Five Things that Make the Bar Exam Hard
Have you ever read a bar question? No? Are you getting ready to sit for the July 2012 bar exam?
Then I recommend you go online to the state bar website and download some questions. The California bar website has essay questions and performance exams going back to 2002.
So print out a few essay questions and one performance test (or download the PDFs if you are trying to save a few trees). Now read them.
As you read the essay question, I want you to ask yourself, “Is this question really that hard?”
I would like to argue, no, the question isn’t that hard. Typically, the fact patterns are about half a page to three quarters of a page long. Although some questions will test law that may not seem like common knowledge, some (like a question from July 2010) test negligence. And we all remember negligence, right?
Have you ever read an MBE question? No? Then you should read one of those too! The MBE actually publishes some retired questions. So take a look!
Now let’s take the performance test (also available on the state bar website). Read the task memo. What is it asking you to do? Typically, it is asking you to write some sort of memo or pleading. Have you done that before? Likely, your answer is yes. Have you read cases to pull out relevant law? Yes. So again, ask yourself, “Is this really that hard?”
Well, of course, the bar exam is hard — or more people would pass it. But as you get ready to think about getting ready for the exam, I want you to think about what makes the bar exam difficult. Because knowing what makes it difficult will help you study and prepare.
So here you go — my thoughts on what makes the bar difficult:
(1) The amount of law you need to learn. In California there are 13 bar exam subjects (depending on how you count them). That is a lot of law. It can be very overwhelming, when you compare it with your law school career, when you used to study for perhaps four finals at once — not 13.
(2) The focus on test-taking skills. Many people may not realize it, but other than testing the law, the bar requires you to be an excellent test-taker (time management skills and essay writing skills are definitely also being tested).
(3) Time pressure. You have to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. Think about the essay you read. Could you write an answer in 60 minutes? Or draft the performance test memo in 90 minutes (after you have spent 90 minutes reading and outlining)?
(4) Fear around multiple choice. A lot of folks hate multiple-choice questions. To be honest, I don’t like them either. But they are approximately a third of the test. You need to realize that multiple choice is an important part of the exam and an area where you can practice and get better.
(5) The pressure we put on ourselves to pass. One of the most common statements made by students is what happens if I fail. Yes, it is terrible if you fail the bar exam. I hope that you don’t have to live through that! But it is important to maintain perspective to keep the anxiety from getting out of control and becoming detrimental to the work you are doing to prepare.
Keeping in mind the five things that make the bar difficult will help you study smarter. If you need help, ask for it! Please contact me if you would like to talk about bar exam tutoring.