Tips For Essay Examination

The essay portion of the Bar Exam is an important step in the process of determining whether you can be trusted with a license. The Board appreciates that it can be a real challenge: In a single day you will confront 12 different questions from 12 different areas of the law, requiring you to write 12 short “essays”—allowing an average of just 30 minutes per essay.

The Board wants you to use your limited time wisely. Toward that end, it may be helpful to consider the law-related abilities that our graders hope will be revealed in your answers:

  • The ability to analyze a set of facts, select the material facts, discard irrelevant ones, and recognize the issues involved in a legal matter.
  • The ability to articulate and classify the problem presented. That is, to state it in lawyer-like fashion and to place it in the proper legal category.
  • Knowledge of relevant legal doctrines.
  • The ability to apply the law to the facts and problems presented and to reason logically to a sound conclusion.
  • The ability to communicate effectively in writing,

Keeping those purposes in mind, we suggest the following:

1.     Read the statement of facts carefully. (You would be surprised at how many applicants see facts that are not really there–or overlook critical facts that are there.)

2.     Take a little time to organize in your mind what you want to say, before you start writing.

3.     If you’re handwriting your exam, be sure to write legibly.   Your answers may be brilliant, but your graders will never know if they can’t read them. (And if friends, family, or co-workers are always saying that they can’t read your handwriting, consider taking the exam on laptop.)

4.    There is no one right format (e.g., “IRAC”) for a bar exam essay. The main object is just to express yourself in a coherent, organized, and lawyerly fashion. If a particular format helps you organize your thoughts, by all means use it.

5.     Focus on answering the question you are asked. You are not likely to get points for expounding on legal knowledge that is irrelevant to the question posed. Example: if the question asks whether an officer breached her fiduciary duty to the corporation, your vast knowledge about how to register a new corporation with the Secretary of State probably won’t be relevant. Throw in too much irrelevant knowledge and, in addition to wasting your valuable time, you may persuade the grader that you didn’t really understand the question.

6.     Always explain the reasoning behind your conclusion. Without more, your “yes” or “no” may just be a lucky guess. Ultimately, the grader is looking for confirmation that if you get a license to be a lawyer you will be able to function like one. It’s the analysis behind the “yes” or “no” that helps the grader see that you can work your way through a legal problem in a lawyerlike way.

7.     Don’t waste time just repeating the statement of facts. (Your grader will already know the facts!) Rather, weave in the pertinent facts at logical points in your analysis.

8.     Avoid unnecessary repetition.  Example: suppose you get a question involving three individuals who may have helped cause an accidental injury. In analyzing the potential liability of the first defendant, you provide a detailed exposition of the elements of the tort of negligence. Don’t feel obliged to repeat that exposition verbatim for defendants two and three. (Yet all too many applicants—thanks to the miracle of computer technology—unfortunately do just that.) As a new lawyer, you wouldn’t do that on your first assignment for a new client or a more senior attorney (unless you don’t want to get any more work from them). Your grader will be dismayed at the volume of unnecessary text she must wade through, lest she miss something significant. Or she might overlook that something significant, buried in what looks like more boilerplate.