Our BarIssues.com database contains 162 essays from the California Bar Exam going all the way back to July 2001 (with more essays added for each coming exam). That’s a lot of essays! Reviewing as many essays as possible can be the difference between a pass and a fail. Some fact patterns have been known to be repeated and the more you study from these essays and their corresponding answers, the more you get an understanding of what the bar examiners are looking for.
We have categorized the essays into 15 law school subjects and then broken them down even further by identifying the issues within each essay. On average, there are 66 issues per subject.
BarIssues.com subscribers can easily click on any of these 162 essays to view a pop-up screen showing what legal issues were tested in that essay. Plus you can read, download and print any of the essay questions and answers. But this still doesn’t explain how you can possibly review every one of these essays during the two months you are cramming for the bar exam. Well, I did it and I’m going to share with you exactly how.
Get yourself organized with our study tools
First, sign-up for BarIssues.com, Premium Service, if you haven’t already. If you are not a subscriber you can still do this by looking up the essays on the California State Bar website, but you will have to sift through the large files of essays to find the ones you want to study each day.
Next, download and print our Ultimate Essay Tracker (sign up for our Newsletter to get the free 2-Year Essay Tracker for a sample of what you get as a Premium Subscriber), preferably on a color printer because each Subject is color coded. This will be your checklist and will help to keep you organized. As you review an essay you are going to check it off on the Essay Tracker, which contains a handy synopsis of the fact pattern to jog your memory in case you want to go back and find a particular essay.
Now, you are ready to begin the planning. Start by counting the number of weeks you have remaining until the bar exam. Hopefully you have at least two months, preferably three, but if not, you can adjust the number of essays to review according to how much time you have. Any review is better than no review! If you have 8 weeks, then it’s just simple math: 162/8 = 20 (rounded off). Therefore, you need to study 20 essays each week. Then break it down even further. If you study 5 days a week then you need to review 4 essays each day.
Four essays a day – piece of cake, right? Well, not really because you are likely studying lots of other things each day as well, such as multiple choice questions, performance tests, and trying to memorize rules of law. So, here is what you do.
Read through one, issue spot two, write out one.
That’s how you review four essays a day.
Set up your day to allow yourself 3 hours, five times a week for this essay review practice, on top of whatever you are already doing to study for the bar exam. Yes, it may seem like a lot to try to squeeze in even more study time, but keep in mind it’s only for two months. This can make or break your chances of passing the bar. Isn’t it worth it? Isn’t two months of agony better than re-taking the exam?
But where will you find the time? It could mean not taking the evening off if you already had a 9-5 study plan (do your essay review from 7-9 pm). Or, maybe it means adding it into the weekend if you already had a Monday to Friday study plan (review the essays on Saturday from 9 am-12, 1 – 4 pm, 5 – 8 pm and on Sunday from 1 – 4 pm, 5 – 8 pm). Whatever way you find the time, make sure you do not compromise your sleep.
I won’t lie, it’s going to be an awful two months. But the day you enter that exam room, you will be ready and thankful you put in the time.
Before you begin, you will need to create a schedule of 15 subjects to rotate. Using the 8-week plan with studying 5 days a week, that gives you 40 days. You have a few ways to tackle this, depending on what suits you best:
- If you are already studying a particular subject that day as part of your regular bar review, choose the same subject for your 3-hour essay review.
- Keep certain subjects together by doing them on consecutive days such as Criminal Law followed by Criminal Procedure and Wills followed by Trusts.
Don’t worry too much about trying to get it exactly right, after all, you have to train your mind now to “mix them up” because on the days of the exam, you will be switching subjects pretty fast.
Here is my recommended 15-day Subject Rotation Schedule:
Day 1- Torts
Day 2- Contracts
Day 3- Remedies
Day 4-Constitutional Law
Day 5- Civil Procedure
Day 6- Real Property
Day 7- Evidence
Day 8- Criminal Law
Day 9- Criminal Procedure
Day 10- Professional Responsibility
Day 11- Corporations
Day 12- Partnerships
Day 13- Community Property
Day 14- Wills
Day 15- Trusts
You will start out by reviewing 4 essays each day (or each 3-hour study time slot) from the subject planned for that day. (I will explain how to review the essays below.) It will be easy to select your essays from our Issues Database screen once you are logged into your BarIssues.com account.
