So here’s the scenario, you didn’t take a certain subject in law school or maybe you went to a law school outside of California and it wasn’t an option. You reviewed that subject briefly as part of your bar exam prep, but it’s not your strongest subject. You are banking on that subject not showing up on your exam but then you open your exam to find your weak subject staring you in the face and your mind goes blank; you have no idea how to answer the question. What happens next?
Don’t panic or do panic, but keep it short. You have a bar exam to pass.
1. Go back to basics
First, figure out what you do know. On your scratch paper, you can note some overall concepts for this subject matter.
2. Apply the basic legal concepts
Take the basic legal concepts for this subject matter and see how they may interact with the fact pattern that you have been given. At this point you don’t need a perfect articulation of the applicable rule, just bring the general concepts into your mind. Start to think of any buzzwords that may be related to this topic and these rules, you may want to jot them down on your scratch paper.
3. Circle each fact and figure out where it may plug into an answer
Most of the facts in an essay question are relevant to your analysis. For example, if there are facts about some property being located in state and some property being located out of state, it may be calling for you to discuss how these two things may be treated differently. Step back and think about why the locations of the properties may be given, there may be different rules to apply or it may be related to a certain element of a rule. Let the facts help your memory.
A note on the elusive red herring: I often hear applicants say that they didn’t use a fact because it was a red herring designed to distract them. I won’t say that there has never been a red herring or irrelevant fact on the bar exam essays but they are few and far between. Over 90% of the time that I hear an applicant dismiss a fact as a red herring, I know that they have missed a valuable signpost. The fact was directing the applicant to discuss an issue or designed to trigger the application of a specific rule.
4. Stay open minded
As you work through the essay and start using the facts, your memory may be jogged and you may recall relevant rules or specific language for rules that you are using. If some rules come into your mind, see where they might lead and work them into your discussion. Sometimes this can happen after much of the essay is already written, but even though time may be passing, let your mind incorporate these ideas as you continue.
If you have already started your analysis, don’t cross out all of your previous work and leap off in a brand new direction. Look for a transition to explain the change in course, and cross out selectively, if you must. There are no points taken off for a “wrong” discussion. So if you have suddenly realized that you lumped the in-state and out of state property into the same analysis and they could be treated differently, but you aren’t sure of the different rules, then you need to grapple with it. You will get points for spotting the issue and you are sending a message to the grader that you are approaching this in a lawyerly way.
5. Organize your writing to conform to the question
Always organize your answer to the call of the question, but this is even more critical when your answer might be vague on specific rules. Keep the organization clean and clear in order to highlight your conceptual understanding of the area of law even if you were unable to recite the rule.
As you prepare for the bar, do a timed practice essay for an area of law that you haven’t studied recently and may be a weak subject for you. Try the above techniques and see how you handle the challenge. Do a self-evaluation of the essay; you may surprise yourself with the outcome.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Test Anxiety and the Bar Exam – How to Handle It
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana at a Time: Learning to Relax
- A Final Pep Talk Before the Bar Exam
- Five Things to Do Your Last Week of Bar Prep
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