Whether the steps are
easy or not-so-easy, depends on one’s perspective and outlook.
I was going to entitle this blog something like “Ten (10)
easy steps to pass the Bar Exam.” But, the
Bar Exam is tough. It doesn’t matter if
one is looking to pass any specific State Bar exam or the Uniform Bar Exam
(“UBE”), it generally takes a lot of effort, time, and dedication to pass any
And so it is with this blog entry as well. I have been meaning to write this note for
some time. However, with yet another Bar
Exam approaching, I wanted to quickly get these thoughts on paper (so to
speak). I do so in case any of these common-sense
thoughts might help some to pass their Bar exam and/or alleviate some stress
for those folks as well.
I might come back to this blog entry to add to it and to
‘clean it up’ in the future – in case some other tidbits of helpful information
also might come to mind. While on the
subject of tidbits, by reading this blog entry – the logic goes, one might
pick-up some simple tidbits of which they were never told to utilize during their
Bar Exam efforts.
This note/blog entry is not necessarily intended to work
exactly for every examinee, of course. And I am aware that my style of writing
is not always the easiest to follow at times, either. But just keep reading. Surely the reader will find some bit of
helpful advice somewhere herein.
Not to brag and worth noting that at this point in time, I
have passed the California and Massachusetts Bar Exams. My UBE score for Massachusetts was high
enough to practice in any UBE jurisdiction which would allow me to otherwise practice. Consequently, I believe I may have figured-out the Bar exam process and
what it takes to pass an exam – at least to some extent.
Ultimately, the Bar exam study effort can be daunting and can
take a significant amount of time to master the four or five thousand rules one
could be expected to know to pass a Bar exam. Yet, if one was to be a bit more
forward-thinking, I believe the exam effort could end in success without
dedicating so much time toward studying for the exam. That is to say, one could study adequately
and still maintain a life outside of studying and/or, in a pinch, one could quickly
study enough to pass with minimal time available.
While there are no guarantees either way, to follow below
are some ideas as to what it takes to pass a Bar exam – at least in this blogger’s
opinion. What’s more, taken to the
limit, one could master enough subject matter to pass the exam with only a
couple of weeks’ worth of studying – by knowing the big rules and how to
analyze and apply those big rules to the facts. Maybe, with minimal time available, that is,
just pare-down these steps to the really-big items or the items upon which the
examinee needs to focus; i.e.: any perceived or known weaknesses.
Of course, this blog entry note is not to dispense legal
advice to anyone. Though it might help
with a few common-sense ideas to help some examinee/reader pass a Bar exam somewhere. Perhaps.
To reiterate and as a possible defense mechanism, I wrote
this note rather quickly and ‘off the top of my head.' Therefore, forgive me if any typographical
errors or partially-erroneous rule statements might exist herein. (I.e.: Please forgive any typos in this blog
entry and review the rules for yourself too.)
However, in an effort to be clear on some points, this blog
entry can be arguably rather wordy at points. On the other hand, this note
can’t cover every possible Bar Exam scenario – otherwise it would be a book, and
probably a long book, not a blog-entry note.
But, regarding any long-windedness on my part herein,
lawyers ideally are supposed to be fast readers. As such, read this fast – even if it bores
you at points! But read it nevertheless,
is my advice. : )
Number 1: Don’t
make the exam more difficult than it is already.
We all know the Bar exam is difficult! So, stop crying about it and stop
flipping-out already! Get to the matter
at hand and don’t psyche-out yourself from the get-go. (Assuming such thoughts
even apply to any reader of this note, of course.)
Confidence goes a long way. And, any confidence will likely come through
to the exam-grader in your essay writings as well. Positive energy could even manifest itself in
return from the essay-grader in the form of a higher essay score.
If lacking confidence or having self-doubts about the Bar
exam, look around at the lawyers in our society. Many of them are not that smart or not nearly
as smart as they want us to believe. Yet
they managed to pass the Bar exam. If
they can pass the Bar exam, any qualified examinee can pass it too! (And, I do not intend to denigrate the
profession here with these words. I’m just
speaking my opinion and repeating what a law professor once told me some time
ago. Like…, how well do you really know
your Professional Responsibility rules?)
