You are in the heat of bar prep and diligently studying in order to pass the bar exam. You complete practice essays, and you anxiously await your feedback. When you finally get your graded essays back, you do way worse than you expected. You are frustrated and don’t know where to start in improving your scores. How are you supposed to improve? Are you missing something major or are you making a simple mistake that you don’t realize? In most jurisdictions, the essay portion of the exam is worth half your bar exam score. There are many different topics and areas of law that can potentially be tested. As such, the bar exam essays prove to be very difficult for many students. I remember anxiously studying every possible topic before taking the bar exam. Fortunately, since I have survived the bar exam and successfully passed, I am armed with the knowledge to help correct some common mistakes you may be making on your bar exam essays. I hope this guide will help you gain more valuable points on your bar exam essays!
Review Your Essays and Feedback
A lot of the time, you may be missing the same thing or losing out on the same point opportunities. Thus, it is important to review your essays and the feedback that you have received. You may notice patterns in what you are missing and how you can improve. You should also look at the “model answer” for your essay prompt and compare it to yours. Although the bar examiners are not expecting perfection or to completely match the model answer, it is helpful to look over what the bar examiners are looking for in a complete analysis.
Your Essay is Disorganized
The easiest way to get points is to make sure your essay is very organized and easy to read. If your essay does not have a logical flow to it, the graders will struggle to award points because they only have a certain amount of time to grade each essay. Thus, you should use headers for each issue or topic that you are going to discuss. Also, using “IRAC” (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) or “CRAC” (Conclusion, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) will help keep your essay organized and your argument will have a natural flow to it.
You Completely Missed an Issue
Sometimes you have a very obscure fact pattern, and the bar examiners are testing a very unique issue. Other times, you mistook the prompt to be asking about one issue when in reality it was testing another topic. So how are you supposed to prepare for every possible topic that may come up? You are not a robot, and the bar examiners are not trying to test perfect knowledge. Afterall, the bar exam tests minimal competence. If it is an obscure issue, do your best to put down all of the knowledge that you have and make sure you have a formal issue statement and conclusion to maximize your points. It is likely that you will not be alone if the issue is a very unique one and the bar examiners will be more lenient with grading. If you are continually missing topics that are regularly tested, review that area of law, and create an attack outline if you think that will be helpful. This way, you will be able to issue spot much easier, and gain more points!
Your Issue Statements are Very General
You will likely have a general understanding of the different topics that the bar examiners want you to discuss in a given prompt. Sometimes, they will even pose specific questions for you to answer. Although these are great starting points for issue statements, you can maximize your points by drafting specific issue statements for each sub-issue. One thing that may be helpful is if you start with a general issue statement and then revise it after you go through your analysis and reach your conclusion. A lot of time, that will indicate what is actually at issue and what the bar examiners are looking for.
Your Analysis Needs Beefing Up
You may be getting the feedback that your analysis section is lacking. Meaning, you might be making conclusory statements without supporting it with facts from the prompt. Or you are only touching on half of the analysis that the bar examiners are looking for. Take the facts given to you and really apply them to the law. Think of it as a math problem and “show” your work. Apply facts to each element of the law. This will help add weight to your analysis and make your argument stronger!
Bar Exam Essays Don’t Have to be Stressful!
Even if you are having some issues with your bar exam essays, you can resolve your problems and learn from the mistakes you have made! There are a lot of moving parts to bar exam essays and they can be overwhelming. However, you are taking steps to learn how you can improve and maximize your points, so you are already ahead of the game. Keep practicing and keep up the good work! You can do this, best of luck on the bar exam!