How To Pass The California Bar Exam The First Time
How To Pass The California Bar Exam The First Time
The California Bar Exam is one of the most difficult bar exams to pass in the United States. Fortunately, for those taking the California Bar Exam after July 2020, you can pass the exam with a lower score. The Committee of Bar Examiners reduced the passing score from 1440 points to 1390 points. Even with this lowering of a passing score, the California Bar Exam remains an incredibly difficult test. For example, in February 2021, only approximately 37% of all test-takers passed the California Bar Exam. Additionally, the pass rate for first-time test-takers for the February 2021 bar exam is more than 35% higher than that of repeat test-takers. Therefore, examinees should do their best to pass the California Bar Exam the first time. This article provides you with five concrete tips to help you pass the California Bar Exam on your first try!
How To Pass The California Bar Exam The First Time
1. Understand what the California bar is testing and what is needed to pass.
The California Bar is split up into three sections over the course of two days. This includes (1) a 200 question multiple-choice exam (MBE – multistate bar exam), (2) five California essays, and (3) a single performance test.
Day one of the bar exam consists of both a morning and an afternoon session. During the morning session, applicants have three hours to complete three essays. The essays cover some of the following topics: business associations, civil procedure, community property, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, professional responsibility, real property, remedies, torts, trusts, and wills and succession.
Applicants should spend about one hour on each essay. This includes 15-20 minutes of reading the hypothetical and outlining the answer, followed by 40-45 minutes writing the answer.
During the afternoon session, the applicants have three and a half hours to complete two more essays and a single performance test. Applicants should spend about one and a half hours on the performance test. This includes spending approximately 45 minutes reading the task memo, the library, and the file as well as outlining an answer along with 45 minutes actually writing the answer. For more information on how to understand the timing constraints of the California bar exam, check out this blog post.
Day two of the bar exam again consists of both a morning and an afternoon session. During both sessions, applicants have three hours to complete 100 multiple-choice questions (also referred to as the Multistate Bar Exam or “MBE”). These multiple-choice questions cover the following topics: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts & sales, criminal law & procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. Applicants should allocate approximately one and a half minutes for each multiple-choice question. This will give you around 30 minutes at the end of both sessions to check over answers or answer any questions that you might have skipped. For more information on how to prepare for the MBE portion of the bar, check out this blog post.
2. Understand the issues being tested for each topic.
In order to excel on the California Bar Exam, or any bar exam for that matter, you must learn how to issue-spot quickly and effectively. Issue spotting (and subsequently analyzing correct issues) is critical in order to maximize the number of points on each question. If you cannot accurately spot the issues being tested, you’ll lose out on valuable points!
For example, let’s assume that the bar exam allocates twenty points for each of the following five issues on a particular essay: (1) assault and battery, (2) trespass to land, (3) negligence, (4) abnormally dangerous activity (strict liability), and (5) defamation. If the applicant spots only one of these five issues, then the maximum number of points they can get on the essay is twenty points (assuming that the applicant writes a perfect analysis of the issue, which is unlikely).
If an applicant can become proficient at issue-spotting, it’s more likely that the applicant will excel on essays. For example, using the same scenario we discussed above, if an applicant can spot five of the five issues being tested and can write a decent analysis for each issue, the applicant could score a 70 or more on our hypothetical essay. Clearly, this is a better score than the examinee who spotted only one issue. This could make the difference in whether this applicant passes the exam!
3. Memorize the laws for each topic.
In order to achieve the maximum amount of points for analyzing the relevant issues, applicants should not only memorize the rules but should also be able to recall them quickly and effectively despite the stress of the exam. Therefore, applicants must spend considerable time learning the rules for each particular issue. Active learning is always better than passive learning when it comes to memorization of the black letter law.
We are including a technique for actively memorizing rules for the California Bar Exam below:
Draw out the issue and rule to gain insight
Drawing out the issue can help applicants gain insight and more easily recall a particular rule. For example, the definition for assault is “defendant acts with intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact (or an imminent apprehension of such contact) and an imminent apprehension directly or indirectly results.” If you were to draw out this rule, you could draw two stick figures with one person waving their fist in front of another person with a bubble quote saying, “I am going to punch you right in the mouth.”
Rewrite the rule over and over to help with memorization
Another technique is to write and rewrite a rule by hand a specific number of times. It has been shown over and over again that writing (as opposed to typing or simply reading the rule) is a better method to help with the memorization of certain concepts.
Practice applying the rule for both multiple-choice and essays to solidify application of the rule
Memorization, on its own, is not effective in helping solidify both your understanding of a rule and your ability to recall the rule under the pressure of the bar exam. Applicants should spend time writing and self-grading essays to better understand how a rule applies to a given set of facts. Also, practicing multiple-choice questions will help applicants apply their knowledge of the rules to better determine where they need to focus their studies.
Assess and repeat
The final and most important step of this process is to routinely assess how well you are understanding the rules. This can be done by reviewing answers and self-grading practice essays. For MBE questions, you should be reviewing answers and explanations (even if you answered a question correctly!).
If you are correctly spotting issues, writing the rule accurately, and providing a good analysis using all the relevant facts from the hypothetical, then you likely have a good mastery of the rule. Likewise, if you consistently select the correct answer using the correct reasoning on a multiple-choice question, you likely have a solid mastery of the rule/subject matter.
On the other hand, if you cannot easily recall rules, are missing issues, or are consistently answering MBE questions incorrectly (or getting them correct but with flawed reasoning), it is worth revisiting the first techniques we discussed as they relate to a particular rule until you master the material. For more information on how to memorize rules for the California bar, check out this blog post.
4. Understand how to frame essay answers.
An overwhelming majority of the model answers to essay questions follow a common framework. Model answers identify issues by using bold typeface and/or bold with underlining. This clearly identifies the issue and separates it from the remainder of the answer. For example, for evidence essays, it is common to see headings such as Legal Relevance and Impeachment on separate lines followed by a rule statement, a strong analysis using the relevant facts from the hypothetical, and a conclusion. This style (“IRAC” or “Issue, Rule Analysis, Conclusion”) helps graders more easily identify issues and generally follow the applicant’s work, allowing applicants to maximize the number of points earned for a particular essay.
Another commonality amongst model answers is that these answers typically follow a strict IRAC formation. In doing so, model answers tend to use most, if not all, of the facts from the fact pattern. It is clear that the essay graders for the California Bar Exam prefer using IRAC when formatting essay answers, and it behooves applicants to learn this format when preparing for the bar exam.
5. Practice under timed conditions and in an environment similar to that of the bar exam.
An important aspect of any applicant’s study plan is to try and replicate the actual bar exam conditions. This means practicing multiple-choice questions, essays, and performance tests under timed conditions. It also means practicing these types of questions in abundance to give yourself practice with the longevity of the exam. Therefore, applicants should spend at least one day taking the equivalent of the first day of the exam and another day taking the equivalent of the second day of the exam. Be sure to review your work so you know where you need to focus the remainder of your studies!
We included a number of tips and techniques to help you be successful on the California Bar Exam. For more information tips on passing the California bar, check out this blog post.
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