Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bar Exam Essay and Performance Test Writing Tips

Writing style, organization, and format are critical to successful bar exam performance.  Do not fall into the trap of only memorizing the law.  You must also focus on your approach and your writing techniques in order to reach a passing score on the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test.  Here are a few ways to ensure that you will achieve passing scores:

Essay Exam Tips

  • First, carefully read the call lines so that you know what the examiners are asking.  Craft your answer around those calls.  See an earlier post Answer the Question for more details.
  • Actively read the facts.  Search for the legally significant facts and try to find relevance for all of the facts.  Use a pen to make notes in the margins and/or circle/underline the key details.  (Highlighters are not allowed in certain jurisdictions.)  These details should be used in your analysis.
  • Use IRAC! 
  • Use simple straightforward sentences and short paragraphs. 
  • You should have a new IRAC for each legal issue.  Separate your issues to maximize your points.
  • Do not merely memorize and recite rules.  NO DATA DUMPS!  Instead, show the graders that you know the rules and understand how they apply to the facts.  In order to do this successfully, you need to weave the facts into your legal analysis. 
  • MAKE IT EASY FOR THE GRADER TO GIVE YOU POINTS!
  • Keep track of your time.  Write the start and end time on your scratch paper for each of your essays.  This will help you with managing your time.  Do not go over the 30 minutes allotted for each essay.
  • After each essay is completed, put it behind you, and focus on the next essay or the next section of the exam. Do not waste time and head space second-guessing your performance on an earlier essay.  Stay in the present and stay positive! 

Performance Test Tips

  • Pay close attention to the task memo and the specific instructions within it.  The task memo holds the key to your success.  Consider who you are, who your client is, the tone, format, and limiting instructions for your task.
  • Create your framework from the issues presented in the task memo.  Use detailed and descriptive headings and issue statements throughout your task. 
  • Next, read the file to outline the key facts related to your task and your issues.  (Alternatively, some applicants prefer to read the library first.) 
  • Take your time!  Read the facts and the law carefully so that you have a good understanding of your case and are able to identify the salient details.  
  • Organize your thoughts before you begin writing.  Use your scratch paper!  You do not need fancy charts, but you may need to sketch out your framework or bullet point your key facts either on your scratch paper or in your examsoft file on your computer.  This should take between 30-45 minutes.
  • Use only the amount of time allowed for each PT task.  Write your start and end time on your scratch paper and move on to the second task when your time is up.
  • Use IRAC!  Use it for every issue and sub-issue! 
  • Synthesize the cases by writing brief case summaries.  For example, “In Holt, the athlete Holt’s face was not visible and his number, sponsors, and name were deleted, however other specific defining features (the unique color scheme and design of the athlete’s ski suit) were visible.”*
  • Compare and distinguish your facts from the facts in the cases presented in the library.  For example, “Our case is similar to Holt because in the photo used by the Gazette, no part of Jackson’s face was visible. Additionally, in our photograph, most of Jackson’s body and uniform were obscured and only the second zero of his uniform was visible. However, our case is distinguishable from Holt’s because in Holt the athlete had a unique suit design and color that belonged only to him. Here, there were at least two other Blue Sox players who were the same race as Jackson and who wore the number ending in zero like Jackson at the time the photo was taken. Thus, unlike Holt, it is possible there was no unique uniform that made Jackson readily identifiable.”*
  • Make your answer easy to read.  Use short concise sentences and paragraphs and make each word count.
  • Remember to review what you have written before time is called.  Become the grader.  Save a few minutes at the end to read and edit your MPT answer.

Keep practicing…practice equals passing!

 

Lisa Young

 

*Examples taken from passing Georgia bar exam answers.

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