Bar Exam Writing: Be Wary If You Are A “Good Writer”!
Bar Exam Writing: Be Wary If You Are A “Good Writer”!
While tutoring for the bar exam, we see students who are good writers often make two mistakes. These mistakes sometimes lead smart students who are good writers to fail the bar exam! Below, see how we advise our students to frame their bar exam writing to minimize the amount of time they spend on essays, and to maximize the points they receive!
Bar Exam Writing: Be Wary If You Are A “Good Writer”
If you are a “good writer”, congratulations. You can be at a major advantage when you take the bar exam. Your points will be eloquently-stated and you may be able to write long responses that capture the most points possible. You can be at a very big advantage on the essay day, which can take some pressure off of the MBE too!
However, if you are a “good writer” you will also have to be wary of two “traps” that we consistently see people like you fall into when studying for the bar exam. Note: We are not trying to scare you! We are telling you ahead of time how to maximize your writing ability to also maximize your chances of not having to take the bar exam more times than you need to!
1. Good writers are often over-confident in their abilities, and don’t prepare for how to write on the bar exam.
Students overly confident in their writing ability often say: “I don’t need to practice that many essays. I know I can answer an essay question. I need to focus on multiple-choice.” Then, they do just that.
For this reason some of our self-proclaimed “bad writers” actually do significantly better than “good writers” on the bar exam—because the “bad writers” practice more! And the good writers don’t practice nearly enough!
I tell my students, I would rather have a hard worker than a “good writer” any day. Hard workers will learn the tricks of the trade. Many “good writers” only learn these tricks after failing it once and realizing that they scored significantly lower in the written portion than expected.
If you are a “good writer” focusing on multiple choice alone is a bad strategy as you are missing out on a major advantage. If you are a good writer, you are probably better-than-average at writing lengthy answers, at BS’ing, and at being able to have an idea of what the grader wants to see. Thus, you have a very good chance at getting a lot of points on the written portion if you practice!!! This can even make up for a low score on the MBE portion. Do not neglect any portion of the bar exam!
The Takeaway Point: Even if you are a good writer, you have to practice writing a lot of essays!
2. Some good writers never get to the point.
Bar exam writing can be tough for those used to having a lot amount of time and space to make a point. Often, good writers use flowery language and give a lot of background and use a lot of legalese. They also write answers as if they are answering a law school question, because that is what they are used to. And that is what got them those nice, rare, “A’s” in law school! But while that style of writing may impress your law school professor, bar exam graders are looking for something much more succinct.
A flowery answer that doesn’t clearly and succinctly answer the questions asked is not the kind of response that many bar exams are seeking. For this reason, many of our students who are “bad writers” omit the flowery language and lengthy unnecessary background on the law. Instead, they get right to the point. They treat a bar exam essay as a formula or equation. Put simply, they state the law, apply it, conclude, and move on. This method extracts the most points in the least amount of time! So even “bad writers” earn more points than good writers if they use this technique.
The Takeaway Point: Do not write a law-school style essay answer to a bar exam essay answer. Practice and make sure you answer questions clearly and succinctly!
The Overall Takeaway Point:
Again, we are not writing this post to scare you if you are a good writer. Rather, we are writing it to encourage you to avoid two very common mistake that good writers make. To address these to mistakes you can
- (1) Practice answering essay questions (and MPTs if your state administers an MPT). Closely compare your answer to the model or sample answer given by your state and learn from your mistakes.
- Also, (2) make sure that you focus on writing clear and succinct answers (rather than writing a law-school style answer to a bar exam essay question!).
Doing these two things will give you a huge advantage on test day. Indeed, being a good writer and having a methodical approach is a winning strategy to not only pass but to also receive a high score on the written portion (which can relieve some anxiety about–and take some pressure off of–the MBE portion!) So instead of ignoring your strength, practice sufficiently, and turn it into a super-strength!
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