The best way to prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam is to put in a lot of practice answering real essay questions and comparing what you wrote to the selected high-scoring answers provided by the California State Bar. Spotting the issues and applying the correct rule of law to the facts are crucial to success, and BarIssues.com provides a systematic way to keep track of where and how often specific issues appear in essay questions.
The California State Bar releases essay questions and selected answers from each bar exam as one big file. If you know you have trouble with a particular subject or issue and want to practice essay questions where that issue appears, you would have to search through those files by hand. Or, you sign up for BarIssues.com, which gives you access to a database of all released essay questions and model answers since 2001, searchable by subject or by issue. Using their online tools, you can search for all essay questions in a particular subject or all essay questions that include a specific issue. It’s also helpful to sort by Number of Exams, to see how many times that issue has appeared.
BarIssues.com offers a six month subscription for $99 or a one year subscription for $149. Users of this website can receive $20 off by using the discount code BREN2736. (This is an affiliate code, which means you also support this website by using it.)
As you study for the bar exam or law school exams, one of the tasks before you is raw memorization of rules. It may seem like there are too many rules to keep in your head at one time, with one subject beginning to fade just as you master another. It’s a bit like juggling. Fortunately, there is a more systematic way to do this: spaced repetition.
To understand how spaced repetition works, picture a low-tech version. You gather all of your flashcards together, along with 3-5 shoeboxes. The boxes are labeled according to how frequently you will study the cards in that box, for instance, Daily, Twice Weekly, Weekly, Every Two Weeks, etc. First, you will go through every flashcard you have, in every subject. By default, each card starts in the Daily box. If you did not know the answer, the card stays in the Daily box. If you did know it, it gets promoted to the Twice Weekly box. At the end of each study session, some number of cards will have been promoted, so you will have fewer cards to study the next day. Twice each week, you go through the Twice Weekly box. If you did not know the answer, the card gets demoted to the Daily box. If you did know the answer, it gets promoted to the Weekly box. And so on. Over time, more cards will be promoted than demoted, with the overall migration being toward the less-frequent boxes. Multiple studies have shown that this system is more efficient than other study methods. When your knowledge of a rule is solid, there is no need to re-study it every day. That brain space should be used for the rules you’re still fuzzy on.
Of course, in the Internet age, there is no need for shoeboxes and paper flashcards. Instead, there is a web-based tool called SeRiouS, or SRS for short, located at www.spacedrepetition.com. Created by a law professor, the site provides electronic flashcards, with the frequency of their presentation following a spaced repetition system. SRS adds the feature of being able to indicate how well you knew an answer on a scale from 0 to 5, from “know it worse” to “know it better,” which determines which electronic shoebox the robots put the flashcard in for you.
SRS has a core set of more than 600 flashcards, with the ability to create custom sets and subscribe to sets that others create. You can also purchase the Emanuel Law in a Flash set. You can sign up through a subscribed law school, or purchase access for $99 per year. There is a 7-day free trial available. And get this: SRS guarantees you will pass your bar exam. If you sign up at least 90 days before the bar exam, use SRS as directed, and don’t pass the bar, you get a full refund. Users of this website can use the discount code conley2019 for 20% off: pay just $79. (This is an affiliate code, which means you also support this website by using it.)
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a day-long multiple-choice test, is the most difficult part of the bar exam for many test takers. Most future lawyers can put together a coherent argument even when they’re a little fuzzy on some of the finer points of the applicable law, and the essays allow one to put those skills to their best use. However, on MBE questions, there is no wiggle room: you either know the law or you don’t. And even when you do, the test makers have a talent for creating problems where the answer choices all seem like they could be correct. The nature of the MBE causes a lot of students to freak out, but there is a way to turn it to your advantage.
The best way to put yourself in the right frame of mind to master the MBE is to read the 20-page introduction to Strategies & Tactics for the Finz Multistate Method, by Steven Finz. The book contains more than a thousand original practice questions in the MBE format, which are excellent. However, the introduction, entitled “Playing the MBE Game to Win,” is itself worth the purchase price.
“Playing the MBE Game to Win” is part pep talk, part deep analysis. Professor Finz points out that although MBE questions can seem maddeningly difficult, the test makers are actually quite limited in what they can do to make the test harder. The amount of law on which the problems can be based is finite, and there can be no trick questions. Each problem must have one demonstrably correct answer, and the other choices must be clearly wrong. Finz reminds us that the test makers are not smarter than we are. They have focused their attention on making this test as difficult as possible, but they actually have very few options. Once you know what those options are, and you imagine yourself in the shoes of the people who create the MBE, you may even begin to feel sorry for them. Their methods are clever, but in the end they have little hope of hiding the correct answer from you.
One thing the test makers do is craft the incorrect answers to be distractors or foils, to draw attention away from the correct answer. A wrong answer choice may be correct except for a single word, or it may seem so bland that it is hard to say how it is wrong. The right answer, in turn, may be disguised by using commonplace language to describe a term that students may have memorized as a rote legal phrase.
Another tool at the test makers’ disposal is the use of conjunctions. In the MBE questions with more complex, compound answer choices, everything may hinge on the use of one of four conjunctions: because, if, only if, or unless. Finz devotes a page to each of these conjunctions, detailing precisely what must be determined when each is used. The more you study the way these conjunctions are used to create distracting wrong answer choices, or disguise the correct answer, the more familiar the patterns of MBE questions will seem to you.
Professor Finz invites you to treat the MBE as a game, and that is truly what it is. Memorizing and understanding the law are just the prerequisites to playing. Now, some members of the profession that you will soon join have used those elements to create a series of little puzzles for you. They only seem difficult until you take them apart to see how they are made.
Did you know that you can become a lawyer without going to law school? Four states — California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington — provide for people to become lawyers by “reading the law,” studying as an apprentice under the guidance of an attorney or a judge. One advantage of this approach is the tremendous amount of money saved on law school tuition.
Reading the law is not new. It was the primary way for people to become lawyers in the U.S. up until the late nineteenth century. Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer by independently reading the law, and he was an advocate of that method of learning.
To learn more, visit The Apprenticeship Journals at LikeLincoln.org, a blog about becoming a lawyer without going to law school.