How to Systematically Identify Issues in an Essay (Without “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?

The MBE isn’t the only section you gotta worry about. Every fellow repeater who retook the bar with me had to improve on their essays. Unlike multiple choice with an objectively correct answer, essays are subject to the whims of the grader.

On its surface, an essay is simply a string of IRACs (easier said than done of course). Prep companies and law school 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.

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.

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Improve Your MBE Score: 3 Rules for Effective MBE Preparation

I know I’m asking for a lot here, but think back to law school for a moment. What do you remember?

  • That fresh feeling of starting a new journey in a new place
  • That cute girl next to you at orientation who smelled really good that you couldn’t help but introduce yourself to her and live dangerously close to the edge of flirting because she’s friendly and smart and familiar with the obscure music you listen to, but you force yourself to be platonic because you’d already locked yourself into a medium-distance relationship right before law school for some reason, and then she gets married to some balding guy with thinning hair and a suspicious mustache while you end your own relationship right before graduation because you’ve accepted that your life is full of irony
  • FINAL EXAMS WORTH 100% OF YOUR GRADE

That escalated fast, but you know what the deal is. Final exams are serious business!

Basically, they invite you to join them in what looks like a warm pool party but instead charge you more than the median household income and then throw you into the cold winds of society.

So what do you do two weeks away from the final? I mean, after you procrastinate for a week and get that same sinking feeling you get as when you realize your carton of fries is almost empty.

Right, you go “oh shit” and finally print all those old essays that your prof tested in the past. It’s less likely that you’d look for essays that another professor wrote or from some book from Amazon unless you were some kind of weird gunner.

Same with bar essays… You’d practice with the exact same essays your bar examiners have given out before. You wouldn’t go back to the 7-page-long hypos from law school.

Then why would a bar taker insist on practicing for the MBE using questions someone wrote at Barbri/Kaplan/PMBR? Or get their essays “scored” by an underemployed seasonal contractor who gets paid $3 an essay and has no incentive to help you?

That’s a rhetorical question. The “difficulty” of their questions doesn’t give you the right kind of stress testing. There are undeniably better choices for MBE prep after talking with people who pretty much volunteer this info on me.

This is no joke because the MBE is worth up to 50% of your total score. In fact, it is 50% in CA and UBE states at least. The MBE is formidable, but it’s a very improvable and figure-out-able portion of the bar.

If you’ve started by crafting a flexible study schedule that works for you, the MBE is a good place to start since it’s where the points are, you don’t need to write, and MBE subjects will overlap with your essays anyway.

Below, I’ll offer (1) sources of MBE questions you want to use based on your budget and (2) how to optimize using them.

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Bar Exam Success Commandment 3: How to Exploit Scarcity (and Improve Your Bar Essays)

Excuses, excuses… Let me know if any of these sound familiar.

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).

You’ll never hear me say that last one. Life is actually really long! Can you even imagine being confined in prison for more than 1-2 years? Compare that time to our lifespan of 80-90+ years. Having lived 31 years already feels like forever, and with my luck, I’ll have to go through it two more times.

Point is, we do have a lot of time at our disposal. We just choose to squander a lot of it, too.

Whatever “squander” means to you, if that’s the way you want to live your life, I support your right to do so. But don’t blame the human condition or your age for a “short” life; blame yourself.

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

Money? Everyone wants it, but you can always make more.

Time? You don’t necessarily lose time forever. You can get your time back to do what matters to you: Hire a maid instead of cleaning, get takeout instead of cooking, get Magicsheets & Approsheets to assist with practice instead of painstakingly recreating condensed outlines and essay attack sheets, etc.

(BTW the time for investigating and hemming and hawing is over; do not get them if you’re a tool collector who wonders why they’re so overwhelmed)

I think there’s something even more scarce.

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

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