The average bar exam grader has hundreds, if not thousands, of essays to review and on average will spend only two to three minutes evaluating each one. Given those time restraints, it is absolutely essential that you make it as easy as possible for the grader to spot where you are earning points. The bar exam grader is not going to spend time sifting through a confusing or disorderly answer looking for rules and analysis, so you must make your brilliant legal observations apparent to them. A well-organized response is one of the hallmarks of a good essay. Of course, you need to have accurate content, but it won’t hurt if your answer also looks professional and reads like something a lawyer would write.
To organize your essays for maximum possible points, make sure you’re using the following strategies when you write your essays:
Consider your overall approach
Although you may feel nervous and pressured by the exam’s time restraints, don’t start writing immediately. Spending a minute or two to consider the overall approach you need to take to answer the question will be time well spent because it will give your answer a clear, cohesive presentation. After you’ve read the prompt and identified the major topics, consider whether you need to address the issues chronologically, by transaction, by party, or by some other means. If there are sub-questions or interrogatories, take them in the order listed. Once you have the overall structure and order as to how you’ll address the major topics, make sure you address the sub-issues in a logical way (i.e., address duty and breach before causation and damages). Identify a coherent system for addressing the topics and then follow that system consistently so that the grader can easily follow your overall presentation.
Analyze each issue fully and separately
Due to nerves, lack of knowledge, or the pressure to get as much down as possible before time runs out, students will sometimes fall into the bad habit of conflating topics and issues. Do not skip around between topics or address multiple topics in the same section, no matter how rushed you feel or how little you think you know about a topic. Instead, always state the rule for the topic you’re discussing, then analyze that topic fully before moving on to the next topic. Answers that jump between topics or that address multiple subtopics in a single rambling paragraph are difficult to follow, which means it will be more difficult for the grader to spot where you’re earning points.
You’d be surprised at how many essay answers I see that are a solid page of text with no indentations or that fail to label which sections of their answer are responding to which interrogatories. Always, always, label your answer to correspond to the interrogatories, use headings when the question logically provides for it, and write in short, clear paragraphs. The use of headings for each topic and subheadings for each element or component of a rule eliminates the need to craft clumsy transitions and makes the issues you’ve spotted obvious to the grader. Additionally, proper spacing and paragraph structure will not only make your answer look professional, but will also make it easier to read, which is important when a grader only has a few minutes to review it.
Rely on IRAC/CRAC
Now is not the time to get creative with your writing style. The best bar exam essays are straightforward and clear, and the IRAC/CRAC format can help you achieve that. Using IRAC/CRAC is a simple way to organize your response that will ensure you include all the key components of good legal analysis and help you make the most of the limited time you have to answer each question. Just as importantly, graders like essays that follow the IRAC/CRAC format because they know what to expect. Sticking closely to the IRAC/CRAC format will help your answer proceed in a comprehensive and logical fashion, which will make it easier for the grader to quickly assess whether you’re addressing each component that they’re looking for.
It can be difficult to write a well-organized answer when you’re writing under pressure – not just the pressure of the clock ticking down, but also the pressure of taking one of the most difficult and intimidating exams of your life. Organization can be just as important as content when it comes to earning points on the bar exam essays because if a grader can’t find your rule statements or follow your analysis, you won’t earn as high a score as you could have. So, in addition to memorizing all the rules and working on your issue spotting, be sure to practice organizing your essay answers. Writing a well-organized answer will help you earn maximum points on the essay portion not only by making it easier for the grader to review, but also by encouraging you to perform legal analysis that is clear, comprehensive, and cohesive.
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