In most states, the essay portion of the bar exam makes up a significant portion of your overall score. It’s also one of the most-feared parts of the exam, and one that many people tend to struggle with while studying.
In order to successfully prepare for and pass the bar exam, you must have a strategy for practicing essay questions. It’s especially important to maximize your efforts on practice essays in the final weeks before the bar exam. This post outlines some tactics you can implement to make the most out of the practice essays you do in the three weeks leading up to the bar exam.
Do a Self-Assessment and Make a Practice Plan
You’ve made it to the final three weeks before the exam. At this point, you should be done with learning the substantive law and should be focused primarily on review, rule memorization, and timed practice. This is a great time to stop and do a self-assessment so that you can use your remaining time effectively.
Take a look at all of the subjects tested on the essay portion of the exam in your state. Be honest with yourself about how you feel about each of the essay topics and how much time you’ve dedicated to memorization and practice in each. Rank the subjects from “most confident” to “least confident,” and make a plan to devote extra time to your weaker subject areas.
Although it’s tempting to keep reviewing the rules and subjects you know best, now is the time to focus on your areas for improvement. You must expose yourself to the different ways issues in these subjects are tested on the essays and reinforce your understanding of the law. You should do at least one extra timed practice essay for all of your weaker subject areas (ideally, you’ll do two or more). For your stronger areas, you can continue reviewing your memorization outlines and may want to simply review fact patterns and outline essays on scratch paper in order to stay fresh.
Transition to Closed-Book Practice
If you haven’t already, you must transition to closed-book practice no later than three weeks before the bar exam. Many students think that they can’t start doing closed-book practice until they’re “ready.” The reality is that it’s much better to realize that you don’t know a certain rule or how to analyze an issue from the comfort of your own home than in the testing center on exam day. You must push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and start doing closed-book practice. This is the best way to prepare for exam day and will help you feel confident when you open the essay packet.
Critically Review Sample Answers
In the weeks leading up to the exam, you may feel like you’re in a time crunch and that doing as many practice essays as possible is the best use of your time. However, simply completing a practice essay without critically evaluating your performance will not help you prepare or improve.
After every timed practice essay, set aside at least 30 minutes to review your answer and compare it to sample answers from past bar exams. In most states, samples released by the state bar typically go far beyond what is needed to achieve a passing score. Nevertheless, you’ll want to check your practice essay against these answers and make sure that you have spotted all of the major issues and that your rule statements are precise. If you’re in California, you may want to purchase a subscription to BarEssays.com, which has a database of real scored essays for you to use as grading rubrics.
If you’ve missed issues, go back to the fact pattern and make sure that you understand which facts were relevant to this issue. If your rule statements are lacking, revisit your memorization outline and make sure that your materials are accurate. Commit the correct rule to memory and move on to the next practice essay.
Issue Spot and Outline Essays
The experienced bar exam tutors at Bar Exam Toolbox advocate for doing as much timed practice as possible. We also understand that you’re human and only have 24 hours in a day. If you need to take a short break from timed full practice essays or have only a few extra minutes to spare, you can still benefit from issue spotting and doing a scratch-paper outline for an essay. There are only so many different ways that bar examiners can test issues on essays. Reviewing a fact pattern and doing an outline can help you hone your issue-spotting skills and refine your strategy for outlining and preparing to write your essays.
Use Essay Predictions Wisely
In many states, bar prep companies or local attorneys will release essay subject predictions. It can be very tempting to focus only on the subjects that these purported “gurus” forecast for the exam. Doing so is a risk that has come back to haunt many bar applicants when these predictions turn out to be wrong. If you rely on predictions at all, consider doing one or two extra practice essays in the subjects that seem more likely to be tested than others. You must be prepared to be tested in all of the possible subjects.
Make the Most of Your Remaining Time and Prepare to Pass!
With a lot of hard work and dedication, you can make a significant amount of progress on the essay portion of the bar exam in a short period of time. By implementing these strategies, you can study smart (not just hard) and make the most of your remaining time before the bar exam. Good luck!