After you complete the first 15-day rotation, you will gradually need to adjust the breakdown of subjects studied each day because some subjects like Partnerships only have 5 essays in the database, while other subjects like Professional Responsibility have 30 essays in the database.
This is why you must check off the essays on the Essay Tracker as you complete your review. Crossovers, which are essays containing issues among 2 or more subjects, will be listed more than once in the Issues Database because each subject lists all essays containing issues from that subject. But on the Essay Tracker, the essays are listed by exam, and therefore, only counted once.
As you get closer to the end of your subject rotation schedule, you will be catching up on the subjects that have the most number of essays by repeating these subjects more often in your rotation. Just keep checking them off as you go so that you can easily keep track of what is left to review.
Here is how to review the essays in your 3-hour/4-essay study session:
30 minutes – Read 1 Essay
- Pick your first essay. Read the question slowly, but do not try to spot any issues. Just read the fact pattern, then read each student-written answer (there are two answers for each essay question).
- While you are reading the answer, compare the different styles of writing. Often times the bar examiners will purposely choose two very differently written answers. For example, one answer may have headings for each issue using the typical IRAC format (we prefer to use IRAC which stands for Issue, Rule, Argument, Conclusion). The other answer may have no headings and have the rules and argument woven together. While the 2nd format is acceptable, we believe it is a more difficult way to write a bar exam essay. You will definitely see more essays using the IRAC format.
- Examine how long each answer is and how the student formulated their argument by matching up the facts to the rule elements. Spend 30 minutes on this exercise, then check off your essay.
1 hour – Issue Spot 2 Essays
- Choose 2 more essays and print only the question for each one.
- Set your timer for 15 minutes and read the first essay, then try to spot all the issues raised by the fact pattern by writing them down in an outline format on a separate sheet of paper. (We prefer to hand-write this part). This exercise of issue-spotting and writing them down should take you no more than 15 minutes (and this is the time you will allocate to outlining on the real bar exam when writing essays – never take longer than 15 minutes to read the question and formulate your outline).
- Next, click on the essay name in the BarIssues.com Issues Database “Essays for Subject” page to get the pop-up list of all the issues the student answers spotted for that essay. Compare this to your own issue-spotting list. How did you do?
- Now, skim over the student written answers. Pay attention to the format and organization of how the issues were discussed.
- Do not spend more than 30 minutes on the essay, including the 15 minutes you took to read and issue-spot.
- Repeat the entire process for the 2nd essay question.
- Check off your two essays that you just issue-spotted.
1 hour and 30 minutes – Write 1 essay
- Choose one more essay and print only the question page.
- Set your timer for 1 hour and read the question, write up your outline (15 minutes), and write your answer (45 minutes). (We like to use a computer to write the answer, preferably the same laptop you will be using on the bar exam. But if you are a hand-writer, then by all means, write it out.)
- You cannot go over the one hour period! Even though you may be tempted, just force yourself to do it as best as you can in one hour. At first you may not have enough time, but the more you do it, the better you will get at organizing yourself to stick to the hour.
- Next, take the final 30 minutes to compare your written answer to the student answers, using the issue pop-up feature in BarIssues.com to see if you spotted all the issues.
- Check off your essay that you just wrote.
By following this study format, you will write 40 essays, issue spot 80 essays, and read another 40 essays during the 2 months before the bar exam. Yes, it’s a lot but the California bar exam is a monster, and you must write as many essays as possible if you are going to pass. The same approach must be taken for the Performance Tests and Multiple Choice, but our focus in this blog post is on the essays.
If you are already doing one of the commercial bar prep study plans, you can either add this essay-component to your existing studies, or modify it to beef up your essay review. In our opinion, you must read, issue-spot and write as many essays as possible to pass the essay portion of the bar exam.
I know it can be done. I did it myself and it was instrumental in giving me the confidence that I could write a decent essay in one hour and pass the exam. You can do it too!