The performance test is my favorite part of the bar exam because you don’t need to know any law. Great, isn’t it? But folks still struggle with this part of the exam. There are a few keys to being successful on the performance test:
(1) You need to have an approach.
(2) You need to practice that approach.
(3) You need to get feedback on your writing.
What is a performance test approach?
I consider a performance test approach to be the “how to” of what you do when you get the packet. You want to approach each exam, generally, in the same way. This keeps you on task, makes you efficient, and even helps with exam anxiety. My students tell me they feel ready for the performance test portion when they get to that part of the exam and say, “Okay, here we go again!”
I would argue that there is not one perfect approach for everyone. Instead you need to try different approaches to see what works for you. You might learn a few different approaches, be it from your commercial bar review course, your private tutor, or even a book (such as Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test by Mary Campbell Gallagher, JD, PhD). In order to try these out, you must practice, practice, practice.
Basically, you want to focus on an approach for each portion of the test.
Task Memo: You will get a memorandum giving you your task. There is a lot of quality information in this part of the test. It is so important that you actually need to read it twice. Furthermore, following directions is incredibly important on the performance test. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to frame your answer correctly since following the directions amounts to such easy points. Warning! If you ever find yourself saying, “Hey, I know they said to do it this way, but I am actually going to do it this other way,” please stop yourself! Danger zone! You must do it as presented to you by the bar examiners.
File: The file will have a bunch of different documents relating to the assignment at hand. These can be transcripts, contracts, depositions, letters, you name it. Your job is to sift through the facts looking for the relevant ones. You are on a hunting expedition. If you find yourself highlighting everything on the page, you are in another danger zone! Not everything is relevant. It is important to note that some students like reading the file first and some the library. I find it is a personal preference. You should try a few both ways to see which is right for you.
Library: The library will have statutes, cases, and the like. It is here that you are searching for the law to apply to the facts in the file. Again, don’t get caught up in highlighting every word. Instead, you must sift through all of this information in order to determine what is actually relevant and on point to complete the task at hand. I sometimes tell my students to “sit on their hands” until they see something relevant to highlight. It sounds silly, but it works.
Crack open a performance test and see how it goes!
The best way to find the right approach for you is through practice and feedback. Get started today! What do you have to lose really? If you are really good at the performance test, then you can feel confident about one portion of the exam. If you struggle with it, you have plenty of time to practice and learn different approaches to conquer the exam.
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