For instance, if this blogger could pass two Bar exam(s) at the ripe-old
age of my mid-late fifties, you can pass it too. Ok? Now…,
let’s move on.
More to the point about making the matter of passing the Bar
exam a positive experience and making it ‘more easy,’ of paramount important is
to make any essays easier for the grader to read and make it easier for the
grader to grade as well. Simple organization
with simple underlined headings which focus on the topic of law at
hand in the essay is typically the key to success.
Also, an examinee should use good study guides – and maybe
not too many of them either. For
instance, all of the following were readily accessible and fantastic resources for
me: Mary Basick’s Essay book,
Mary Basick’s Performance Test book,
Emanuel’s “CrunchTime” books – for some quick and easy subject and case review,
High Court Case Summaries / case briefs – for a quick typical case facts and
Critical Pass Flashcards – for yet another source of rules terminology,
Bar Code Cheat Sheets – for essay formatting and common-sense approach to
LegalThree (.com) outlines;
and Themis/Barbri’s big rules books can be helpful too.
Believe it or not, I even reviewed some of my better law school class notes and
writings given to me from law school professors during law school. (I find it’s easier to review/re-learn
subject matter from familiar sources, when possible.)
Regardless, if one doesn’t really understand a topic
or area of law, look it up on the internet or in another book. Reviewing multiple sources with
multiple terms of verbiage is the sure-fire way to success. If one isn’t able to explain the differences
in wordings of rules and terminology from one review source to another, they
probably don’t really understand the topic of law well-enough as yet – just
keep going and moving forward, nevertheless.
Once one understands the rules of Law well enough to correct
typos in their review books and the likes, they won’t even need to worry about
remembering the topic for much longer, because they have already begun to really
know and understand the material at that point.
To that end, I reviewed many a lawyer’s blog – blogs from the USA as
well as from all over the world, as it turned out.
Finally, on the topic of ‘making it easy,’ it is easy – or can
be easy. When the examinee actually
understands what they are addressing – and displays that understanding or at
least sounds lawyerly in their explanations – the Bar exam is actually/arguably
then somewhat easy – or certainly easier, anyhow.
Organize your essay writings coherently – and, do it in a lawlerly
fashion, as best one’s exam time will allow!
Organize, organize, organize! IRAC, IRAC, IRAC! Did I make that clear? Organize your essay writings properly in an
Know how to organize for a
topic before you even see it on the exam. I mean, you ‘gotta figure there are only certain issues for
every subject that the exam creators are going to expect essay material to be
regurgitated to them. For example, there
will not be really controversial stuff that would upset some exam takers. Also, there will likely not be any essays on
areas of the law that are still fluid and unsettled. However, all that being said, knowing
traditional rules from modern rules and majority positions from minority
positions can be a great help at times.
(For instance, know the insanity rules for Crimes/criminal topics and
know what is the majority vs. modern, that being M’Naughten v. MPC. MPC, sometimes being called the “modern
rule,” is a hybrid of the M’Naughten and the Irresistible Impulse
rule/irresistible compulsion rule – or the like. These are merely my words, written
as I remember the topics, from a year hence – and ensure you KNOW THE SIMPLE
RULES FOR THE EXAM!)
As in law school, an examinee should be prepared to write their
entire outline for each subject on the exam.
Know how to organize for the big issues in any given subject. Because, again, it will most likely only be
the big/major topics of any subject which you will more than likely see in the essay
issues. I know, it seems like a lot of material. But it’s manageable, once you know the law as
a whole, anyhow.
Use headings that call out the doctrine of law that applies
to the essay section at hand. (E.g.: “Burglary,”
“Conspiracy,” “Attempt,” “Agency, etc.”) Even if one uses headings that call out the
question(s) presented, still use sub-headings based on the topic of law
to be discussed for your IRAC formatted essay/sub-essay (or CREAC
organized, or whatever/however). This will
show the grader that the examinee has recognized that the given topic of law was
in-play in the fact pattern. And, don’t
forget to IRAC, IRAC, IRAC!!
(Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.)
Never repeat rules that have already been addressed
elsewhere in an exam essay.
Always say “see rule: supra.,” – especially for things
like follow-on negligence analyses. In
addition to saving time, such could save points. Because, if one were to state the rule
incorrectly in the essay portion above, by saying “see: supra,” the
examinee likely may not have it held-against-them for being silly enough to
repeat the incorrect rule more than once.
If a fact-pattern question makes you think of a topic of law
that doesn’t really apply, then the examinee should raise that topic, quickly
state why it doesn’t apply, dismiss it, and move-on. (Maybe say, “it’s a moot point, because…”) Don’t raise and dismiss anything that
isn’t even relevant – unless maybe that topic is always discussed given the
topic at hand. (Say, as with defenses to
intentional torts/negligence. Know those
defenses. There’s not that many of them.)
Paragraphs which are short, succinct, on-point, and to the
point, is all that is really required.
So, don’t try to get too fancy.
Your artistic/art-school or M.B.A/business-school outside-the-box creativity
isn’t really ‘gonna help you here on this exam. More than likely, overt creativity may likely
hurt one’s score on the exam. Better to
make your essay look and sound like everyone else’s, more or less. This isn’t a television lawyer show. This is the Bar Exam!
But again, attempt to sound lawyerly with terminology
and verbiage whenever possible. Use terms of art and buzz-words to
display knowledge and save time!
Moreover, always say “why” what is being argued applies to
the facts. I.e: “Because D did [such-and-such],
the law/rule dictates D is liable for [such-and-such].” (Also, don’t waste exam time merely restating
the given facts.) Not too tough, right?
Number 3: Know
the law!! Well, at least know the
Know the law well enough to not have to waste exam time to stop
and think in an effort to remember the rules.
And, know how issues are implicated/invoked and how the issues should be
addressed in the essays. There is no
time for most of us during the exam to sit and ponder what to say about
rules. An examinee/applicant needs to
know the rules well enough to not waste time during the exam thinking on rules. (Did I repeat that enough times?) Rules don’t even have to be perfect,
in general. And when in doubt, make up
the rule, apply it to the facts, and move-on!
However, one can likely pass the exam with only knowing
the “big rules.” If one knows the
big topics for every subject, they could probably pass without having to know
everything about all the minutia and exceptions to the exceptions and the like. But again, don’t forget to organize
coherently and analyze in a lawlerly-sounding fashion.
Again, as you did in law school, be prepared to write
your entire outline on the topic of law at hand in the essay. But again, don’t waste time writing on things that are not
relevant – never ever! Know which
issues trigger other issues. Freedom
of speech invokes a fundamental rights analysis and naming a state actor (maybe);
as it does maybe also invoke an equal protection matter. Tortious behavior of a defendant likely
invokes not just the tort at issue, but it could also invoke a matter of
emotional distress to the victim as well.
If an examinee were able to see any of their previous exam scores
(if a repeat taker of the exam) and they didn’t score in the top 40% of the
nation, say on an MBE topic, then go and get Emanuel’s CrunchTime book(s), the
smaller one (as mentioned, supra.).
Again, one can read the substantive part of one of those CrunchTime
books in an afternoon. Afterwards, they’ll
be an expert on the subject forever. (See:
Number 4: Answer
That is, answer the questions presented by the exam essay –
or even the MBE question. While it
sounds obvious, many simply don’t know to give a straight-up answer to the
question posed. Or worse yet, one can
skip over an entire section of an essay question and not even realize they have
done so. (Try to proof read as you
But more than all that, the examinee must understand what is
being asked in/by the essay question. Such
as, does the question merely say to discuss all that applies to the given fact-pattern
or does it ask for the essay to discuss a specific topic?
If it’s to ‘discuss’ it all in general, then the answer is
to be a matter of issue-spotting, typically.
