California Bar Exam Essay Writing Tips
The California Bar Examiners have high expectations for test takers’ essays. Knowing what those expectations are can help reduce a good amount of stress. While there is no clear-cut mandate, there are things that test-takers should and should not do when it comes to essay writing for the California Bar Exam. Below, you will find key pointers that test-takers should incorporate into their practice and behaviors to should avoid. While these lists are not all-inclusive, they will give test takers a head start on making the most of their essay writing practice sessions.
California Bar Exam Essay Writing Tips
You have likely heard it before, but it bears repeating. Essay writing for the California Bar Exam should include outlining. The more time you spend upfront, the easier it will be to write your essay. There are various ways to outline your essay. For example, as you read your essay, you should jot down each issue that you spot onto your computer screen and facts that apply to that issue. You may also use what some call a “Cheat Sheet.” This is a quick checklist that you can jot down as soon as you discern what area of law you will be writing about in your essay. Your “cheat sheet” should include all the major areas, to include any defenses that you could possibly use.
As an example, if you see that you have a Negligence essay, you can quickly write down areas that you will be expected to discuss or may be discussing such as negligence per se, duty, breach, standard of care, actual cause, proximate cause, damages and defenses such as assumption of the risk, contributory negligence, and comparative negligence. As you are drafting your essay, the “cheat sheet” can serve as a reminder of issues that you should discuss, especially damages or defenses which are often forgotten.
If outlining is new to you, please review How to Consistently Outline Bar Exam Essays.
The California bar grader is accustomed to seeing essays in a particular form. The form here is IRAC: Issue Heading, Rule Statements, Analysis, and Conclusion. It is not uncommon to have multiple issue headings in a California Essay. “Signaling” is big on the California bar exam, in which the test taker tells the bar grader clearly that an issue has been spotted. This includes major issue headings as well as sub-issue headings. The idea is to catch the attention of the bar grader to grab as many points as possible.
Murder: Intent to Kill
Rule: California law states that a person has an intent to kill when he acts with “malice aforethought.”
Sub-Issue: Malice Aforethought
Essay writing for the California Bar Exam requires a rich analysis of applying the facts to the rule. It will not be enough to recite the facts already given to you in the fact pattern. The bar graders will be looking for an analysis using the facts to come to a confident conclusion. Make sure the bar grader can see each section of your IRAC clearly.
3. Use “Buzz” Words in Your Rule
Rules do not have to be perfect. However, make sure your rules include enough “buzz” or legal words/jargon such that the bar grader can see that you know the gist of the rule. The rule for murder is a good example. “Murder is defined in California as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” The “buzz” or legal words are unlawful, killing, malice aforethought. You may have a different but similar rule such as, “Murder is the killing of another human being with wanton disregard for human life.” Both rules express the meaning of murder appropriately using important legal words which convey that you understand the rule for murder.
4. Write in Complete Sentences and Paragraphs
Time crunches may lead to a temptation to “short-cut” your essay by writing content in bullet form. It is quick and easy to do this, but unfortunately, it is not in IRAC, which is what the bar graders will expect to see.
5. Use Every Relevant Fact in the Fact Pattern
Each fact is in the essay for a reason. If the California Bar Examiners give you names, dates, numbers, or figures, use them. They are likely all relevant to your analysis. Community Property essays are notoriously heavy on dates as well as numbers to some extent. While you are not expected to be a math wizard, you are expected to use numbers, equations, and figures in your analysis where applicable. Your calculations may be off, but the bar graders may give you points for trying!
6. Your Essay Should be Readable
While time may not be on your side when it comes to essays, remember to leave a few minutes to proofread your work. Some mistakes are expected, but repeated mistakes, misspellings, and grammatical errors will distract the bar grader. Too many errors will also make it harder to ready your essay. Take a few minutes to scan your essay for readability.
7. Leave Enough White Space
Leave enough space between your Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion such that the bar grader can see each section. While some test takers combine these elements into one paragraph, it is best to leave some space between paragraphs such that material does not get lost.
One of the most effective ways, if not thee most effective way to approach essay writing for the California Bar Exam is to practice, practice, practice! Active learning will give you the confidence to pass any essay you may confront on the exam. Many students delay practice essays until they have memorized the law and/or rules. However, the more you write, the better you will become, and you will learn the law as you do so. By the time the bar exam arrives, you should have an effective strategy for tackling any essay, which can only come with practice. Practicing will also help to pinpoint any issues early in the process, such as timing, so that you can improve.
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