How to Pass the California Bar Exam
Here we will discuss how to pass the California Bar Exam in detail!
The California law license is one of the most coveted licenses in all of the United States. Unfortunately, the California bar exam has one of the lowest pass rates of all the bar exams. The California Bar Exam is graded out of 2000 possible points and a bar examinee must attain a score of 1390 or above to pass. Examinees who score above 1350 but below 1390 on the grader’s first read will go into a second read. The first and second read scores will then be averaged. If the average of the two scores is 1390 or greater, the bar examinee will pass the exam.
The overall pass rate of the California Bar Exam seems to be improving. For example, the California Bar Exam had an increased pass rate for the February 2022 bar exam to 33.9 percent, which was 7.1 percent higher than the February 2020 bar exam which had a pass rate of only 26.8 percent.
Read on for an overview of the California Bar Exam as well as some tips and tricks to help you pass the bar!
How to Pass the California Bar Exam
Overview of the California Bar Exam
The California Bar Exam is administered twice a year: once at the end of February and once at the end of July. It is a two-day bar exam, made up of 5 essays, 1 performance test, and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.
On the first day of the California Bar Exam, you will have a 3-hour morning session consisting of 3 one-hour essays followed by a 3.5-hour afternoon session consisting of two 1-hour essays and a single 90-minute performance test. On the second day of the California Bar Exam, you will have 100 multiple choice questions in a 3-hour morning session, followed by 100 multiple choice questions in a 3-hour afternoon session.
Tips and Tricks for the Essays
The California Bar Exam essays test the following topics:
- Business Associations
- Civil Procedure
- Community Property
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Professional Responsibility
- Real Property
- Wills and Succession
Unlike the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) which has 30-minute essays, the California Bar Exam essays are each a full hour. This means that you will likely need to address more issues and provide more analysis than would be needed in the essay section of the UBE.
The following are 3 tips and tricks for helping improve your score on the essay portion of the California bar exam:
1. Become an expert issue spotter!
Issue spotting is the most important skill to acquire for the bar exam because you can only get points allocated to a particular issue if you can actually spot that issue. Imagine a particular essay question has 5 issues and each issue is worth 20 points (for 100 points total). If you only spot one issue, the maximum number of points you can get is 20. And, this is only if you write a perfect rule, analysis, and conclusion statement for that issue! If, on the other hand, you can spot all 5 issues, you can access all 100 points available. Even if you only get half the points for each issue, your score would be 50 points. This is significantly higher than the 20-point score you could have received for only identifying the single issue. Therefore, you should become an expert on spotting issues!
2. Use strong IRAC’s in your answers.
Issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion (or IRAC) is a fundamental tool used to organize answers in law school and also on the California Bar Exam. The issue statement should be bold and/or underlined and numbered, if possible, in order to stand out to the essay grader. For example, let’s say that in a torts hypothetical, there are two lawsuits: John v. Deere and Smith v. Vaughn. Both lawsuits have three issues each. A skeleton outline for this essay answer should look something like the following:
- John v. Deere
b. Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Smith v. Vaughn
a. Trespass to land
The above outline not only makes it easier to have consistent, well-structured, essay answers, but it also makes it easier for the bar grader to allocate points to each essay.
3. Focus on highly tested California Bar Exam essay topics.
You should pay close attention to highly tested topics on the essay portion of the bar exam, and the highly tested rules within each topic. Professional responsibility is the most highly tested topic on the California Bar Exam. Professional responsibility essays can test general rules, California rules, or a mixture of both sets of rules. Remedies and Community Property are also highly tested topics on the essay portion of the bar exam. Agency & Partnership and Trusts are among the least tested topics on the essay portion of the bar exam.
- Check out this post for more information on highly-tested California Bar Exam essay topics!
- Please see the following link for our free extensive California Bar Exam Essay Guide resource.
- JD Advising California Bar Exam One-Sheets are a great resource for learning the most highly tested rules in each of the 14 essay topics on the California bar exam.
