When I studied for the bar exam in 2003 it was pretty much Barbri or bust for the essay portion of the bar exam. The Barbri reps were on campus within the first couple of months of law school asking everyone to lock in a price for their bar exam preparation course. The sooner you signed up, the less expensive the course. I remember wondering why I needed to think about the bar exam when I barely knew how to outline. When I eventually took Barbri, I was provided with books including outlines and sample essays on each topic with answers. Technology has changed since then and many competitors have come out of the woodwork. Several internet tools have been created to help law students prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam.
Practice and receiving good feedback on essays is essential to any effective bar study strategy. I am often asked by students whether it is worth it to purchase certain internet tools. While the cost may be relatively nominal, any added cost increases your total overhead going into the bar exam. And since some of you have yet to earn a paycheck, this cost might make a difference. Too many tools can be overwhelming, and take away from an effective study plan, but the right combination of tools can make the difference between passing and failing. Each student has a different learning style and/or needs so no one tool works best for every student.
My goal here is to compare a couple of the on-line tools that we often recommend and discuss how these tools can help you maximize your study goals.
Past Bar Exams On State Bar Website
Most of you know that you can access a large number of bar essays and sample answers for free on the CA State Bar website. From the home page use the quick link to the bar exam, and go to the Examinations tab. Click on Past Exams and you are brought to a page with links to every essay and performance test question since 2010 and sample answers A & B selected by the bar examiners.
So you now have access to 84 real bar exam essay questions with sample answers. The question is whether in combination with the bar review program of your choice, is this is enough? Read more here for advice on selecting a bar review course. There are two other on-line tools we often recommend because they can help give you valuable feedback and/or target your practice in weak areas of the law.
Here’s how it works. After logging in, you are taken to a page listing all California bar exam subjects. There is a circle around each subject which tells you how many issues on that topic are in their database. For example, if want to study Civil Procedure, the website currently has a database of 68 issues. When you click on Civ Pro, you are taken to a page listing all the issues previously tested, such as Claim Preclusion or Amount in Controversy. You are also told how many times that issue has been tested. To practice an essay, simply click on that issue to find a link an essay question and the State Bar’s sample answers A & B.
Another useful function is that you are told whether one or both sample answers discussed that issue. I usually suggest to students that they cross reference any sample answers and focus on any issues discussed in all answers since bar exam candidates might have spent time on non-issues. This saves time when you are evaluating your practice essay. There is also a search bar on the home page after logging in that allows you to search and find an essay on any issue you want to practice.
Tutor Pick (Repeat takers or attorney exam candidates): This tool is very helpful for targeting weak areas. If you are fresh out of law school, are a repeat taker, taking the attorney exam, or want to focus on weak areas then this is a great resource. This tool is also good for anyone crash studying for an exam. Although this is not recommended, if you have a very limited window to study, this tool could help you hit certain areas of the law.
The other tool we often recommend is BarEssays. A standard subscription here costs $149 with an additional $50 for the premium package (or $199). However, Bar Exam Toolbox has arranged for a discount, and you can contact us for a discount code. The BarEssays database includes more than 3,000 real graded essays, with a range of high and low scoring examples for every essay tested since 2005, and some essays as far back as 2000. This is unique to BarEssays, as review programs generally do not provide real graded essay examples. The premium membership includes bar grader reviews in addition to the model answers for every question tested since 2003. Hint: if you are a repeat taker, you can sell your exams to offset some of the cost for this tool, and BarEssays will pay $60-$100 per complete set of essays.
Searching for essays is easy on BarEssays. You can search by subject, essay score, handwritten v. typed, or exam year, or all of the above. Search Civil Procedure essays 65 and higher, for example, and you will pull up a list of over 100 essays. Some might find this overwhelming since you only want to spend time going through a few answers for each practice essay. However, many students find it useful to compare an essay receiving a 70 and above with one that received a 65, or below a 60. There is value in seeing other students’ mistakes or what they did properly.
Similar to BarIssues, you can also find out how often an issue has been tested with their Issues Tested Chart. When you select this chart, it tells you which issues were tested in that topic on essays going back to 2000. You can then use the search function to find that essay and any samples and graded essays along with it. On this site, you would need to spend more time searching for an essay to practice on a specific issue, but you could still find it. However, we all know how valuable your time is when you are studying for the bar exam.
Unlike BarIssues, you are also given access to outlines, checklists, templates, short outlines, and essay attack templates with the premium package. A solid attack plan and having a tried and true method for approaching the essays on the bar exam is very important to writing a passing answer. There is also an option to submit practice essays for feedback at lower rates than one on one tutoring.
Tutor Pick (First time bar takers): If you are taking the bar for the first time, you are more likely to focus on all areas of the law. Further, the bar grader reviews (if you choose a premium plan) are helpful since you have not received much feedback on your writing thus far. And finally, since you are given access to outlines, checklists, templates, etc, this is probably a better choice if you are choosing between these two tools. For more on this tool, check out this previous blog post.
Conclusion: There is great value in both of these tools when used properly. You have free access to essays and sample answers via the California State Bar website, but, if you have the resources, we recommend trying out one or both of these tools.