How accurate are Barbri essay graders?
Every administration, many students ask, “How accurate are Barbri essay graders?” or “How accurate are the Kaplan essay graders?”
Students wonder if the scores they receive from these essay graders are an accurate reflection of how they will do on the bar exam. The answer I always tell them is, “not necessarily.”
I had a student for a recent bar exam, who agreed to let me share her scores (although her name will remain confidential). This student received several scores of 4 (a passing grade was 10)from Barbri graders as well as quite low scores from Kaplan graders. She did not get a score above a 7 (a passing score) from Barbri or Kaplan graders. However, she did receive a passing score on her actual bar exam.
How accurate are Barbri essay graders?
In fact, on the essay portion of her actual bar exam, she received 14 points higher than needed to obtain a passing score. Her essay score included four scores of 10, two scores of 9, three scores of 8, one score of 7, two 6’s, two 5’s, and a 4.
This is not to say that Barbri or Kaplan graders are “bad”. Some of them are fantastic and provide great feedback. The problem seems to be that some are quite picky and will give low scores if an essay is not perfect. Others hand out 9’s and 10’s like it’s their job. How do you know which essay graders to trust and which scores to rely on?
There are a few approaches you can take.
Approach #1: don’t rely on the Barbri graders—rely on yourself
The best feedback you can get is the feedback you give yourself. Why anxiously wait for a score given by a Barbri or Kaplan grader? Instead, give yourself feedback. (Many states provide past bar exam questions and the model answers for review. If you are in a MEE state, these are all available on the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ website. Check to see what your state does.)
How do you give yourself feedback?
After you answer a question, spend a long time comparing it to the model answer. What did you answer well? Did you spot all of the issues? Did you make correct rule statements? Did you organize your answer in a similar manner to the model answer?
You generally will not be expected to know case names or rule numbers (which all might be in the model answers). Instead focus on whether you spotted the issues, stated the correct rules, analyzed them accurately, and arrived at correct conclusions.
When you compare your answer to the model answer, do not just read the model answer and then move on. Instead, when you read the model answer, mark up your own answer (in a different colored font or different colored pen) as if you were a grader. This will help you (a) improve your essay writing techniques, (b) give you a better idea of what kind of score you will actually get on the bar exam, and (c) help you get into the mind of a grader.
When you go into the exam, you will no longer be writing essays as if you were a student – you will be writing essays as though you were a grader. You will know what kinds of essays a grader wants to see and you will write organized essays that make it easy for the grader to give you points. This is all because you were a grader for your own essays during the duration of bar exam preparation. I advise all of my students grade their own essays during bar exam preparation because of the enormous benefits it has.
Note that this is not to say that you should not give essays to Barbri or Kaplan to grade. Nor is it to say that you should completely ignore feedback from Babri or Kaplan graders (See Approach #2 below, where we advise just the opposite!). On the contrary, it can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to give objective feedback. We advise that you send some essays into your bar review course to see if they offer you any helpful feedback or if they catch anything you missed.
The point of this tip is that you will not have to ponder the question “How accurate are Barbri essay graders?” because you will have an idea of you are doing based on your own feedback.
Approach #2: look at the feedback given by Barbri and Kaplan graders as a potential source of valuable data
Sometimes Barbri and Kaplan graders give good feedback that goes ignored. Feedback goes ignored for one of two reasons: First, students see their scores and automatically ignore the feedback. Second, some students get defensive as soon as someone writes a comment on an essay they were sure they should have gotten a perfect score on.
If you find yourself barely reading the feedback given by the graders, step back for a minute. Look at it objectively. Instead of focusing on the number and instead of taking the feedback as a statement of how you write or how well you know the information, look at it as data that you really may be able to use. Is there anything useful you can extract from it? Do you constantly hear the same feedback (“Make better rule statements.” “Arrive at a conclusion.” etc). If you are able to take a step back from it, you may be able to look at it more objectively and get something out of it.
If you are really unsure as to how you are doing on your essays, feel free to contact us and check out our bar exam essay feedback services. We provide essay feedback for students all of the time. We can tell you the kinds of scores you can expect to receive as well as where there is room for improvement. We read hundreds of essays every bar exam and we are realistic about the scores that you can expect to receive on your actual bar exam.
If you have a comment or question, please do not hesitate to contact us!
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