Tips and Tricks for the Performance Test
The California Bar Exam consists of a single 90-minute performance test given in the afternoon session of the first day of the bar exam. The performance test is made up of two parts:
- a File and
- a Library
The File includes the task memo and all the factual documents, while the Library includes all of the legal authority needed to take on the performance test. The performance test evaluates your ability to understand a set of legal authorities (case law, statutes, etc.) as well as your ability to analyze the client’s factual circumstances to these legal authorities. In essence, it tests your ability to do lawyerly tasks! Remember, the performance test is a closed-world problem which means all the information you need to get a perfect score will be available to you in the Library.
Below are three tips that can help you perform well on the performance test:
1. Read and pay close attention to the task memo!
The task memo is the most important document of the performance test. It is normally the first document in the File. You should read this document first because it will give you the task the bar exam wants you to address. This includes the type of document you will be writing (memo, brief, letter, etc.) and the perspective that should be used in the writing (objective, persuasive, etc.). The task memo will also tell you whether or not a statement of facts will be necessary. If the task memo says not to include one, then you should not waste precious time including a statement of facts! Also, it may be a good idea to reread the task memo as you are writing in order to make sure that you are following the instructions correctly.
What tasks frequently appear on the California Performance Test? We’ve compiled them all here!
2. Reading and Outlining the answer before writing.
The first 40-45 minutes of the performance test should be spent reading the task memo, the library, and the rest of the file. After reading the task memo, you should start documenting a skeleton outline for the task. This includes the setup of the document in the particular format requested by the task memo. By the time the 40-45 minutes are up, you should have a working outline with the setup (to, from, re, date) and the issue and rule statements ready to go. This will help you allocate the proper amount of time for each issue that needs to be addressed in the last 45 to 50 minutes of the performance test. If you do not outline the answer first, you may spend too much time on one issue while not spending enough time addressing other issues! This will likely lead to a worse overall performance test score.
3. Practice performance tests under timed conditions.
Many bar examinees do not spend enough time practicing performance tests under timed conditions. This is one major reason they do poorly on the performance test portion of the California Bar Exam. The only way to get comfortable with the performance test is to practice them under timed conditions. Doing this will not only help you gain experience in taking the performance test, but it will also help you walk into the exam feeling confident in your ability to address any task you are asked to address.
Tips and Tricks for the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)
The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, 25 of which are ungraded. Therefore, your score on the MBE is based only on 175 questions. The MBE is very important because it is worth 50 percent of your total score on the California Bar Exam. Ultimately, the MBE tests your ability to identify issues, recall the relevant rules, analyze the rules based on the facts and come to a conclusion.
1. Focus on highly tested topics and subtopics.
Just like the essay section of the California Bar Exam, it is important for you to focus on highly tested topics and subtopics for the MBE. As an example, negligence questions on the MBE make up half of the 25 graded Torts questions, while the rule against perpetuates may only account for 1 question of the 25 graded Real Property questions. Therefore, it is much more important for you to become an expert on negligence than on the rule against perpetuities because this knowledge will have a greater impact on your overall MBE and bar score.
2. Practice using real MBE questions.
To prepare for the MBE, practicing with real, previously-used MBE questions that have been vetted and tested by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will put you at an advantage. Real MBE questions are most similar to the questions you will see on the MBE. These bar exam questions have gone through rigorous testing that cannot easily be duplicated by commercial bar preparation companies writing their own simulated MBE questions. Real MBE questions will have a similar structure, be of similar difficulty, and be of similar length to those on the California Bar Exam. Practicing real MBE questions will help you gain experience and practice with the type of questions you will see on the bar exam.
Our MBE Qbank includes real, previously-used MBE questions!
3. Practice under timed conditions.
It is important to practice MBE questions under timed conditions. You have to complete 100 multiple-choise questions in 3 hours, meaning you should be completing each question in an average of 1 minute and 48 seconds. You should practice batches of questions sticking to this average time in order to get comfortable answering questions in that time frame. If you do not practice under timed conditions, you will likely reach the end of the 3-hour time period and either not have enough time to answer questions or have to rush through them in order to get answers down. This will likely hurt your overall MBE score.
We hope that this post is helpful to you! If you have any questions about any of our materials or programs, please contact us!
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