1. Time Management
It is virtually impossible to succeed in any law examination without mastering the concept of time management. The California bar exam is no exception. It is not what you know. It is what you know in one hour. Budget your time or perish. The same holds true for the multi-state multiple choice exam. In fact, time budgeting on the multi-state multiple choice section of the exam is so important you should make a special effort to pre-mark your computer answer sheet with penciled-in times.
For example, at question number 17 mark 9:30, at question 34, 10:00, etc. This helps you stay super conscious of whether you are on time going through the multiple-choice questions.
2. IRAC Adversarial Answer Format
IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion. It is a style of writing answers to law school essay questions. When coupled with an adversarial answer format, it is an ideal way of writing the bar exam. Thus, you identify an issue and discuss it by pointing out what the plaintiff would say, and then what the defendant would counter. You then state the rule of law that applies. You then apply the rule again laying out the viewpoints of each party to the dispute. Finally, you state a conclusion indicating how the court would rule on the issue. Using this approach, where applicable can substantially increase your grades.
3. When Reading Bar Questions Write Your Ideas in the Margins
Recording your ideas the moment they come to you as you read an exam question is very important. Do so right on the exam booklet you are reading. If you don’t, more often than not, you will forget these ideas. Capture them on the spot. Waiting until you turn to writing your answer will be too late.
4. Diagram the Parties to a Dispute, Use Ladder Time Lines
If a question discusses a dispute between a plaintiff and a defendant, diagram this immediately with the symbols: P v. D. As the question refers to other parties, such as a witness for example, mark that witness’ initial beside the party the witness supports. Thus, if she supports the plaintiff, mark: W-Pv.D. Drawing lines to show a bond between two parties also helps to keep things straight. Use vertical time lines marking significant dates down the margin of a question instead of across the page. This is more conducive to the format of the bar exam and looks like a ladder going up the page when completed.
5. Use a Head Note Style on Issues Identified and Feedback Facts
Write a head note style of paragraph to summarize the applicable issues identified in the question you have read. This can be your outline for your subsequent written answer. Then, to ensure you have fed all the facts of the question back to the examiner in your answer, highlight each fact in the question that has been included in your essay answer with a yellow magic marker. A similar quick review of your scratch paper notes will identify to you any facts and any ideas you may have neglected to include in your answer.
6. State the General Rule Before Discussing Exceptions
The most amazing discovery I made in reviewing my old bar exams which I obtained from the state bar examiners and compared to the model answers they provided was that I failed to state the general rule in my hurry to discuss a given exception. Thus, for example, I failed to define hearsay before going into a discussion of the admissions exception to the hearsay rule. You have to assume you are writing the answer for someone who knows nothing about the law in order to get top grades.
7. Answer the Question Exactly the Way it is Asked
Particularly on performance exams, the key tactic to employ is to answer the question exactly the way it is asked. Just as a diagnosis in medicine is half way to a cure, following the requirements of the question on a law exam is half way to a passing answer. As amazingly simple as this may appear, sometimes you tend to get wrapped up in your answer at the expense of failing to follow the format required by the question. Don’t miss this.
8. Discuss Your Exam Answers During the Breaks
Once you leave the exam area what you have done is history. You cannot change history, whether you did well or poorly. But you can correct any misconceptions you have about issues raised in the exam by discussing the answers with your fellow students. Going into the next portion of the exam you will have a stronger grasp of the concepts you may have missed earlier, and they may arise again. If you have a sensitive ego, beware – otherwise, review with your fellow students to sharpen your understanding of the issues you faced.
There is no doubt that at some stage in your preparations you will become discouraged. You will seriously doubt your ability to endure the pressure. After all, for several months your life will be out of balance as you sacrifice valuable time focusing on the bar exam instead of elsewhere. Personal problems can be exacerbated. Your family and friends may suffer. These are some of the problems associated with your goal of becoming an attorney in the state of California. Yet in the end, this is short-term pain for long term gain. If you endure, sooner or later you will succeed. Indeed, maybe the next time you look at the list of successful applicants in the Daily Journal, your name will appear. Then it will be time for you to go out into the legal world to make us all proud. Good luck.