The essays on the California Bar Exam make up 39% of your score. You must do well on the essays in order to pass the bar! Here is my method for the 1 hour “hypos,” which you will have to write 6 of (3 on Tuesday morning and 3 on Thursday morning).
Follow these 8 steps for each essay on the bar exam. If you practice them now, you will know exactly what to do so that you can be on “auto-pilot” the days of the exam.
1. Set your timer in ExamSoft – (or record the times on scrap paper if you are handwriting).
This is crucial, but don’t panic if on exam day you forget (like I did on my first essay!). As soon as you realize that you forgot, approximate your time already spent and set the timer with the remaining time for that essay. I guarantee you won’t forget on the next question.
Set the timer in two intervals. First, set it for 15 minutes which is the amount of time needed for outlining. Then when the alarm goes off, even if you have already started to write (some essays you may not need the entire 15 minutes to outline, but some you may need a bit more), then set the timer for the second interval of 45 minutes.
Watch the clock constantly and NEVER go over on any essay. Try to leave yourself 2 minutes at the end to do a spell-check (unfortunately, ExamSoft does not spell check as you go along like MS Word does, but it will show you which words are wrong when you click on the spellcheck icon).
2. Read the call to determine the subject.
This may seem obvious but some law students have been known to anxiously start outlining only to find out halfway through writing that the essay is a crossover of two subjects!
Combining more than one subject in an essay is becoming more common on the bar exam and you are likely to have at least one of these on the bar exam. According to our BarIssues.com statistics, the average number of crossover essay questions on the California Bar Exam from July 2001 to February 2014 were 1.7. Learn to spot the clues in the call of the question so that you are not left guessing.
3. Read the hypo question slowly, marking it up as you go along.
Some bar exam instructors tell you to read the question once quickly first and then again more slowly. I prefer to just get right into it. I like to circle names when they first appear, as well as circling any dates and numbers. (If a date or dollar amount is in the fact pattern then it is likely of some significance). Underline any facts that raise an issue and note the issue in the margin with an arrow to the underlined fact.
4. Read the hypo again to see if there are any issues that you missed.
This is another crucial step. Better to take the time to do this now before you begin writing. Next thing you know, you got carried away with your analysis and missed spotting some issues. A bar instructor once gave out a very valuable tip: If you don’t understand the hypo, read it again, and if you still don’t understand it, read it again. You get the point!
5. Create a diagram or time-line if needed.
There are some subjects like Wills, Trusts and Property where the characters and facts need to be diagrammed. This can help you immensely in keeping things straight.
I usually create a mini diagram for each of these types of questions, especially when there are parents, children, step-children, friends, etc, just to keep the names straight. Then as I write the essay I glance at this diagram frequently to refresh my memory of who I am writing about!
You may even find yourself writing your own name as Angela did when she took the Feb. 2014 bar exam for Remedies question number 6, “Angela hired Mark…”. And if your name is Don, Dan, Vic, Wanda, Wendy, Harry, or Hank – watch out, your chances of writing about yourself increase dramatically!
6. Set up your headings on the computer screen. (If you are handwriting, then do this on your scrap paper).
Use the exact same formatting of numbers and letters as written in the call of the question. For example, if there are 4 calls numbered 1(a), 1(b), 2(a), 2(b) then write out your headings with the same numbering. Anything you can do to make the grader’s task easier will be worth it.
For example, here is a call taken from Constitutional Law essay number 2, February 2011:
Call of the question is:
Charles wishes to raise a defense against the refusal to deploy charge based solely on (1) the Free Exercise Clause and (2) the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
What is the likelihood of Charles prevailing? Discuss.
Your headings should be:
1. FREE EXERCISE CLAUSE
2. ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE
By doing this before you begin to write, you won’t forget to answer all of the calls of the question, and just as important – you won’t be likely to wander off into areas that are not asked for! I like to put these in all capital letters to make them stand out.
This is the only time I number any headings because I am following the same numbering as in the call of the question. More numbering after this gets too confusing to keep straight and is not needed.
7. List the issues that were raised by the facts beneath each heading on your screen (or list them on your scrap paper if you are not typing).
These issues are your subheadings which I like to underline (or you can use bold font if you prefer). I don’t bother to indent them or number them as that just gets too complicated.
If you are typing, you can even insert the rule of law for each issue at this time as long as you are strictly following the IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion), however, I prefer to state the rules as I write the entire answer because it helps me to apply my facts to the elements of the rule.
As to what you list on your scrap paper for your outline (if anything), I believe that is something you have to determine. I have seen many different methods used, from a full fact-to-issue outline to nothing listed at all. Try out some different methods and use what works best for you. We all learn and recall information differently. I like to jot down some key facts to my list of issues on my scrap paper outline. But sometimes I will come up with something while I am writing that I didn’t think of in the beginning.
Make sure you watch the clock to leave enough time to cover each issue. It’s a good idea to mentally break up the remaining 45 minutes into separate time slots for each call. (For example, in this Constitutional Law essay, I would allocate 25 minutes to Free Exercise Clause and 20 minutes to Establishment Clause, recognizing that this may change somewhat as I write but still watching the clock closely as I go).
8. And now – start writing!
At this stage you should have used up your 15 minutes set aside to outline. If you didn’t use the entire 15 minutes, just start writing. Then as the first alarm goes off, set it for the remaining 45 minutes. Or, if the first alarm has already gone off and you are still not finished outlining, set your alarm to the next 45 minute interval and use an extra 5 minutes to finish your outline.
But don’t ever go over 20 minutes for outlining (unless you have also typed in the rule of law statements on your screen outline). You must leave yourself at least 40 minutes to write. If it’s a race horse like Evidence questions tend to be, then you may need longer.
Practice this format in advance while you are studying for the bar exam. Write out as many essays under timed conditions using the past California Bar Exam questions as you possibly can – then compare your answers to the ones written by students as selected by the bar committee. BarIssues.com makes this super easy to do.
This is the best way to guarantee that no essays on the bar exam will be a surprise. You will go into the exam confident that you have a system in place that you have already perfected and you will ace those essays!
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