Five Study Tips For The California Performance Test
Below we provide our top five study tips for the California Performance Test. Students often tend to wait too long to begin practicing performance tests. Because the California Performance Test is valued the same as two California essays a strong performance test score can provide a buffer for you if you struggle with a California essay (and students often report encountering at least one essay that tests issues they didn’t expect!). In fact, the performance test accounts for 20% of your written score. Therefore, we recommend starting your review of the performance test during your first or second week of bar preparation.
Five Study Tips For The California Performance Test
1. Always read the task memo first.
Our first study tip for the California Performance Test is to begin by reading the task memo. This document will be the first document in the File. The purpose of the task memo is to provide instructions about who your client is, what the case is about, the task you are asked to complete (e.g., an objective memo or persuasive brief), and sometimes, the specific issues that you have to address in your response. Additionally, the task memo will usually state whether you need to include a separate statement of facts or whether you should dive right into your legal discussion or argument section. Make sure you follow all of the instructions in the task memo carefully. The California Bar Examiners stress that a performance test response “will be graded on its compliance with instructions and on its content, thoroughness, and organization.”
2. Remember the jurisdiction in which the performance test is based.
According to the instructions for the California Performance Test, the tasks are “set in the fictional state of Columbia, one of the United States.” Why is this study tip for the California Performance Test important? As you read the library, you will usually see one or more cases and it is up to you to know whether those cases are binding legal authority or persuasive authority – and pointing this out can help you craft a stronger legal argument. Until now, cases in the library have been decided by the Columbia Supreme Court, the Columbia Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 15th Circuit (all of which are fictitious, but cases from these jurisdictions constitute binding legal authority). And because Columbia is one of the United States, a case from the United States Supreme Court would also be considered a binding legal authority.
3. Prioritize your review by first mastering the highly tested tasks.
In July 2017, the California Bar Examiners switched from requiring students to complete two three-hour performance tests to one 90-minute performance test. For this reason, our review of the highly tested tasks on the performance tests begins with July 2017. On the last four administrations, the Examiners have overwhelmingly favored persuasive writing tasks (two persuasive briefs and one demand letter). The fourth task was an objective memo. With that being said, we recommend beginning your review with persuasive briefs. Then, you can move on to demand letters and objective memos. All of these performance tests are available on the State Bar of California’s website. Below is a list of the 90-minute California Performance Tests.
- July 2017 – United States v. Blake C. Davis
- February 2018 – Meaney v. Trustees of the University of Columbia
Prior to the introduction of the 90-minute performance test, the California Bar Examiners released a practice performance test (also a persuasive brief!). You can find this MPT, Haynes v. National Bank of Columbia, on the State Bar of California’s website as well. If you are new to the performance tests, this is a good one to read through. You’ll get an idea of what the performance test section looks like. However, with that being said, the Examiners have not released any sample answer for this performance test. So, if you do write out an answer, you will not be able to compare your answer with a model answer.
4. Know how to format highly tested tasks.
Our fourth study tip for the California performance test concerns formatting. The instructions for each California Performance Test clearly state that organization will be factored into the overall score. Until now, the performance test files do not have any formatting memo after the task memo. Thus, students must be well versed with how to organize their responses for each type of task. If you are struggling with organization, take a look at our performance test formatting cheat sheet for guidance. Until now, the Examiners have not required students to include a separate statement of facts section in their answers (as noted in the task memo). So only include a statement of facts section if you are explicitly asked to do so!
These formatting cheat sheets were designed for the 90-minute Multistate Performance Test. These were created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is most commonly in Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions. However, the types of tasks tested on the California Performance Test and the Multistate Performance Test are generally the same. Both performance tests have required students to write persuasive briefs, objective memos and demand letters. So far, the 90-minute California Performance Tests have not tested opinion letters or any unusual tasks (i.e., less frequently tested tasks) such as drafting contract provisions or bench memos. However, these tasks have appeared on the Multistate Performance Test and we would not be surprised to see them on the California Performance Test in the future. In fact, opinion letters have appeared on the three-hour California Performance Test in the past.
5. Practice under timed conditions and self-grade your response using high scoring student answers.
For our final study tip for the California Performance Test, we strongly recommend that students complete performance tests under timed conditions and actively compare their responses to high scoring student answers. We often hear that students run out of time on the performance test and the earlier you start with timed practice exams, the better your chance of combating any timing issues. Second, we often hear that students struggle with figuring out whether they wrote enough for their practice performance test. Many also wonder if they addressed enough law and included enough analysis in their answer.
To get a better idea whether you answer is on point, review the two high scoring student answers that the California Bar Examiners provide for each performance test. Keep in mind that the sample answers are two of the highest scoring responses in the state. So you definitely don’t need to include the same amount of detail in order to receive a passing scaled score (i.e., 65 points or more out of 100 points). But take a look and see whether you organized your answer correctly. Ask yourself if you followed IRAC – issue, rule, analysis conclusion). Did you format your answer correctly (e.g., as a demand letter?)? Did you include enough law and analyze the necessary issues correctly?
A lot of students tell us that they are looking for more performance tests to practice. A fantastic resource for additional practice is the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions website. Here you can find two 90-minute Multistate Performance Tests for each exam beginning with July 2011 and at least two high scoring student answers for each task. While the California Bar Examiners don’t write these, they test many of the same types of tasks as the California Performance Tests (as discussed above). Multistate Performance Tests have a mix of cases and statutes as well as secondary materials in the library. This is great practice for the level of difficulty we expect to see on the California Performance Test in the future because the three-hour performance tests were incredibly challenging!
So far, the libraries on the 90-minute California Performance Tests’ libraries have consisted of one to three cases. But again, we do not expect this to be the case for every performance test on upcoming administrations.
We hope you found our top study tips for the California Performance Test helpful. We wish you good luck studying for the exam!
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