I have been talking to many students around the country about how they should best prepare for the bar exam. Many students complain that writing out exam answers takes too much time. So they just want to outline and issue spot exam answers. For most of us, this is not wise. Why?
Issue spotting alone does not help us refine our exam writing skills.
I believe that the bar exam is testing your essay exam skills as well as your knowledge of the law. Although you can be minimally competent in your knowledge of the law, you must be an expert exam taker. So since you need to become an expert in writing exam answers, it is critical to practice writing out entire answers on a regular basis. Issue spotting is not enough! Why?
- Issue spotting alone does not allow you to practice writing out analysis. On most bar exams it is the analysis that makes the big difference between passing and failing. Although some students think they understand how to write out analysis, often they are over-confident. You need to practice arguing the facts to get the maximum amount of analysis points possible.
- Issue spotting alone does not help you with time-management issues. Almost every person studying for the bar exam struggles with time management. These exams are hard to finish on time! Issue spotting doesn’t help with time management at all. It doesn’t let you practice how to allocate your time for different issues and it doesn’t force you to be concise and move through the exam quickly. Remember, you are graded only by what is on the page, so if you don’t have enough time to write down your answer, that can be problematic.
- Issue spotting alone doesn’t help you refine your exam-taking process. I encourage students to have an exam-taking plan as they sit down to each individual essay. This plan should be practiced over and over again so it becomes a habit (if it is a habit, it is unlikely this plan will go out the window when you are in the stress of the exam). Issue spotting doesn’t really help you refine your exam-taking plan. And for something to become a habit, it has to be done over and over again. So make sure you are taking the time out to write as many essays as possible.
Does this mean that you can never just read and issue spot a bar exam question? No, but you need to be smart about balancing that practice with writing out full essays. In my opinion, you should be writing every day that you are studying for the exam. Why wouldn’t you? It is the way you are going to be evaluated on exam day. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.
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