Giving what the essay graders want to see on the California Bar Exam: Q&A with BarEssays founder Gil Peles

When I think of supplements for the essay portion of the California Bar Exam, the first one I think of is BarEssays.

You’ve probably heard of it. BarEssays is one of the most popular study supplements for the essay portion of the California Bar Exam. It’s a collection of more than 3,000 real graded high- and low-scoring essays and performance tests from past California bar exams.

If you’ve ever wondered what an actual good answer is supposed to look like, this is how you can improve your essays—by comparing your practice essay to a variety of real graded student examples. I also wrote an in-depth review of the site here.

But how can you make the best use of it?

I asked Gil Peles, founder of BarEssays, if he would like to talk about that, and he agreed.

Here are some of the nuggets you’ll pick up from this Q&A:

  • How can you tell what the bar examiners want to see (and what you might be doing wrong)?
  • Formatting: What’s the difference about essay answers you want to write on the bar exam (as opposed to in law school)?
  • What kind of IRAC does Gil recommend for the bar essays? What should it look like?
  • How early should you start working on essays?
  • What can you do with your practice essays to get the most out of them?

Take it away, Gil:

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Quick and Simple Ways to Improve Your Bar Essays

A big complaint about essays: “Essays are so freaking subjective!”

Sure, the MBE is more “objective.” There’s only one right answer on the MBE.

But it depends on your interpretation of the question, the hypo, and most important, the answer choices. Yes because X? Yes because Y? Where’s the option for “yes because Z”? FML!

That’s a question for another day.

This is to say, let’s not agonize too much over the essays just because the MBE has objective answer choices and you think that’s somehow advantageous.

Let’s instead use the subjectivity of essays to your advantage. We’re going to take advantage of the impatience of a human who has thousands of shitty essays to read.

This is great because if you know how to write better on one, you’ll know how to write better on ALL of them. How many points is that worth to you?

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How to Systematically Identify All the Relevant Issues in a Bar Exam Essay Using “Issue Checking” (Stop “Issue Spotting”)

Be honest now. Imagine you’re mentoring a starry-eyed 1L starting law school. How would you explain how to “spot issues” in an essay? How exact and specific can you get?

Is it just a mystical process where the crystal ball in your head somehow divines issues from the heavens?

On its surface, a bar exam essay is simply a string of IRACs (easier said than done of course). Prep companies and law schools tend to focus on the “R” and “A” and assume that you already know how to find the “I” naturally.

That’s funny (not really) because an issue that’s never raised, or an irrelevant issue, is completely worthless.

Unlike multiple choice with an objectively correct answer, essays are subject to the whims of the grader. Getting (“spotting”) the correct issues is the easiest way to quickly signal to the grader that you’re at least discussing the right things.

But has anyone actually taught you how to identify those issues? They give you the IRAC framework and leave you to figure it out.

That’s why I’m going to explain it to you in more detail than this:

issue spotting

To spot issues, try your best.

Let’s try something more reliable, shall we?

https://www.reddit.com/r/Bar_Prep/comments/ou489a/review_of_the_bar_prep_materials_i_used/
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Bar Exam Success Commandment 3: How to Exploit Scarcity (and Improve Your Bar Essays)

We like to tell people we “don’t have time” or that “time is the most valuable resource” or that “life is short” (even though we love to procrastinate). But I think we do have a lot of time at our disposal. We just choose to squander a lot of it, too.

Then what’s the true scarcity of this world? What is the one thing that’s radically limited and expires very quickly?

Money? Time? Milk?

I think there’s something even more scarce: human attention.

Read on to see how you can use this scarcity principle to give yourself an edge on the written portions of the bar exam.

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How to Apply Rules with IRAC

Essays: Get the “I” and “R” right, and the rest should flow relatively naturally. So these “I” and “R” would be good place to focus on throughout your essay preparation.

Even if you had just a few weeks to prepare for the bar, there’s still time to learn the “A” part of IRAC—applying the rules. Once you learn how to work facts into your answer, you may not need to practice the “A” part as repetitively as you would for issue checking and rule recitation or memorization.

I’ll demonstrate a simple and clean rule application, based on this question I got:

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