The common bar exam refrain is that test success requires knowing a little bit about a lot rather than a lot about anything. While this ends up being true, adopting this vast and superficial approach to learning is easier said than done. First of all, although law students exist on a spectrum of personality types, a preponderance of our community seems to hover around the perfectionism pole. After being thrust into what, for some, feels like a three-year gladiatorial fight for distinction, redefining success to mean that you’ve gotten your grader’s eyes to glaze over can be an abrupt and confusing shift in goals.
Prioritize What You Study
Another challenge is knowing what to prioritize in the face of a seemingly infinite universe of testable topics. For those taking more conventional study courses, it can be hard to know how to apply your efforts efficiently and effectively when you’re staring down six treatise-sized textbooks. Thankfully, most topics – and the ways in which they are tested – are heavily recycled. And while there may be a never-before-seen curveball in every test, if you get comfortable enough with the commonly tested topics, taking your best guess on an anomaly will be unlikely to make or break your grade. Plenty of people in California faked their way through ‘entrapment’ in February 2017 and still passed.
Brainy Bar Bank
With all the learning, memorizing, and practicing you have to do, you may be wondering how you can possibly find time to comb through and analyze all the bar exam essays from the past two decades and organize them based on frequency of topics and subtopics over the years. Well, fear not – Bar Exam Toolbox has done that for you!
Our Brainy Bar Bank allows California bar exam and Universal bar exam (UBE) takers to see every tested topic from the early 2000’s, organized by frequency and broken down into subtopics which are, in turn, organized by their own frequency. Therefore, if you’re a UBE taker who has an allergic reaction every time you see the word “removal” in the context of Civil Procedure, it may comfort you to know that it has yet to appear on an essay. You’ll also learn that your energy is better spent on subject matter jurisdiction, which has made fourteen appearances in the past twelve years, as opposed to seven times in CA. (Yes, this knowledge can also make for excellent dinner party fun facts, depending on the company you keep.)
Differences – CA and UBE
In terms of prioritizing which topics to study the most thoroughly, it turns out that CA and UBE test takers are in pretty different boats. One of the most glaring differences is that CA test takers have had to write a whopping 35 Professional Responsibility essays in the past 15 years while UBE test takers have written…none. In CA, Civ Pro is one of the least tested essay topics (thirteen times since 2002), whereas the UBE has had nearly double the amount of Civ Pro essays in the past twelve years.
Besides the difference in topics tested overall (as a CA test taker, I’m like “What even is a Negotiable Instrument?”), the subjects that do overlap highlight different subtopic priorities as well. For instance, if you’re gearing up for a Torts essay in CA, you’re going to want to pay special attention to intentional torts, which are tied with negligence for ten appearances since 2002. However, UBE takers have only encountered intentional torts three times since 2005. Shared liability is the second-most tested UBE Torts topic after negligence (five times,) whereas it is the least tested Torts topic in CA (four times.)
As another example, for CA test-takers, Equal Protection shows up in more than half of the 16 featured Constitutional Law essays, whereas the UBE has highlighted it just twice in recent years. And CA seems way more into holding corporations liable than the UBE, as CA Corporations essays have covered piercing the corporate veil six times while the UBE seems to have only addressed it once.
Based on this data, and many more patterns made explicit by the BBB, the difference in energy and attention required for different topics and subtopics is quite stark. Hopefully, this comes as a relief to test-takers. Despite how you may feel after more than 50 hours of bar exam lectures, the bar exam universe is, in fact, limited enough that a superficial understanding of the scope of tested topics can demystify what is an otherwise overwhelming process. While developing a sense of what is generally tested, how it’s tested, and how often it’s tested will not necessarily render the exam predictable, you can mitigate surprises if you practice the most common topics enough for them to become rote. And when that weird never-before-seen issue pops up on the exam, you can take comfort in the fact that it is no less familiar to you than to most others in the room, and that you were familiar enough with the main events to overcome the outlier.
Interested in other subject comparisons? Read more: