Today, I want to share with you a resource for those studying for the California bar exam, specifically. A few years back, I was introduced to BarEssays.com, which is an online essay question and performance exam/answer database for the California bar. We at the Bar Exam Toolbox even use BarEssays.com from time to time in conjunction with the sample answers released by the State Bar to see a broader picture of what kinds of answers passed and failed a given administration of the exam.
What is BarEssays.com?
BarEssays.com is a large compilation of essay questions, performance exams, and real graded answers (including more than 1500 graded essays). How did BarEssays.com get all of those answers? By buying real answers from bar examinees (who got their questions back because they didn’t pass the overall exam). There are answers at all levels on the website, which can be searched subject by subject, by score, question by question, or performance exam by performance exam to find examples to review. Both handwritten and typed essays/performance exams are included.
Let’s say you purchase this product; what would you use it for?
Well, for practice! You can learn a lot from looking at both high- and low-scoring answers.
So let’s talk a little about that:
- Low-scoring answers:First, please, please, please do not look at low- scoring answers to see what you can get away with. That really isn’t the point! When I show my students low-scoring answers, I encourage them to identify the reasons for such a low score. Did the test-taker miss issues? Have inadequate analysis? Lack headers? It is great to use these answers to see how one can lose points—so you don’t make the same mistake!
- Mid-scoring answers:I would say these are the 65s. Now if most people get a 65, you might be thinking, “Yes! On my way to passing the bar.” But remember, statistically speaking, to pass most people need to average about a 65 on all the written portions, including the performance test. Therefore, you don’t want to look at a 65 as a “model” answer. You just want to look at it for its strengths and weaknesses. For example, in terms of strengths, I think most 65s are presented professionally, have headers, and do a pretty good job of issue spotting, but they have weaknesses too. They often don’t have enough analysis, which can be a big problem when it comes to racking up points on the bar. Check out some 65s for yourself—what do you think?
- High-scoring answers: I would say these are the 70s and above. These are answers that you want to use for comparison. One of the messages I often get from my students is that they are very frustrated by the sample answers provided by the State Bar because they are “too perfect.” They feel there is no way they could re-create that answer in one hour. That’s where BarEssays.com comes in. You can compare your answers with real student answers that did get the scores you are looking for. So, the question is, can you try to re-create those answers (while still remaining critical of them and taking every opportunity to make them better)? Most students find the 70s and 75s on BarEssays more approachable than what the State Bar releases. Remember, those two officially-released samples are the top two highest-scoring essays in the state of California for that essay or PT. You definitely don’t need to score in the top two!
How is BarEssays.com different from the State Bar of California’s past exams page?
If you are studying for the California bar exam, you likely know that the State Bar publishes all the essays, performance tests, and two student answers for each question. These can be found on the bar website for free.
But anyone who has used this website knows that going through the exams to find a given question on a given subject can be, well, frustrating and time-consuming.
In the alternative, the search engine set up on BarEssays.com allows you to search by subject, year, and score range so you can easily pull up the exam question without hunting through tons of PDFs. This will definitely save you time. Also included are the released bar sample answers, so the website is pretty much a “one-stop shop” where you can access essays, performance tests, sample answers from the bar, and real student answers.
Another way in which it is different from the State Bar website is that it includes scanned copies of handwritten answers. I don’t recommend that my students write their answers by hand. But if you do, you need to be well prepared in order to gather as many points as possible. Using the tips I listed above when reviewing answers, you can determine what works and what doesn’t with handwritten exams.
There is also a premium version of membership that allows you to see student essay exams with commentaries by a past bar grader. For some students that may be a useful option and help identify what is working and not working on a given answer. That said, this isn’t the same thing as getting feedback on your own work, which we find helps students more.
What other new features does BarEssays.come have?
In addition to providing sample student answers, BarEssays.com now also gives you an “Outline Search” option. For each major subject area (like Contracts or Torts, etc.) you can get a BarEssays.com outline, a shorter “checklist” of topics and rule elements, as well as “templates” of commonly-tested areas. Sometimes narrowing down all the law you need to study can be tough. What I like about this feature is that you get a longer outline (7-8 pages) that gives you the basics of each subject, plus a short one-pager of just rule elements. This can be helpful in synthesizing your own rule statements. The templates can also be useful in that they show you some common headers and rules and how different topics can fit together in an essay. Imagine an essay of just headers and rules where you fill in the analysis and conclusions yourself—that’s sort of what the templates look like.
What should I keep in mind while using this product?
One thing to remember about all student essays (whether from the State Bar website or a service like BarEssays.com) is that they are not to be seen as “model” answers. Also, they likely have mistakes, as they were written under real testing conditions. Always double-check the law yourself and think critically as you review student answers. We’ve even found quite a few of the sample answers released by the State Bar that contain incorrect statements of law, issues that don’t apply at all, and of course, typos. Remember, these people scored in the top two in spite of these things, not because of them. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what’s right and what’s wrong, though, so never think of any sample answers as perfect.