However, if the question says to discuss one topic – such as discuss D’s
likelihood of being convicted for burglary and D’s defenses to the charge –
well then, the essay wants analysis and further expects the exam-taker to ping-pong
that answer back and forth and analyze and conclude on the issues involved and presented
with the fact-pattern. (Remember to
always say “why”/”because”! Just always do
However, be aware, it seems with the newest exams,
there likely will be one major issue that requires some ping-pong analysis
followed by a lot of smaller/shorter issue-spotting questions.
Those follow-on issue-spotting topics and answers could merely require something like:
“The facts say D entered V’s home. So therefore, D entered” – e.g.: for a
burglary issue-spotting topic, with an appropriate heading, of course. (Give the major heading with the elements
And remember, try to move quickly/fast on these matters –
time is running out on you. The examinee
must budget their time accordingly. But
proof-reading as one writes can go a long way as well. Don’t mess up and say only “D did”
when you meant to say “D did not.”
Some time-saving issues and suggestions are to follow herein and infra.,
Step 5: Perform
well on the Performance Test(s)!
Know how to perform well on the Performance Test(s); or at
least know how to perform well-enough, anyhow!
What I have come to learn from reading many sources is that, in general,
the first given case in the Library will be for the first issue/question
presented. The second given case will be
for the second issue. And, heaven forbid
if there is a third given case, it is most likely for any third issue.
If a case given to you in the Library cites another
case, make sure you call-out the cited case and briefly say
why the cited case matters for the rule explained by the given case in the
Library. At least mention the cited
case in the given case to some extent in the appropriate PT essay section.
Read any newspaper articles which may have been given as
part of the Library - and maybe read those first. The newspaper
articles are a good overview of the matter at hand.
Names of cases can be referred to by shortened names. However, I usually would state the name of
the case and to what court and year the decision was opined (i.e.: a binding case
or merely persuasive, as it might make a difference). Also, make sure to underline the names of
cases when referring to them.
Because underlining makes it easier for the grader to see that
you called out the cases – as compared to merely italicizing the
case names. See what I mean?
As with step number 2 on ‘Organization’ above (see supra.):
Use underlined headings that call out the doctrine of law that
applies to the essay section at hand.
Even if one uses headings that call out the question(s) presented (or
asset in debate for wills and trusts, etc.), still use underlined sub-headings
on legal topics presented for your IRAC formatted essay (or CREAC, or whatever/however). And, don’t forget to IRAC, IRAC, IRAC!! (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.)
Even if the PT calls for the examinee to write a client
letter (or whatever), where one in the real world would never use headings, use
headings based on the rule/doctrine/topic of law to be discussed,
regardless. It all makes it easier
for the grader to see that you understand what is really going-on in the
closed-world system of the PT(s) presented to the examinee on the exam.
Multistate Bar Exam (“MBE”, “Multiple Choice”, or as I prefer to call
them: “Multiple Guess” questions)
Don’t sweat it so much. The correct answer can only be one
of the four answers from which the exam taker/applicant has to choose. So, the examinee has a 25% chance of
choosing the correct answer even if they know nothing of the subject or
question. And make sure you select/fill-in
an answer for each question before time runs out and they shout “pencils down”!
These odds of selecting the right answer are made even more
favorable merely by paying attention to the wordings of the answers given. It’s like…, how often is an answer regarding
the Law “always” going to be the way things are in given in the answer on the
Bar exam? Not so much. So, if one sees an answer that states
something is always going to be a certain way, then that answer is suspect
from the get-go. Right? (Maybe or maybe not, depending on the
context, of course.)
However, the best way to prepare for the MBEs on a Bar exam
is to actually read the cases while in law school. By doing so, one becomes familiar with the
fact-patterns when they are presented on a Bar exam. Having familiarized oneself with the
fact-patterns of the cases in law school, saves time from having to understand
the facts of the questions on the exam.
If one mostly looked at Facebook and Instagram
– and the like – during law school lectures, get the Emanuel’s CrunchTime
books and read them and review the Critical Pass flashcards in a hurry as well
– those sources could help to close the gap for wasted time during law school
lectures and due to uncompleted law school case reading assignments. (See: footnotes/endnotes 6 and 8.)
