In my time working with students who want to succeed on the bar, I have seen common errors crop up time and time again that likely made the difference between passing and failing. Because I want you to pass, I’ve created a short list of tips to identify common errors and how to avoid them to help you achieve success this upcoming bar season.
Error: Running Out of Time
Remedy: Practice Under Timed Conditions and Allocate Your Time
Practice under timed conditions beginning several weeks before the exam. Allocate your time on exam day so you know what amount of time you have for each question and each subpart so you know when you have to move to next question.
Error: Misreading the Question or Answering a Question that Wasn’t Asked
Remedy: Read Carefully and Answer the Question that was Asked
A shocking number of people fail to read directions and questions carefully during the exam. Whether it is due to nerves, burnout, fatigue, or laziness, misreading the directions or any component of a question (be it a multiple-choice question, essay prompt, or performance test) will only set yourself up for failure and disappointment.
For the performance test, you are explicitly graded on your ability to follow directions. If you don’t include the proper headings, write using the correct tone, or include analysis you were expressly directed to address, you are missing those easy-to-grab points. I have lost count how many times I have reviewed someone’s past bar exam answers to see they wrote an objective memo when they were required to write a persuasive brief. I have seen students only address half of the arguments they were told to raise, because they “just couldn’t stop writing about the first issue.”
For the essay portion, I have seen people completely fail to address portions of a multi-question essay or fail to address the question that was asked and instead answer a question they wish was asked. Let’s consider this issue through a few examples:
Essay Prompt: A torts question includes facts raising issues that indicate Mary might be liable to Dave for battery, assault, false imprisonment, and negligence. Facts also indicate Dave might be liable to Mary for defamation.
Question 1: “Will Dave be able to successfully sue Mary for any intentional torts?”
Here, you would only address battery, assault, and false imprisonment. Those are the only intentional torts to which Mary might be liable. You would not address the law pertaining to negligence and you certainly wouldn’t discuss whether Dave is liable to May for defamation. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
Question 2: “What causes of action could Dave bring against Mary?”
Here you would discuss not only the intentional torts of battery, assault, and false imprisonment, but you would also discuss the issue of negligence. “Causes of action” is broader in scope, and so you need to address all of the causes of action Dave could bring against Mary (ideally each with their own heading and IRAC). Again, however, you would not discuss the issue of defamation, not matter how brilliantly you could write on it! You want to allot enough time to address each cause of action, with more time allocated to causes of action with legal or factual ambiguity, as they will be worth more points.
Question 3: “What causes of action could Mary bring against Dave?”
Here, you would only discuss the law of defamation. It doesn’t matter how well you could discuss intentional torts or negligence, because that law is not on your grader’s checklist.
As a final note, depending on where you take the bar, you may need to know not only federal law but also state law. If the essay question doesn’t specify what law you are to apply, apply federal law. If it does, apply the law you were instructed to address. If the question asks you to answer it according to federal and state law, you must apply the law of both in order to maximize the points you can earn.
Multiple Choice Section
For the multiple choice section, you have to carefully read each and every word in the question, which includes all of the answer choices. Small words like “could, should, must, will, no, and not” can completely change the answer you should give. If an answer choice contains a word you are completely unfamiliar with, then don’t pick that answer (assuming you properly studied)! Similarly, answer choices may contain words that just don’t make sense but look attractive. For example, a question asking about negligence may have an answer that reaches the right result regarding liability but contains words relating to intentional torts. You’re used to these words, the result reached is correct, but it’s a trap! Read carefully and answer carefully. Each word was included for a reason, and you will miss out on points if you don’t read and answer with care.
Error: Disorganized Essays
Remedy: Use Headers and IRAC
Bar exam essays must be written in a way to allow bar graders to quickly determine whether you have addressed an essay prompt well enough to merit a passing score. Not only do you have to include the correct rules and analyze them sufficiently in relation to the legally significant facts, but these key components must be conveyed in an easily digestible format. Enter headers and the IRAC method.
As discussed further here, your use of IRAC helps examiners determine you are legally competent and deserve to pass, because graders can easily determine that you know how to correctly address the legal issues in dispute, the rules that are implicated, the analysis required to address legal ambiguity and counterarguments, and the most likely outcome. Using IRAC and headers (including sub-headers, where applicable) gives your answers the essential structure graders expect to see in passing answers. Bar graders do not have the time nor are they required to go on a quest to uncover hidden points in your essay, so the more organized your answers are, the better your score should be!
Error: Conclusory Answers
Remedy: Show Your Reasoning Using Rules and Legally Significant Facts
Avoiding writing conclusory answers shouldn’t stop after law school. On the bar you have to show why the result you are reaching is the right one. To do this, you must cite the correct rules of law and weave in legally significant facts. Pretend the bar is a math exam and show your work using the IRAC method!
These tips will help you get on the path to success on the bar. If you need more help, check out our other great articles or consider working one-on-one with a tutor.
Want more useful articles on preparing for the bar? Check out these helpful posts:
- Don’t Kid Yourself: There’s a Wrong Way to Study for the Bar
- Why Using IRAC Will Help You Pass the Bar Exam
- 5 Things I Did Differently the Second Time to Pass the Bar Exam
- The 7 Areas of Bar Exam Preparation
- Help! My Bar Exam Practice Scores are Going Down!
- Common Bar Essay Problems and how to Avoid Them