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What are the Best Tips for Writing Bar Exam Essays?

By L. Burgoon
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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A bar exam, the comprehensive test that certifies law school graduates and others to practice law, typically includes an essay portion. Bar exam essays are just as important as the multiple choice sections, but there is more room for subjective grading since a person, rather than a computer, evaluates the answer. Among the best tips include preparing well in advance for the essay section in a bar exam review course or with a bar exam tutor. On exam day, outline the answers to ensure that all salient points are included. Do not become overburdened with case law examples, however; in general, it is more important to demonstrate a legal understanding of the issue at hand rather than gratuitously throw in references.

Practice is vital to successful bar exam essays. A preparation course or tutor can help would-be lawyers practice the writing skills necessary for a great essay or exam takers can practice on their own. For self practice, there are many sample bar exam essay questions and answers available on the Internet. In particular, apply the IRAC (issue, rule, application, conclusion) strategy taught in many law school legal writing classes. This approach encourages thorough legal analysis; by rehearsing ahead of the bar exam, test takers are more likely to write acceptable essays.

On test day, read over each essay question several times to ensure maximum comprehension. Then take a few minutes to outline each response. This provides a chance to properly organize thoughts, insert arguments, and weed out extraneous information that detracts from answer.

Working from the outline and using the IRAC strategy, write a comprehensive essay that includes all of the important legal arguments. Be as thorough as possible in the answer, but remember that the essay should flow. Do not insert points out of the blue just to impress the grader; instead make sure the thoughts are relevant to the main argument. Take the time to acknowledge and refute counterpoints to your argument to demonstrate a complete understanding of the question.

Citing case law in bar exam essays is important, but too much focus on specific cases can distract the writer from her main arguments. Instead of worrying about specific case citations, explain and apply the legal concepts relevant to the question. This strategy helps the test writer avoid straying too far from the outline and maintains the essay’s readability.

After completing bar exam essays, read them over thoroughly. Ensure that the answers make sense. Above all, confirm that the answers include logical arguments and conclusions. Go back and revise any material that does not deal directly with the questions at hand.

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