When you’re preparing for the bar exam, whether you’re a first-time taker or a repeater, you want to use every tool available to you to improve your chances of success. One of the most valuable tools that you can employ in preparing for the written portions of the exam is feedback from someone who is experienced at evaluating bar exam essays and MPTs.
Why Feedback is Important
Getting feedback on your written work is important primarily because it gives you an objective evaluation of your work. It’s often difficult for us to fairly assess our own writing, but feedback from a good grader should help you better recognize your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If you’re struggling to improve your practice essay or MPTS scores, feedback can help you identify where you need to focus your attention. Are you failing to spot key issues? Is your writing disorganized? Are you not analyzing the facts thoroughly enough? Or are you simply not reciting the relevant rules? Whatever it might be, feedback from an objective source can help you isolate the problem.
Additionally, as important as it is to know the rules, spot the issues, and perform solid legal analysis, it also won’t hurt if your essays “sound good.” Bar exam graders have to review hundreds of essays in a relatively short amount of time, so they may not go through each one with a fine tooth comb. If you’re essay is stylistically well written and at least sounds like something a lawyer would write, it may help make up for a few missing elements or some superficial factual analysis. Getting feedback on your practice essays should help you refine your writing style and at the very least, make your essays sound good.
Where to Get Quality Feedback
To really improve your writing style and substantive analysis using feedback, you need to be getting quality feedback. Quality feedback will point out what you’re doing well and what you’re missing, and will also give you specific suggestions on how to improve some of your weaker areas. Most commercial bar prep courses now provide feedback on practice essays, and their graders are generally knowledgeable and experienced at providing quality feedback. If you’re signed up with a bar prep course, be sure to take advantage of this resource. If you’re not signed up with a bar prep course or your course doesn’t offer feedback, seek out an experienced bar exam tutor. Bar exam essays are a unique writing challenge, so you’ll want the person providing you the feedback to be familiar with the expectations of your state’s bar exam.
How to Use Feedback to Improve Your Performance
Once you’ve gotten some feedback on a practice essay question, you’ll want to use the comments to make positive changes for the next practice question, and then eventually the bar exam. As you’re receiving feedback and reviewing it, keep the following tips in mind to help you make the most of it.
- Don’t take it personal – The feedback is evaluating your answer, not you as a person. So don’t take it personal and try not to get defensive. Some of the feedback may seem harsh or overly critical, but try to remember that this is all part of a process designed to help you pass the exam. Ultimately, it’s better to get that criticism on a practice essay where you can correct your mistakes than on the actual bar exam.
- Submit multiple answers for feedback – Improving your performance on the essay portions of the exam is a multi-step process. You can’t expect to make significant progress by submitting one practice question for some feedback a couple weeks before the test. Instead, plan on submitting a question each week for several weeks so that you can make incremental changes based on the feedback you receive and get plenty of practice employing the recommendations the grader gives you.
- Take the practice essays under exam like conditions – It’s fine to give yourself a few extra minutes or even glance at an outline during the first practice essay you write, but otherwise all your practice essays should be taken under exam like conditions. That means you should stick to the time limits, complete them closed book, and write out complete answers. Remember, the goal is to improve your performance on the actual test. The only way to know whether you can write a passing answer is practice with the same time and resource restrictions. The feedback you receive for answers written under exam like conditions will be more useful, because your answer will more accurately reflect the strengths and weaknesses you’ll be grappling with on the actual exam.
- Try a re-write – After you received your feedback and had time to process it, try re-writing your answer based on the comments. Re-writing your answer will give you practice making the changes suggested by the feedback and help solidify those new skills.
- Pick 1 or 2 things to work on – Trying to make several changes at once is difficult and often results in failing to fully change anything at all. So instead of focusing on every comment the grader provided in their feedback, pick one or two of the most important comments and focus on improving those areas in the next practice question. Once you’ve made improvements in those areas, you can focus on the next set of skills that you need to work on.
What to Do With Negative Feedback
Quality feedback can help you make major improvements on the written portions of the bar exam, so you want to take it seriously, but you also don’t want to get discouraged by negative feedback. Try to remember that graders for practice essays are often using very rigid model answers or rubrics to evaluate answers. Sometimes these grading systems don’t leave a lot of room to award points to good answers that approached a question in a different way. So while it’s important to take the feedback seriously and make changes based on the comments, it’s also important to remember that there is no one way to write a passing essay answer. Don’t get discouraged if you’re getting negative feedback or if your answer varies somewhat from the model answer. You can usually approach a question in different ways and still write a passing answer, so long as you have the basic qualities that all good answers have: organization, issue spotting, accurate rule statements, and factual analysis.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Don’t Do This on Your Bar Exam Essays
- Advice From a Bar Grader: Tips to Maximize Your Essay Score
- How to Approach a Uniform Bar Exam Subject Essay (MEE)
- Don’t Forget the Basics on the Bar Exam Essays
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