If there’s one thing I would caution students against when it comes to sample answers it’s that reading bar essays is not the same as doing bar essays. Even reading through every single sample answer available won’t get you to pass. You have to do the hard work yourself. Reviewing past answers is a great study technique—one that I think can benefit many students preparing for the bar exam. But there is no substitute for practice. You should use study tools to help you write the best answer you can write! That’s the best way to find exam success.
Also, when it comes to using multiple commercial outlines, keep in mind that you may see rules phrased slightly differently across the board, and it’s up to you to reconcile the differences and come up with rules you can use on your exam. Also, you should take templates with a big grain of salt. There’s no template that will look exactly like what you will see on your exam, and sometimes practicing with templates can give students a rigid understanding of the legal issues. Your understanding of the law needs to be precise, but it should also be flexible. Going into the exam, you need to feel comfortable discussing whichever issues are triggered by the particular facts you get—not just the ones that you’re used to from the templates. Whenever we have students who want to use these or other similar template products, we always tell them to use common sense and see them for the crutches they are. As with sample essays, they’re never going to be a perfect fit, and you still need to do the hard practice work yourself.
Thanks to BarEssays.com for offering fans of the Bar Exam Toolbox a special on membership! If you’d like to get the coupon code, feel free to email us.
Have you used BarEssays.com? If so, please share your experiences in the comments below.
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Original Review Posted June 2012, Updated April 2016
Best Way to Write a Bar Exam Essay-“IRAC”
While law school students might be able to get away without learning how to properly use and apply IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) on essay examinations, IRAC is an invaluable skill for any person planning on taking and passing the California Bar Exam. Some bar review programs recommend “CREAC” that begins with a stated conclusion, but Barwinners does NOT recommend “CREAC” as most Bar Exam graders prefer the IRAC structure and do not like essays that begin with a conclusion. Essays that begin with the conlusion and work “backwards” can leave the grader with a score “feeling” of 60 or below.
Issue statements on the California Bar Exam should be one or two words, not a sentence. The reader is taking 1-2 minutes to read an entire essay exam, and are looking for the “buzz words” to give you points.
Therefore, the issue headnote for the California Bar should read:
The key here is for bar-takers to be able to identify “trigger” words that indicate to the grader he or she knows how to “spot the issue.”
On law school exams, this statement should be lengthened to one sentence long and state what the problem is about. An example of an issue statement on a law school exam could be:
“Did Dan have First Amendment rights when he spoke at the park?”
Next, one should write a general, memorized rule of law that applies to the hypothetical. If the issue statement is “Can Gill recover against Dustin for defamation?,” one would then insert the rule for defamation.
“Defamation requires a defamatory statement, of and concerning the plaintiff, published to a third party, that causes damages. Then, one must apply the specific facts of the hypothetical to the elements required by the definition: 1) defamatory statement, 2) of and concerning the plaintiff, 3) publication, 4) by a third party, 5) causation, 6) damages. While there should be an overarching IRAC for the defamation issue, there should also be individual, sub-IRAC for each element within defamation (see the six elements listed above).”
Analysis should begin with the sign post word, “Here, P will argue that the statement was defamatory “Petra comes to work with alcohol on her breath” because it lowered her reputation among her office workers, employers, and customers. Then argue, if there is an argument, Dustin’s position as to why it didn’t lower Petra’s reputation. Here, “Petra brags how much she drank the night before in front of the whole office, “ therefore the statement is not defamatory as Petra announced it herself.
It is also best if a student separates defendant and plaintiff arguments into different sections, as to not confuse him/herself or the grader! Switching between plaintiff and defendant arguments within the same paragraph can create confusion, as well as indicate to the grader that the student does not have a strong grasp on the issue.
Then conclude, using the sign post language, “Therefore” and reach a one sentence conclusion. Example: “Therefore, the statement was defamatory.”
At the end of the entire defamation analysis, give a final, overall conclusion.
Outline Your Answer Before You Write Your Essay:
One tool students can use when writing essay-based exams is outlining. Outlining ahead of the exam can prepare students for timed writing situations. Outlining during the exam can help a student stay focused on the issues at hand by creating a roadmap to structure a response, without forgetting key elements and case examples. Outlining is a skill that needs to be taught and then learned. For the California Bar Exam, your score will be determined by the first 15 minutes you spent outlining. It will lay out your entire answer and be well worth the time spent outlining before you begin writing.
Self-grading is another great tool that can help students review practice answers. Many professors provide sample essays without answers, which students can answer and go into office hours to review for professor feedback. Students who struggle with issue-spotting can practice with Bar review materials that have sample answers provided.
California Bar Results Out November 18, 2016 6:00 PMBarWinners- How To Pass The California Out-of-State Attorney’s Exam