There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the essay section of the bar exam. In addition to the sheer number of essays you have to complete, you never know what subjects or topics will be coming at you next. Then there’s the process of generating your own answers – reflecting on the question, spotting issues, reciting the law, and analyzing the facts in a coherent, comprehensive way all while the clock quickly ticks down. The good news is that there are strategies for resolving the common problems you may encounter on the bar essays.
The Problem: Running Out Of Time
The Solution: Stick to your time limits, even if it means cutting an answer short. It’s generally a mistake to spend a lot of time answering one question at the expense of the others, so when your time to complete a question is up, you need to move on. To better manage your time on the essays, have a plan in place as to how you’ll approach each question. For example, on a 30-minute question, depending on your method and strengths, you may plan on spending 3 minutes reading the question and issue spotting, 2 minutes creating a quick outline, and the remainder of the time actually drafting your answer. The point is, you should go into the exam already knowing how you’ll pace yourself through each question. If you’ve run out of time but still haven’t addressed some major issues, spend a minute quickly bulleting the remainder of your answer, then return to it if you have extra time at the end of that segment.
The Problem: Bad Organization
The Solution: Strive for simplicity. Bar examiners won’t waste any time digging through a convoluted answer looking for points, so strong organization is absolutely key. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on the bar essays – make a brief outline before you start writing and then write your answer in IRAC/CRAC format. Using headings and labels whenever possible will also improve your organization and help you write a more coherent answer. Depending on the question, you may want to organize your answer by legal concept/issue raised, by parties, or by cause of action. Make separate headings for each portion and follow a basic IRAC/CRAC format as much as possible.
The Problem: Missed Issues
The Solution: Question the question. If you notice that you’re consistently missing key issues during your practice exams, you need to work on reading the facts more carefully. Besides a few background facts that provide context, most of the facts in a question are there to prompt you to discuss a legal issue. Don’t skim over or ignore any facts and instead, ask yourself why a particular fact or set of facts is included. What do those facts do? What concepts do those facts relate to? Reading the call of the question before reading the fact pattern can also help with issue spotting. Lastly, physically writing down each issue spotted will prevent you from forgetting to address an issue while you’re furiously typing your answer.
The Problem: Conclusory Analysis
The Solution: Use buzzwords. With the tight time constraints for each essay question, you may find yourself jumping to conclusions without completing a thorough analysis of the facts. The solution for this problem may seem overly simplistic, but it’s effective. Anytime you state a conclusion, follow it up with “because” and then some reference to the facts that support your conclusion. If there’s a counterargument that can be made, make sure you also write “however” and state the counterargument. For example, your sentence might read “A’s claim will not succeed because fact 1 is present, however, A may argue that fact 2 and fact 3 are absent,” or “Element X is not satisfied because fact Y is not present.”
The Problem: You Don’t Know The Legal Rule Being Tested
The Solution: Get as close you can. If you know that the facts are raising an issue related to a certain legal concept, but you’re uncertain of the details of that rule, don’t skip the issue completely for fear of getting the law incorrect. Write down what you do know and complete your analysis as best you can. Even if your rule statements are not completely accurate, you may still get some points for a partially correct answer and for providing strong analysis based on the rules you did put down.
The Problem: Confusing Sentences Or Poor Writing Style
The Solution: Keep it short and sweet. You’ll have to sacrifice some eloquence in order to get a complete answer down, but that doesn’t mean you can completely disregard your grammar and writing style on the bar essays. The graders want to see responses that are coherent, professional in tone, and get to the point quickly and effectively. To that end, make sure you use proper grammar, syntax, and paragraph structure in your answers. To prevent confusing responses, use short, clear sentences and paragraphs and be sure to fully address each sub-topic before moving on to the next one.
The Problem: You Have No Idea What The Question Is Asking
The Solution: Stop, breathe, and think. It’s not uncommon for there to be one (or two!) questions on the essay section that stump you. Maybe it’s a question that’s totally out of left field or maybe it’s over an area of law that you’re just drawing a blank on. Regardless, if you come across a question that you can’t answer during the exam, don’t panic. Reread the question again and see if there is any issue, no matter how small, that you recognize. Try to find some relevant legal concept to discuss so that you can at least get a few points. If you’re totally lost, take a few minutes to explain how you would find the answer to the question – conduct research, meet with client, exchange discovery, etc. – you might get a few mercy points from the grader for showing that you know how a lawyer would find an answer to an unfamiliar problem. Then, perhaps most importantly, move on to the next essay. Forget about any tough questions so they don’t impact your performance on the remainder of the exam.
Many students are intimidated by the bar exam essays, but there’s no need to be. Almost any problem you will encounter on the essay section can be solved with the right strategy and enough practice!
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