Students who are non-native speakers of English may face special challenges when taking a bar exam. These students may or may not be international students, but what they have in common is that they had limited or no exposure to English while they were growing up.
The most common challenge that non-native English speakers face is that they consistently make grammatical errors on the essay and performance test sections of the bar exam. I asked a former bar exam grader how grammatical errors might impact a bar candidate’s score on a bar exam. She said that in her jurisdiction (California) the bar examiners did not specifically subtract points from an essay or performance exam for grammatical errors. She also said that grammatical errors could lower a bar candidate’s score if the grammatical errors were significant enough to make it difficult to understand what the bar candidate was writing.
In my experience, minor grammatical errors will not prevent someone from understanding what a bar candidate is writing about. An example of a minor grammatical error would be a failure to use articles such as “a” and “the.” The sentence: “Proposed legislation included new subway station” is missing two articles. The grammatically correct version of this sentence would be: “the proposed legislation included a new subway station.” However, even without the articles, the meaning of the sentence is clear and it is unlikely that points would be subtracted from your exam score.
An example of a major grammatical error would be in the area of subject and verb agreement, where the subject and the verb do not match grammatically. For example, it is unclear what the sentence, “The mushrooms are not plant in the scientific way” means because the subject of the sentence, “mushrooms,” does not agree with the verb (or possibly noun) plant. This sentence could mean that the mushrooms are not planted in the scientific way, meaning that the mushrooms are planted in the ground in an unscientific manner. Alternatively, this sentence could also mean that mushrooms are not plants in the scientific way, meaning that the mushrooms are not classified as plants in the scientific classification system. A grammatical mistake like this is devastating because if a bar grader does not understand what you are trying to say, you could get zero points for this entire issue.
It is almost impossible for a non-native speaker of English (or any other language) to identify his or her grammatical errors. After all, if you could identify your grammatical errors you would fix them, right? Below are five techniques non-native speakers of English and ESL law students can use to reduce their grammatical errors:
1. Get An Expert To Check Your Writing For Grammatical Errors
An expert is someone who has mastered English grammar. This expert could be a legal writing professor, an academic support professor, an English teacher, or an ESL teacher.
Just because someone is a native speaker of English does not mean that person is an expert on English grammar. There are plenty of native English speakers who make terrible grammatical errors. Make sure you use someone who is an expert at English grammar.
2. Get Some Tutoring To Eliminate Your Grammatical Errors
Ask your expert to tell you what type of grammatical errors you are making. Once you know what type of grammatical errors you are making, you can use online or in person tutoring to learn to correct those grammatical errors.
It is important that the tutoring include exercises as well as explanations of grammar. Doing the exercises is what will really help you to avoid grammatical errors in the future.
3. Expose Yourself To Grammatically Correct English As Much As Possible
Read newspapers and magazines in English. Watch the news or documentaries in English.
It is important to read or listen to English from established professional sources where the standards for English grammar are high. Most newspaper and magazines have professional editors who review all articles to make sure that the English grammar is correct. News programs and documentaries from major networks have the same type of editors.
In contrast, blogs are not good things to read to improve your English because, in some blogs, grammatical standards aren’t as high. In addition, the language used in blogs tends to be more informal, and may not be grammatically correct.
4. Use Short Simple Sentences In Exam Answers
The longer and more complex the sentence, the more likely you are to get into grammatical trouble. Short sentences are easier to write and make it less likely that you will make some sort of grammatical error. In addition, short sentences are usually easier to understand.
5. Write A Practice Exam Every Week And Have An Expert Correct It
If you make grammatical errors in English, doing grammar exercises is necessary, but not sufficient. You need to practice writing legal exams and have an expert identify any grammatical errors. Some bar preparation courses may not want to spend time identifying grammatical errors. If this happens to you, look at other options. When you are preparing for the bar, you need to ensure that you get all the feedback you need to get the best score you are capable of on the bar exam.