Chapter 2: California Bar Exam Essay Tips
California Bar Exam Essay Tips
If you are taking the California Bar Exam, it is worth your time and energy to maximize your score on the essay portion of the California Bar Exam. Here, we give you some tips that will help you do just that!
California Bar Exam Essay Tips
Although most students know they should use IRAC when writing essays, some do not appreciate the importance of IRAC. Other students become so overwhelmed that they forget to use IRAC. And some students simply do not understand how to effectively use IRAC. Using IRAC is key to writing a high scoring essay question on the California Bar Exam.
IRAC stands for: Rule, Issue, Analysis, and Conclusion.
The best way to use IRAC on an essay exam is as follows:
- Create a heading that is underlined and briefly identifies the issue—e.g., Battery.
- State the applicable rule(s).
- Apply the law to the facts and analyze arguments on both sides (when appropriate).
- Arrive at and state a conclusion to the issue. Even if there are valid arguments on both sides, you should still try to arrive at a conclusion.
Using IRAC will keep your essay answer organized and easy to follow. Your grader will look for the issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion as they review your essay, so make these components of your essay easy to find!
According to the State Bar of California: “Your answer should evidence your ability to apply the law to the given facts and to reason in a logical, lawyer-like manner from the premises you adopt to a sound conclusion. Do not merely show that you remember legal principles. Instead, try to demonstrate your proficiency in using and applying them.”
In other words, writing your essay in IRAC format makes it easy for the grader to give you points!
Bonus tip: make sure to use paragraph breaks between each section of IRAC—e.g., state the issue in a heading and then use a paragraph break, state the rule and then use a paragraph break, etc.
State the general rule before stating an exception
Before stating any exceptions to a rule, start by stating the general rule itself. The grader will be looking for both the general rule statement and the exception, so you can maximize your points by stating both! Just remember: rule first, then exception.
Also, remember to connect the dots for the grader. This means explaining why you have chosen this rule to apply. It also means explaining how the facts, when applied to the rule, brought you to your conclusion. This is especially important on California Bar Exam essays, where you generally are expected to begin your analysis by introducing certain issues. For example, if personal jurisdiction is an issue, you should not dive right into talking about a defendant’s contacts with the state. Rather, you should begin by discussing general jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction, purposeful availment, etc.
Remember to start with a zoomed out, big picture of the law before zooming in on the precise issue being tested. This will help you maximize your score!
Pay close attention to the call of the question
One of the most important California Bar Exam essay tips we can give is to pay close attention to the call of the question. The call of the question on the essay portion of the California Bar Exam has been a little more specific in recent years. For example, instead of asking examinees to “discuss” an issue, the question may ask something like, “Which party has an interest in (a) the car, (b) the goodwill of the business, and (c) the marital home?” Paying close attention to the call of the question will help you to identify all the relevant issues.
We recommend that you start by reading the question first. By doing so, you will immediately know the issues being tested and may be able to determine the subject tested as well.
Practice past California Bar Exam essays
Past California Bar Exam essays are an invaluable resource for students. For example, if you practice past California Bar Exam essays you may notice that California distinctions to the law are not tested heavily on the essay portion in any MBE subject besides Evidence. (Although California distinctions are fair game in Civil Procedure, they are rarely tested. However, there is speculation that this may change in coming years given the addition of federal Civil Procedure to the MBE in 2015.)
You will also see some essay topics repeat themselves. For example, some Remedies fact patterns from recent years look very similar to Remedies fact patterns from past years. A lot of the issues that were tested in the past are retested again and again. The State Bar of California does not reinvent the wheel every time it writes an exam.
You can find past essay questions and sample student answers here on the State Bar of California’s website.
Practice your timing
The California Bar Exam essay portion consists of five essay questions. You have three hours in the morning to answer three essay questions, and three hours and 30 minutes in the afternoon to answer two essay questions and one performance test question. Thus, you should allocate about one hour per essay.
The best way to get your timing down for the California Bar Exam is to practice. The more essays you complete under timed conditions, the better you will be at completing the exam on time! We recommend that you start by completing:
- One California Bar Exam essay question in an hour during the first few weeks of your bar exam preparation.
- Two California Bar Exam essay questions in two hours during the middle portion of your bar exam preparation.
- Three California Bar Exam essay questions in three hours toward the end of your bar exam preparation.
Some students also find it helpful to take a full simulated “essay day” before the California Bar Exam. To do this, we suggest that you complete three essay questions in three hours in the morning and two essay questions plus a California Performance Test question in 3.5 hours in the afternoon.
If you have any questions about our California Bar Exam essay tips or if you have tips of your own, feel free to contact us here or share them in the comments!
Go to the next topic, Chapter 3: California Bar Exam Essay Frequency Chart.
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