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?
Be honest now. Imagine you’re mentoring a starry-eyed 1L starting law school. How would you explain how to “spot the 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 be able to spot those issues? They give you the IRAC framework and leave you in the dust to figure it out. How did those law school exams turn out?
Issue spotting is essential. And it’s a learnable skill you can practice for your bar essay preparation, even if your law school grades didn’t reflect it (like mine).
That’s why I’m going to explain it to you in more detail than this “tip”:
To spot issues, try your best.
Let’s try something more reliable, shall we? There’s a subtle difference between “issue spotting” and the technique I’m about to share.
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.
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: