This is a guest post from Nadine Heitz. She is a co-founder of BarIssues.com, a unique online searchable database of all legal issues tested on California bar exam essays since 2001. Here, she describes strategies for confronting the bar essays before and during the exam. Welcome!
The proctor has just announced “You may now begin.” You break open the seal of your bar exam essay packet to anxiously see what’s in store for you. First question appears to be Torts – not bad, you think. Second question is Evidence – yikes, it’s likely a race horse. Your anxiety level increases. Third and final question is Contracts, one of your better subjects. Now that you have a general idea of the three morning essay subjects, how do you decide which order to write them in? Do you tackle your easiest subject first to give you confidence and a great start? Or, do you get the hardest one out of the way while your energy level is high and it’s still early. Here’s my advice – you do neither.
There are a number of schools of thought on how to handle the order of essays on the bar exam. Bar prep tutors and bar exam bloggers all have their preferred methods and I’ve read lots of different viewpoints. The most popular theory appears to be to write your strongest subject first. But here’s what’s wrong with all of these theories.
First of all, when it comes to the bar exam, you should not go into it with the attitude that some subjects are strong for you and others are weak. The California bar exam is getting more and more unpredictable – take the February 2015 exam where not one single essay was on Professional Responsibility – this has only happened once since 2001 when the July 2007 exam also had no Professional Responsibility essay question. You must know all subjects well enough to write an essay on any one of them that comes up.
Second, I believe that all bar essays ARE created equal, meaning that each one is just as important as the other and you must do your absolute best on all six essays in order to maximize your scoring points. That means spotting all (or almost all) the issues, taking 10-15 minutes up front to plot your outline for each essay so that you don’t go astray, and not running out of time on any essay.
You must have a system in place so that when you step into that room to write the bar exam you simply write each essay as it comes up, one by one, taking one hour – no more, no less – for each one. Practice doing this in advance while you are studying so that when you go into the exam, you don’t even have to think about it.
As soon as you hear that proctor say “Begin” there’s no time to start deliberating about which essay question is the easiest or the hardest. The only thing this will do is stress you out and take away valuable minutes from your hourly timing. You can’t possibly even know how challenging an essay question is until you start to outline it and write it up. You might find that Torts question which appeared to be so easy, turned out to have some pesky tricks in it.
By treating each question equal and just writing them up as they come, you eliminate the mental stress of feeling like you have to make a decision on which one to write first. Not to mention the fact that you increase your chances of writing your answer under the wrong essay number if you take them out of order! I’ve seen that done by a fellow law student but she was able to get a proctor to help her fix it. The less anxiety and stress on the bar exam, the better for you.
Take my advice, and treat each essay question the same. The bar examiners are not giving you a break on any one of them. Study each subject thoroughly by reviewing all the issues that are frequently tested in every subject. We make this easy with BarIssues.com [use coupon code “BRIAN2742” for $20 off] because it’s all there for you in our unique searchable database of all issues tested on past bar exam essays since 2001.
Go into that exam fully confident that you will be able to handle each and every question and you can pass the essays.