Seven California Bar Exam Essay Tips: The California Bar Exam is three days long. The written portion, which consists of six subject essays and two Multistate Performance Tests, is worth 65 percent of the overall score. On the morning of the first and third days, you will have three essay questions to answer. You have an hour to answer each essay. A strong score on the written section can help you if you have a lower MBE score.
Here are some tips to help you study for the essay portion of the California Bar Exam:
Seven California Bar Exam Essay Tips:
- Know Your MBE subjects
Traditionally, at least three of the six essays will focus on an MBE subject. The most often tested MBE subjects from 2009 onwards have been Civil Procedure, Evidence, and Contracts, followed closely by Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Real Property and Torts.
- Review Professional Responsibility Carefully
Professional Responsibility has been tested on the essay portion of 14 of the previous 15 bar exams. The year it was not tested on the essay portion, it was the subject of one of the 3-hour Multistate Performance Tests! The examiners have asked questions about an attorney’s specific duties in the business, criminal and divorce law context. Do not be surprised if you see Professional Responsibility tested as a stand-alone essay or as part of another essay (e.g., Business Associations, Community Property, Criminal Law). Always read the instructions to see whether you must include both the American Bar Association (ABA) and California distinctions in your answer.
- Every Subject is Fair Game for Testing
Many students attempt to shorten their study time by trying to predict which subjects will be tested on the upcoming exam. Often students assume that a subject that was tested on the February exam will not be tested on the July exam of the same year. Do not fall into this trap! Examiners often repeat subjects from one exam to the next. For example, Remedies was tested in July 2013, February 2014, July 2014 and February 2015!
Similarly, just because a subject was tested on the essays on the first day of the exam does not mean that it will not show up on the third day of the exam in another essay! For example, you may have a torts or contracts essay on the first day and a torts or contracts remedies essay on the third day.
- Be Prepared for Crossover Essay Questions
Most essay questions only require to you to discuss one subject. However, some questions might require you to discuss aspects of two or even three subjects in your answer! Some popular crossover essay question categories are: Business Associations and Professional Responsibility, Community Property and Trusts, and Torts and Contracts.
- Pay Attention to the Call of the Question
Always read the instructions carefully to see whether you must write your answer according to federal law (e.g., the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Federal Rules of Evidence), California law or both. If a question asks you answer according to federal and California law, note any relevant distinctions in your answer. If there is no distinction between federal and California law, make sure to discuss this in your answer as well.
- Use All the Facts to Bolster Your Analysis
California fact patterns are generally half a page long, but some Constitutional Law fact patterns are only a third of page long! At first glance, the fact patterns may seem short given that you have 60 minutes to answer each question. However, California essays are traditionally racehorse style essays and every fact that the examiners give you is there for a reason. For example, some facts can create ambiguity as to whether a valid contract exists or whether a will is duly executed. Address any areas where it is highly probable that the facts could be open to multiple interpretations. If you use all the facts not only will your analysis be stronger, you will likely get more points for your answer.
- Organize Your Answer
Bar graders do not have a long time to read your answer. Therefore, you want to make sure that it is easy for them to see which issues you identified and discussed. Therefore, use headings for each issue statement (e.g., contract formation). It is also a good idea to use subheadings when necessary (e.g., Did the May 1 email constitute an offer?). Be consistent with your formatting throughout your answer (e.g., bold all issue statements).
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