Perhaps one of the biggest and most valid fears of bar exam takers is the possibility of forgetting the law on a part or maybe even all of an essay question. Regardless of how many essays you’ve completed and despite the positive feedback you may have received on them, on the day of the bar exam we all remain vulnerable to the frailties of the human nervous system. Simply speaking, being nervous on the morning of the exam means that there’s a high likelihood that your mind can completely blank out the minute you read an exam question. Even worse and spoken from firsthand experience, there’s a high likelihood that you can read an exam question and have no idea what it’s asking you.
So what do you do when confronted with this highly likely scenario? Make the law up! I assure you I’m not writing this in an intoxicated state of mind nor am I trying to trick you in any way. But making the law up for those blank moments can actually save your score on the exam. Of course, I don’t recommend making the law up out of thin air. However, making the law up within the right context and applying careful analysis can still gain you quite a few points.
So if you forget the law, here’s what you do:
1. Don’t Panic!
Although it’s easier said than done to ask you not to panic, I assure you that you will have a much better performance if your mind space isn’t clouded by fear and corrupted with the possibility of failure. So if you read an essay question and the answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, don’t panic. Breathe and take a quick moment to remember that even if you mess up this one essay, this may not have a significant effect on your overall grade. Depending on whether you’re taking the MBE or the UBE, you may have three or even five more essays on which you can prove yourself. Remaining calm could also help the law to come flooding back to your memory. Also, if, after reading the first essay question, you realize this may not be your strongest answer, it may help if you quickly skim the other essay questions to determine how you will allocate your time. During the essay portion of my exam, I recall reading the first question which was an Evidence issue and having no idea what the question was asking. However, I tried my best to remain calm and quickly skimmed through the remaining four questions. During my skim I realized the other topics covered Criminal Procedure, Contracts and Real Property, three of my stronger areas. Therefore, I quickly decided that I would do the best I could on the first essay in the shortest amount of time and then spend the rest of my time gaining as many points as I could on the remaining essays. Thankfully, this strategy saved my score on the exam. So give this first step a try if you find yourself in this predicament.
2. Spot as Many Issues as You Can
Ok once you’ve stopped panicking the next thing you can do is grab your no. 2 pencil and begin spotting issues. First off, try to determine what topic area the question is covering. Many topics on the bar exam, especially during the essay section, tend to overlap. Therefore, try your best to determine what topics are being tested, then spot as many issues as you can that relate to those topics, regardless of whether you know the exact law.
3. Make up the Law and Do a Careful Analysis
Okay, now that you’ve determined, or at least taken a strong guess about what topics are being tested and now that you’ve spotted all the possible issues that you believe correlate with these topics, it’s time to determine the law. By this point in the process, your nerves may have begun wearing off and the law may have come back to you for certain issues. If not, no need to fear because you can still make up the law and succeed.
So how do you make up the law? Try to use context clues from the facts and issues to put together a rule that at the very least appears to make some sense. For example, if you’ve determined that the topic is Criminal Law and based on your issue spotting you’ve assessed that the facts possibly include a burglary or a larceny. However, for some reason, you can’t remember the specific rule for a burglary. You can’t remember whether it requires intent or whether the breaking has to be the home of another or just someone else’s building. At this point, it makes no sense to fumble over the exact rule if it can’t come to mind. So if the facts include breaking into the home of another, go with your gut and create a rule highlighting these factors and apply the basic legal concepts that relate to a burglary.
Even if your rule is wrong, the majority of your points will come from the analysis. So even if you state an incorrect rule for a burglary, but you’ve applied all the important facts that the examiner wants you to use, there’s a good chance that you can still gain some points for this issue. The rule is very important, but it’s only one aspect of your score. If you can spot the issues, make up a rule, analyze the issues by applying the facts and then arrive at a conclusion, you are definitely in the clear to scoop up some points.
4. Make Sure to Use IRAC
I know you already know how important it is to apply IRAC for your essay structure. But I just wanted to reiterate its importance, especially in a scenario when you’re unsure of the law. Using IRAC will help to keep you organized despite how all over the place you may be. Also, it will make it easier for the examiner to grade your essay. So as you draft your answer, be sure to clearly state your issue, then add your made up rule, apply a careful analysis with your rule and then state a conclusion.
Having a blank moment on the exam could easily happen to even the strongest exam taker. But if you remain calm and apply the above advice you could very well save your score.