4 Things to Remember for Performance Tests (You Won’t Believe #2!)

Many bar takers don’t know what to do with their time after they’re done with it. They forget what they used to enjoy.

They continue to study for the bar (just in case)… They take time off and go on a trip they can’t afford before going back to the real world (#funemployed)… They grind away at work and miss studying…

They’re bored.

“You’re bored? Isn’t there a mirror in the bathroom? You can look into it until it breaks,” I tell them passive-aggressively but only in my head because social decorum dictates it.


Or you could write a blog post to give back to the community.

Olivia Tucker is a reader of mine who told me the good news after passing the last bar. She said to let her know if she could do anything to contribute. I asked if she could write me a post on performance tests. She agreed.

My immediate reaction was “oh no, I’m going to be disappointed by yet another person who gets excited from passing the bar and is happy to help out until the high wears off and never responds to simple inquiries again.”

Turns out Olivia actually came back to me with her helpful tips—on her own! And you thought Upworthy was heartwarming (barf).

I’ll share them below. Oh, and you’d better listen to her because she passed the bar on her first try (the recent California one with the 43% pass rate). She also reportedly obsessively read through my bar musings while studying (and was an early adopter of my self-study guide, Passer’s Playbook), so you can’t claim I’m not helpful!

But seriously… she has done an outstanding job preparing for the bar with her efforts and actions. I’m excited to share this real treat with you because this section of the bar is not to be underestimated. You can’t let the PTs be your mistake.

Just a thought from the MTYLT community.

(Just another thought from the MTYLT community. That’s a great way of looking at the “big wins”!  Note: While Lee’s post applies to the CA bar, maybe your state has a disproportionate chunk of the score coming from somewhere (for example, if the MBE is 50% of the score in your state). Can you take ideas and apply them to your own situation even if it’s not a perfect fit?)

Now let’s absorb the wisdom that Olivia has generously shared with us regarding the performance tests (whether they’re California PTs and MPTs).

Take it away, Olivia:



You know those movies where a character is looking for himself, or searching for an item when in reality, the thing the person is seeking is always already in his life, or under his nose? That’s the performance test (PT).

I’ll explain.

1.) Everything you need for the PT is IN the goodies they give you. You most likely already know this—I heard it all the time when I started studying for the bar.

People who hadn’t even looked at a single PT said, “Oh it’s the easiest part, they give you everything. I’m not spending too much time on it.”

Wrong. Do not short change yourself. The PT can add a lot of points to your score, and it deserves to be treated with respect. You want to be familiar with it in all its forms before you walk in on test day.

So while the PT is a closed universe, that doesn’t mean that it won’t swallow you whole like the beast it is… Remember, you have everything you need.

2.) Know WHAT you are looking for, but be FLEXIBLE. Sometimes, what you THINK you’re looking for and what you NEED to find are two different things.

A common mistake is that people will read the task memo, or see one phrase which seems to give instructions.

Sometimes, the directions mean what they say: Write me a persuasive memo. That’s pretty straightforward. Other times, you may be asked to find a certain authority which supports a point—easy right? Sure, in theory!

Be careful not to stop ‘looking’ when you find something that ‘fits’ your task… There are usually other gems that will support your point, or you’ll find a more relevant case name that is hidden within a well-cited case given in your library. Sometimes, what seems the most obviously relevant to your task may not be the best suited to address what is being asked of you.

One case in my actual bar exam made no sense at all, but after I slotted everything into a chart, I easily saw where I could use that obscure case. This obscure case actually turned out to be quite important in proving my point; I’m sure many people overlooked that small case citation because it seemed so random and insignificant at first glance.

3.) Manage your time. There’s no point in sugar coating this: Anyone can do brilliantly on a PT if they were allotted endless amounts of time.

The first time I did a PT, I took seven hours… I had a snack break somewhere in there but yes, SEVEN hours for a task that was supposed to be for three. The first time you take a PT, it’s a big slap in the face but ultimately ended up being my strongest section.

Time management (or lack thereof) KILLS PT scores, and it’s such a bad way to go down. Let yourself struggle for the first two times you write the PT, then learn to be more efficient. Fear is a powerful motivator, and I’m sure that the first time I got my ass beat by the PT motivated me to conquer it.

Find what ways of organizing information work best for you. As a rule of thumb, committing yourself immediately to reading over the whole case file will be a waste of time because a.) you won’t remember where things are, even if you kind of remember seeing them in the file somewhere, and b.) you don’t know what you’re supposed to look for yet (see point number two above).

This leads me to…

4.) Have an effective form of notation.

I strongly believe I was able to shine on the PT because I would make a chart (something very simple, rudimentary, easy to change and edit as new information flowed in) and utilize that chart effectively. You must find what works for you, and you must practice using that method… consistently.

Some people swear by John Holtz’s method. His seminar takes a whole weekend to learn but you must also modify it to work for you. Others have taken his seminar and found it not as helpful. For me, Holtz’s chart method was useful after I tweaked it.

I did probably 5 PT’s in timed conditions (every Sunday morning) using my chart method and making tweaks as I encountered different types of PT’s. And yes, there are types of PT’s (different types of tasks)—which is why practice is important.

The bar is a game in pattern recognition, and the more answers you look at for essays, the more MBE questions you see, and the more kinds of PT’s you see will help you ‘see’ the answers more easily on the actual day you’re writing.

I found that pattern recognition developed as I saw more model answers. I even went so far as to read them to myself and record them on my phone (read aloud) so that I could hear the different points a good answer would hit.

Back to notation.

Make it easy for you to remember where to find things. You can use page numbers, file/library, and jot a quick note about why it’s relevant, e.g., works AGAINST my argument, or relevant to point about X.

As long as you have something quick to notate where you found something and how it fits, you’re golden.

Most of all though, don’t forget that you CAN do this. Embrace the fear and expose yourself to whatever is most intimidating to you. The Bar is not for the weak of heart. You must be willing to address the scary things, and some days, you have to let your ass get kicked by the exam while you’re practicing so you can kill it when game day arrives. Don’t be discouraged. You will find what you’re looking for. And in the PT’s case, what you’re looking for is usually hidden in plain sight.



Thanks so much, Olivia!

And if you want more discussion on performance tests, refer to my PT toolkit that you can grab by signing up here.

One more piece of admonition from Olivia:

“I hear a lot of people say ‘Oh but I did that already’ when it comes to bar stuff but… a.) how long did you practice this method for? b.) did you actually try to do it every time?! Don’t knock anything till you actually give it a try right?!”

Hear hear. If you see something interesting that might help you improve in some way, try it and see if it works for you… Just one new insight or one small investment could mean the difference between passing and delaying 6+ months of your life.



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