One of the most common problems law students have when writing essays and performance tests on the bar exam is that they run out of time. Even though they know in advance that each California bar exam essay is 1 hour, and each performance test is 3 hours, students still don’t manage their time effectively on the bar exam. Why? And how can they fix this?
The answer is to practice your timing in advance with a timer app right on your computer screen. I will explain how I did this.
My preference during my bar prep studying was to use the free desktop app called TimeLeft. The download requires no sign-up and simply lets you put a small digital clock window on your screen that always stays on top of your working document.
Time your outline for 15 minutes
The first thing I do is to set my timer for 15 minutes. I then read and review the essay hypo, marking it up and creating my outline on scrap paper. For a complete breakdown of how I create my outline read my blog post, 8 Steps To Writing Passing Bar Exam Essays. But here is the trick. Some essays may only need a 10 minute outline while some will need a bit longer than 15 minutes (although I would never outline for longer than 20 minutes). Rather than try to predict how long to set my timer for each essay outline, I always go with 15 minutes as a default. If I use less than 15 minutes to outline, I immediately begin to write my essay even while the timer is still running for the first 15 minute interval. Once the timer is up, I then go to the next step.
Time your writing for 45 minutes
After I complete my outline, I set my timer for 45 minutes, even if I already started to write my essay during the prior 15 minute outline session. This way I never get mixed up on my timing so that I don’t spend more than 1 hour on each essay. And if while working on my outline I feel I need 2 or 3 more minutes after that 15 minute timer goes off, I immediately set my next 45 minute timer but I keep on completing my outline for those few extra minutes and then get right into writing the essay.
Practice this in advance so that you get used to separating the two intervals. You may ask, why not just set the timer to 1 hour? Well, for me, I find it reinforces the importance of sticking to that first 15 minute period of reading and preparing my attack plan. Whether it’s a full outline or just a time-line plotting the sequence of events in the hypo, you will find this initial time investment indispensable as you write up your answer.
Watch that clock at all times!
Keep your eyes on that timer constantly. That’s why I like this TimeLeft app because I can keep that little timer right at the top right corner of my screen, similar to how ExamSoft will display the timer on the actual bar exam. This is one of the biggest problems students encounter on the bar exam resulting in failing essay grades – they don’t manage their time effectively. They get so carried away with writing that they go 10 minutes over on the first essay, then five minutes over on the second essay, so that by the time they get to the third and final essay, they are left with only 45 minutes for outlining AND essay writing. Read more about why I strongly believe that you must treat every essay the same on the bar exam in my blog post, All Bar Essays Are Created Equal.
Practice with ExamSoft in advance
Once you download ExamSoft, the software for your laptop on the bar exam, you will be able to practice using the timer, as well as the other ExamSoft features like spell-check. I recall how surprised I was when I discovered there is no spell-check as you type! You have to click on the spell-check icon after you have done your writing. Then it goes through all your words and allows you to modify them one by one. I recommend that you leave yourself 1-2 minutes before the last 45 minute timer goes off, to run a quick spell-check.
If you are like me and tend to type very fast, you may not even realize the typos you are creating. When the bar examiner reads your essay laden with typos, it may reflect negatively on your grade. Now I’m not saying you would get points deducted for typos, but there is something to say for showing off a well presented essay, complete with neatly formulated headlines, proper grammar, and free from typos. Don’t wait until you are actually in the bar exam to figure out how to use the features that come with ExamSoft.
Whatever the bar exam throws at you, knowing how to manage your time will be one less thing to worry about when you are on the bar exam. Relax, because you are now on auto-pilot as you set your timer for essay number one, 15 minutes / 45 minutes, essay number two, 15 minutes / 45 minutes….you get it. Like one of my law professors used to say, “An hour on the bar exam is like a minute!” And it’s really true.
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