Are you having trouble figuring out how to best organize your essay answers? Creating a short outline can be an effective tool to help you with organization and time management. Below we provide some tips for outlining bar exam essays — try to incorporate some of these strategies as you do your practice essays.
Tips For Outlining Bar Exam Essays On Exam Day
1. Read the call of the question first.
Before you begin reading the fact pattern, make sure you read the call of the question. Generally you will see several pointed questions to answer or a broad question (e.g., “Is there an enforceable contract between A and B?”). If you see that you have to answer several very specific questions, it is a good idea to turn these questions into your issues. For example, you may be asked whether the court properly admitted several pieces of evidence, including a police report, a hospital record, one party’s insurance policy, etc. In this case, create three headings as follows: 1) Admissibility of the Police Report, 2) Admissibility of the Hospital Record, and 3) Admissibility of the Insurance Policy. This will provide you with the broader structure of your essay.
If you have a general question, such as whether there is an enforceable contract, it is a good idea to have a mental checklist to run through as you read the fact pattern and issue spot. Here, you want to consider whether the UCC or common law governs the contract; whether there was a valid offer, acceptance, and consideration; whether there are any defenses to formation, such as the Statute of Frauds, and so on. But always let the facts guide you!
2. Keep track of the issues that you spot and include them under your headings.
If you have very specific questions to answer, make sure to include any issues you spot under each broad issue statement/heading that you have created. Using the example above, some issues that may arise when determining whether evidence is admissible include various non-hearsay uses (e.g., effect on the hearer/listener, circumstantial evidence of one’s state of mind, etc.); hearsay exceptions (e.g., present sense impression, excited utterance, public records, business records, etc.); and privileges. If you see any of these issues (or others) triggered by the fact pattern, quickly jot them down or type them into your ExamSoft document.
Admissibility of the Hospital Record
- Is it relevant?
- Is it hearsay?
- Business records hearsay exception
- Possible hearsay within hearsay issue
- Excited utterance
- Present sense impression
- Statement for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment
If you have a general call of the question, let the fact pattern dictate the best way to outline your answer. Open-ended questions are likely to be found in real property fact patterns (e.g. “What are the rights of A, B, C, and D in the land?”). In this case, it is best to analyze the issues chronologically. Let us assume that the first facts in the question concern A. Here is an example outline:
Rights of A
- Was an easement created?
- Then see which methods are triggered by the fact pattern (e.g., easement by prescription, express grant, etc.).
- Was the easement terminated?
- Do the facts indicate that the easement was terminated by abandonment, merger, etc.?
3. Memorize a checklist for the most commonly tested issues in each subject, especially if you are having trouble issue spotting.
A mental checklist is really a short attack outline, which you are likely familiar with from preparing for law school exams. If you have trouble issue spotting and outlining, it may mean that you need spend more time learning how issues fit into the overall picture. For example, it is a good idea to have a mental checklist for the hearsay exceptions that require a declarant to be unavailable. Similarly, you also want to create a checklist for the hearsay exceptions for which the declarant’s availability is irrelevant.
You may also want to create a checklist for what to talk about if you see a hearsay question generally: E.g. Is it hearsay? Does it fall into an exception? Is it relevant? Does something else (like a privilege or policy exclusion) preclude it from being admitted?
It is important to note that one approach does not work for everyone! Some people feel more comfortable with an outline and others find it unnecessary. It is OK if outlining bar exam essays does not work for you if you are generally spotting most or all of the issues and organizing your answer in a clear and concise manner. Some examinees feel more comfortable jotting down the issues they spot in a fact pattern in the margins of the question and then writing their answer. See which method(s) work best for you during this next month!
Christine, one of our bar exam tutors, wrote this post. Christine has passed three bar exams, including California, New York, and New Jersey. She also scored in the 95th percentile on the MBE, and specializes in helping students raise their MPT scores.
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