A Proven Strategy for Bar Exam Success: Mastering the Essays


Welcome to the first installment of a comprehensive three-part series dedicated to achieving success on the bar exam. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the essay portion of the exam. My insights are derived from my personal experience of successfully passing the bar exam in three different states: Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

Law student studying for the California Bar Exam

Preparation: Building a Solid Foundation

To begin your preparation, start by familiarizing yourself with the specific essay topics that are tested in your state. This will help you create a targeted outline of the laws you need to focus on in order to excel in the essay section of the bar exam.

Once you have identified the topics, gather at least ten years’ worth of past essay questions. While the content of the essays may vary due to changes in laws and examiners, this ten-year range will minimize the impact of such changes on your study materials.

It’s important to note that constitutional and criminal law often go hand in hand. Examiners may utilize well-publicized constitutional law cases from the past five years. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising to encounter facts from recent United States Supreme Court cases in the essays.

After obtaining the essays, categorize them by subject matter. This will provide valuable insights into the frequency of each topic’s appearance in the exam. While it doesn’t guarantee the content of the upcoming exam, it will give you a sense of which topics are more likely to be tested.

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To solidify your understanding of the law, choose a few essays and answer them in an open book manner as though they were traditional legal research projects. Time should not be a concern during this phase. Focus solely on comprehensively answering the questions presented.

It is recommended to complete the first two essays approximately two months prior to the bar exam. This early period should be dedicated to ensuring a strong grasp of the law tested on the exam.

Practice: Simulating Exam Conditions

One effective method to approach the essay questions is to type the call of the question into your answer sheet before reading the fact pattern. This technique ensures that you don’t miss any questions even under the pressure of exam conditions. It also allows you to easily outline your answer by identifying issues and organizing them under the appropriate headings as you read the fact pattern.

After answering two essays in a specific subject matter in an open book manner, proceed to answer the remaining questions under exam conditions. However, it is advisable not to tackle all the essay questions in a single sitting. Instead, spread them out over the month leading up to the bar exam.

Remember, comprehensive knowledge of the law is crucial for achieving a passing score. Following this methodology should make it easier to achieve this level of familiarity. You’ll notice that certain topics appear more frequently than others throughout the history of the exam. These “frequent fliers” should be studied thoroughly.

Although it is impossible to guarantee a passing score on the bar exam, there are proven strategies that can significantly improve your chances of success. Mastering the law and becoming intimately familiar with commonly asked questions will undoubtedly enhance your odds.

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Best of luck on your bar exam journey and congratulations on pursuing a rewarding legal career!

Professor Woodruff teaches Remedies and Trusts, Wills & Estates at St. Francis School of Law and is admitted to the bar in Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

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