Unbelievably, the news about the bar examination is still cloudy. At this point in your preparation, I think the best approach would be to prepare for a completely online exam, and assume it will be given on the date when it is currently set. So, let’s explore a strategy you can start practicing now.
Initial Things to Consider
Because of the concern that people will be tempted to cheat during a fully online bar exam, there is the real possibility that you will be taking the exam without access to any scratch paper. The idea is that by prohibiting all paper in the space you take the exam, those monitoring you will not have to worry about whether you are using blank scratch paper or a contraband attack outline with a list of potential topics. This means you will have to become adept at “outlining” or organizing your essay answer on the computer you are using for the exam.
First, learn about the software that will be used for testing. Will it allow you to use a split screen? With a split screen, the essay question could appear on one side of the screen, and the space for writing an answer on the other. Will the program make it possible for you to highlight parts of the question? Learn how to use those functions and any others that might mimic you writing on the question itself.
If you are stuck with having to use a form of software that only presents the question, then follows with a space for the answer, then you will have to get comfortable with scrolling back and forth between the question and your response. If you can force yourself to work on a thorough outline before writing the essay itself, you will be able to minimize the amount of scrolling you actually do during the exam.
How to Practice and Prepare
Working with the “worst case scenario,” I suggest taking practice exams using the following method:
- Read through the question once completely without spotting specific issues or noting important facts right away. Get a feel for the story being told. At the end, focus on the call of the question.
- Depending on what you are being asked to do, start putting information in the area reserved for the answer. For instance, if you are told in the first question to consider what crimes were committed by Rick, then in the second, what crimes were committed by Sam, then you should start your online outline with a caption for Rick, and another separate one for Sam.
- Now, read the question again. This time start identifying potential issues. As you spot them, list them under Rick’s caption or Sam’s. Beyond this effort to identify the separate issues relevant to each defendant, don’t spend a lot of time trying to organize until you get to the end of your second read of the question. Once you do actually get to the end, try to put those issues into a logical order. For instance, you will want to move through murder before addressing manslaughter, or you might want to discuss a burglary or robbery before going into whether that can be used in a felony murder analysis. If you were thorough while issue spotting, this will only mean you will have to move issues around.
- At this point, you might be anxious to start writing the answer using the outline you have just created. However, I implore you to read the question again before you start. It is amazing how the process of organizing issues and thinking about a plan for writing will focus your mind. On this third read, look for facts you want to use in your discussion. Plug in a reference to those facts on your outline in the relevant places. If that fact is already in an outline that you are simply going to expand as you write, then you are not likely to forget about using it. Bar graders love it when you use facts, so give yourself a practical way to remember to incorporate those facts into your discussion. This third read might even highlight an issue you missed on the second read. Add that issue to the outline in the appropriate place. This outlining process should take about 15 minutes.
- Now start to write. Keep track of the time. You must move through your outline efficiently, building it out into the actual parts of the essay. If you took the time to build a thorough outline, there will be little need to scroll back to the question. And don’t forget to raise a counterargument where you can. Most bar essays give you at least 2 or 3 opportunities to raise counterarguments, and that will get you more points – especially if you tie those counterarguments to a fact you pulled out of the question.
- Finish your essay within the allotted time frame and move onto the next fact pattern. Start the process all over again.
If you practice this method during your bar preparations, the absence of scratch paper will not feel like a negative.