Also, if one sees an MBE question the likes of which they
have never seen before, it’s likely an experimental question which doesn’t count
towards the score. Don’t sweat it. Give it the ‘old college try,’ make an
educated guess, maybe flag or mark the question for further review if time
allows after finishing all the other questions, then put it out of your mind
and move-on. As we now are going to move-on in this blog entry.
Number 7: Ways
to save time on the exam, especially when running out of time.
Combine issues that normally go together to show you are
aware those issues could be in-play in the given fact-pattern. By doing so, such may save/earn a few points by
showing awareness of those possible issues – as opposed to missing the issues
all together. For example, a heading
“Statue of Wills, Residuary, Intestacy” – all lumped
together. And the paragraph to follow could
say something like: “While the testator’s/decedent’s will might be validly
executed with the testator’s signature per the [weird] local rule given in the
fact-pattern, it is not properly attested-to by two disinterested witnesses as
required by the Statute of Wills which is not excused by the [weird] local rule. The Statute of Wills requires strict
compliance or substantial compliance (modernly in some jurisdictions at a
minimum). As such, it would seem best
that the Decedent’s property/asset in question pass to the residuary of the
Decedent’s estate and be distributed though statuary intestacy – that is, as if
the court were to determine there is no valid will.“
Or something like that, anyhow. Follow what I mean, here? A Bar examinee needs to save time and
points all at once when desperation and put-up-or-shut-up time has arrived.
Another tactic to save time is to write the facts to the
law – so to speak. For instance,
don’t make a separate paragraph for the rule and then apply to the rule to the
facts in yet another paragraph. Explain
how the facts fit into the rule and conclude in one fell-swoop. For a crude example
under the heading of Battery: “The facts tell us D volitionally struck V
in the head and without V’s consent. This would be harmful and/or offensive
touching to a normal and reasonable person. Therefore, D committed battery against
Again, never repeat rules that have already been
addressed elsewhere in the essay. Always
say “see rule: supra.,” – such as for any follow-on negligence
analyses. In addition to saving time,
such could save points. Because if one
were to state the rule incorrectly above, by later saying “see: supra,”
the examinee will not have it held against them for being silly enough to
repeat the incorrect rule.
Maybe write down all the headings and sub-headings first. Then the examinee can gauge the amount of
work left to complete as the essay is progressing and exam time is escaping.
The proper use of legal ‘buzz-words’ and terms of art
can cover a lot of ground very quickly in an essay. E.g.: ‘One bite at the apple’ for “Issue
Preclusion” can cover as much ground in five easy words as five long
sentences on the topic. Moreover, buzz-words
and terms of art display that the examinee understands the issue, while also
saving themself – and the grader – a lot of time and unnecessary effort to
explain the topic or rule or applying-the-rule-to-the-facts. Easy enough, right?
Number 8: Most
importantly, try to get plenty of sleep before the exam.
A well-rested mind and body can not be understated
for these long, drawn-out Bar exams.
Being as rested as possible for the experience is way-more important
that what any last-minute cramming the night before the exam could possibly
yield. The exam writers and creators
will/may try to trick you – more so on the MBEs. Being well-rested helps your mind to spot any
tricks and avoid choosing the wrong answers – wrong answers which are presented
to the examinee in a fashion to resemble a correct answer, for example.
Number 9: Do your best to avoid extraneous stressors
on exam days.
I mean, at this point, most examinees are hoping for some
luck regarding the appearance of any preferred essay topics and/or MBE
questions – while concurrently hoping they don’t need any luck. Either way, you ‘wanna be havin’ an otherwise
For the nights before
the exam, try to stay near to the exam site for less stress of commuting to the
test site in the morning – and more time for sleeping and maybe some minor
topic reviews in the morning before the exam too. Unless you’re lucky enough to take the exam
at home and on-line (especially in the time of Covid-19 issues).
Otherwise, reserve early for hotel availability and
pay more money to stay right across the street from the exam site, if you’re
able. You could easily then return to
your hotel room and eat lunch and shower/freshen-up for the afternoon exam
session(s) on exam day(s). I would
suggest checking in the night-before the night-before of the exam. That way you can get accustomed to the hotel
surroundings and the hotel bed for better sleep when it counts – the actual
night before the exam session(s). At a
minimum, see if you can get a driver or friend to drive you to the exam to
avoid stressing over morning commuter traffic.
