I get a lot of emails from students all over the country who are struggling with the writing portion of their bar exam. They want to know what they can do to raise their writing scores. I offer them a three-step process to improve their scores.
1. Think and Plan Before You Write
One common mistake students make when taking the bar exam is they think they don’t have enough time to outline and/or plan before they write. This is just not the case. If you don’t think/plan before you write, your answers are likely to be unorganized, too long, and even possibly cover the wrong material.
During this “pre-writing” time, you need to focus on (1) reading the facts carefully and (2) making an outline of your exam answer. Many students speed through the facts—forgetting that on the bar exam almost every fact is important. You must become an expert at reading the facts. The bar examiners work very hard to determine which facts to include and which ones to leave out. You have to carefully read and think through the facts to make sure you aren’t missing anything.
Once you have carefully read the facts, then you can develop an outline. I, personally, prefer that my students outline on paper. But you have to do what is right for you. Try various outlining techniques and see what works best for you. But do you know what typically doesn’t work? No outline at all! Outlining or note taking before you start writing helps you gather your thoughts, determine the most important issues that need to be discussed, and makes your writing clearer and more concise. It may take away from your “writing time” but it is time well spent.
However, just like anything else, you need to practice your pre-writing approach so that you feel confident about it by exam day. Try a few things out, develop a plan, and then stick to it. By the time you get to the exam room, it will be old hat.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
I have written about the importance of practice before, but it is so important I have to write about it again. You need to make sure you are setting aside quality practice time. That means you actually write out the answer to a question and don’t just issue spot. You must write as many questions as you can get your hands on, because this is the best way to test your exam approach (“thinking before writing”), your analysis of the facts, and your understanding of the law. Many people don’t even appreciate that they don’t understand the law, until they actually try to apply it. If you are a repeat taker, I recommend you try to use about half of your study time for practice. It may not be fun, but it is incredibly effective bar preparation.
3. Self-Evaluate and Get Feedback
Many students want to simply write the question and move on. Oh, if only it was that easy. Some of the best learning actually comes after you write out the question. First, you need to compare your answer with the sample answers provided to you. (But don’t let reading sample answers stress you out.) Then, you need to evaluate how your writing stands up to the sample answer. If there are things that need fixing, you may want to re-write your answer (sounds horrible, I know, but it can actually be an effective studying activity).
Do all this and you will be well on your way to raising your essay writing scores on the bar exam.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- The Power of the Re-Write
- Is Reading Sample Answers Stressing You Out?
- Why Do We Have to Write Out Practice Answers?
- Bar Exam Essays: You Must Become an Expert at Reading the Facts
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