  • If the exam is failed three times, students cannot continue in their J.D. program.
  • Passing the exam on a second or third attempt allows students to resume their studies and progress towards bar admission.

While frustrating, failure on the first attempt should be seen as a temporary setback. With thorough preparation and perseverance, most students go on to pass the baby bar and achieve their goal of becoming a licensed California attorney.

What is the pass rate for repeating the baby bar exam?

The pass rate for repeat test takers on the baby bar exam is significantly higher than first attempts. While data on repeat taker pass rates is limited, one statistic reported is that approximately 90% of students who fail on the first try go on to pass the baby bar on their second attempt.

The increased success on subsequent tries can be attributed to several factors:

– Better understanding of the exam content and format.
– More targeted preparation and studying of problem areas.
– Retaking foundational law courses to improve knowledge.
– Reduced test anxiety after experience with previous administration.
– More determination to succeed.

While each exam administration represents a small sample size, the data indicates that the majority of students who initially fail the baby bar are able to improve their score and pass within the three-attempt limit. Failing once does not preclude someone from becoming a lawyer. Most students are able to reassess, prepare again, and achieve a passing score.

How should you prepare for a retake of the baby bar exam?

If students do not pass the First Year Law Students’ Exam on the first attempt, thorough preparation for a retake is crucial. Recommended steps include:

Analyze your results

Review your score report and assess areas of weakness. Identify the subjects and topics where you need to improve. This allows you to target specific problem areas in your studying.

Meet with your professor

Schedule time with your professor to discuss your exam performance. Ask questions to clarify concepts you struggled with. Get advice on the best ways to strengthen your knowledge.

Take a prep course

Enroll in a baby bar preparation course. Structured lessons, practice tests, and study tools can help improve your understanding and retain information. Popular options include BarMax and Celebration Bar Review.

Study with adaptibar

Use Adaptibar to master practice questions related to the baby bar exam. Adaptibar provides thousands of questions with detailed explanations to sharpen your test-taking abilities.

Review foundations courses

Audit or retake foundational law courses in any subject you failed. Ensure you have a solid grasp of key concepts covered on the exam.

Practice writing essays

The baby bar includes 4 essays. Practice writing responses within the 30-minute time limit to improve speed and structure. Review sample passing essays.

Simulate test conditions

Take practice exams mimicking the real testing environment. This helps improve time management and reduce test anxiety.

With diligent preparation and a strategic study plan, most students who initially fail are able to pass the baby bar exam on their second or third attempt.

What are the best baby bar exam prep courses?

The best baby bar exam prep courses provide comprehensive review of topics covered on the test, as well as opportunities to build skills through practice questions, essays, and simulated exams. Recommended options include:

Celebration Bar Review

Celebration offers a flexible self-study course with video lessons, outlines, over 1,500 practice questions and example essays. They also provide live workshops and one-on-one tutoring.

BarMax California Baby Bar Exam

BarMax has structured video lectures, detailed outlines, over 1,700 practice questions and analytics to track progress. Their course is developed by Harvard alumni and top baby bar scorers.

JD Advising Baby Bar Course

JD Advising provides two-day workshops, comprehensive outlines, math drills for the multiple choice section, essay feedback and predicted scores on practice exams.

BarEssays Baby Bar Prep

This course includes past CA baby bar questions, 30 example essay exams with model answers, and performance analytics to identify weaknesses. Their Essay Architect tool helps construct rule statements.

Quimbee Baby Bar Prep

Quimbee offers study guides, 500+ multiple choice questions and approximately 30 practice essay questions with sample answers. They also have flashcards and audio lectures.

The right baby bar prep provides structure, feedback tools, and practice material modeled on the actual exam. Investing in a high-quality course can help lead to passing on a retake of the test.

Should I hire a baby bar exam tutor?

Hiring a personal tutor for the baby bar exam is highly recommended for students who have failed the test previously. One-on-one tutoring offers several benefits:

Customized test preparation

A private tutor will evaluate your specific situation and create a strategic study plan targeting areas you need to improve. This maximizes efficiency when prepping for a retake.

Focused skill building

Tutors identify weaknesses and spend time honing the skills necessary for success. This may involve reviewing tricky concepts, mastering the right test-taking strategies, or improving essay structure and organization.

Feedback and assessment

Experienced tutors can provide feedback on practice essay responses and performance on mock exams. Tracking progress over time allows calibration leading up to the retake.


Meeting consistently with a tutor provides accountability and motivation to stick to a rigorous study schedule. They help you maximize productivity in your preparation.

Confidence boost

A supportive tutor instills confidence by highlighting strengths and progress. Their guidance can help reduce test anxiety after an initial failure.

While group prep courses have benefits, private baby bar tutoring is ideal for personalized attention. Investing in these services can provide the edge needed to pass the exam on your next attempt.

What happens if you fail the baby bar exam three times?

California law allows students to attempt the First Year Law Students’ Examination a maximum of three times within the first three administrations from their first attempt. If a student fails the baby bar all three times, they are no longer permitted to continue with their J.D. program under State Bar rules.

Unfortunately, this means if someone is unable to pass after three tries, their law school studies end and they cannot become a practicing lawyer in California. At that point, options would include:

  • Transfer law school credits earned to date towards another degree program, such as a paralegal qualification.
  • Start a law-related career that does not require bar admission, for example in legal technology, justice reform advocacy or legal publishing.
  • Reapply to law school after a period away and restart studies afresh, including passing the baby bar.
  • Seek opportunities in law in other states that do not require the baby bar exam.
  • Pursue a new career outside the legal industry.

While exceedingly rare, failing three consecutive times would be a major setback to becoming an attorney. Support systems at law schools can help guide affected students to assess alternate career paths suited to their strengths and interests if this unfortunate situation occurs. With sufficient drive, those impacted may also eventually find alternative routes to work in the legal field.


While passing the First Year Law Students’ Exam, or baby bar, is required for CA law students to continue their J.D., an initial failure should not deter persistence. A 40-50% failure rate for first-time takers is common. Most students go on to pass the exam on their second or third attempt after diligent preparation and studying focused on their weakest areas. Support systems at law schools, bar prep courses, private tutors and student study groups can all help guide those who are unsuccessful to analyze gaps, strengthen skills, and adopt proven test-taking strategies. With determination and focus, success on a retake of the baby bar is very achievable for the majority of students.

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