Stress is usually best to avoid, in my opinion. Regardless of whether it’s considered
eustress or distress.
Number 10: Know Professional Responsibility (“PR”) -
For the California Bar Exam takers, especially.
We don’t know, and I’m no different, but since there is no
real transparency in the grading of the exams, maybe if one does not score
well-enough on the PR essay, maybe they don’t pass the Bar Exam. It’s not that difficult to remember the PR rules. So, remember them.
If it’s a big actual or potential conflict of interest
– like with a prior client or firm with confidential information or the possibility
of such, then the conflict must be agreed to in writing – or at least revealed
in writing (signed ahead of time in Cal., but the matter maybe can be
confirmed/signed in writing after telling the client of the conflict in ABA
Model Rules lands - as long as it was revealed ahead of time).
If the conflict is more of a personal nature and/or a personal
relationship-based conflict of interest with opposing counsel or the like, the
conflict may only need to be revealed/told to the client so that the client is
aware. This allows the client to make an informed decision about having the conflicted lawyer represent the client.
Other than the conflict issues, make sure one knows the
somewhat few ‘big’ differences between Cal. PRC and ABA Model Rules. Because the examinee will likely be sure to
have to compare and contrast the Cal. and ABA Model Rules (on Cal. Bar exams).
When in doubt, remember and fallback on: “Clients Love
Fierce Counsel, Courts Feel Differently.”
“CLFC-CFD” Look it up! If you don’t know it by now.
Some related topics
Take a practice Bar exam a couple/few weeks before
the real exam. The exam can be grueling
– physically and mentally. So, if one
practices with a mock exam(s), such will likely help to build stamina for the
real thing to come.
Don’t forget to breathe during the exam either. More oxygen helps the brain to function. Be sure to stop for a moment and take deep
breaths now and then during the exam and try to relax – especially when unsure
of what to do on the exam. Again, stress is usually best to avoid,
in my opinion. Regardless of whether its
considered eustress or distress.
If the worst should happen and if an examinee doesn’t
pass the exam, it’s not the end of the world. It likely means the examinee/applicant is one
step closer to passing, if one perseveres onto passing, anyhow. Personally, I never give up.
But again, while the exam can be extremely difficult and
intimidating, it’s possible to be made easier with some confidence. And by knowing the big-issue topics for the
subjects, at a minimum. For instance,
when getting near the end of the study time for the upcoming and
rapidly-approaching exam, kick-on-over to mostly studying essays and their
formats, as such will inevitably help to review rules and the application
of rules to fact-patterns as well.
I found the Bar Exam to be similar to law-school exams, it’s
much a matter of having a good day – e.g.: to be able to pick the better of the
two seemingly correct-sounding answers on the MBEs, it’s good to be having a good day. Also, some luck doesn’t hurt, either, of
As a final tidbit of advice or whatever, know Property
Mortgage Priority rules (and something about any junior interests as well). These rules seem to be about the same as Secured
Transactions (UCC-9) in the UBE world, more or less. They are not that difficult to learn and to
remember. Yet, these rules can appear a
lot on the MBEs especially (or as an essay on the UBE for UCC-9). Remember that Purchase Money
Mortgage/interests have priority to be paid back first, except when the
property seller leases-to-own or rents-to-own the property to a buyer. Then the seller has priority even over the
Purchase Money Mortgage from a bank.
Why? Because the lease-to-own arrangement
is based purely in Contract Law and not in Property Law, as one possible
reason. Also, the bank or mortgagee (the
one lending the mortgage money) is surely aware of the concurrent lease-to-own situation
as well. As such, the seller has priority between the two purchase money-type
interests in this situation is all one needs to remember. Easy, right?
Remember that an additional one or two correct MBEs could make all the difference. Don’t forget that either.
Best wishes and good luck!
Contact me for more details, if needed.
And, let me know how you did on your Bar Exam.
Adam Vernon Trotter
July 18, 2021