Last week I wrote about the importance of practicing for performance and learning how to construct responses to essay questions. Today’s post develops this concept a bit.

If you’ve looked at a bar exam essay question, you know that they are different from law school exam essays. Bar exam essay questions are easy with no unnecessary facts, red herrings, or tricks. Unlike law school exam responses which require in-depth analysis, counter-analysis, and policy arguments, bar exam responses should be simple and formulaic with shallow fact application. They are easy but different so you must learn how write a strong response.

You are only a few weeks in to studying so answering essay questions may seem counter-intuitive because you don’t know the law and it’s hard to write about something you don’t know. It may even seem like wasted time and effort. Trust me, it’s not and here’s why:

  • Learn in context. Use your notes/outline to answer a question. This is effective and efficient because it incorporates the what and the how into the same process.
  • Practice for performance. Seeing the question is a preview of what you will be tested on and how it will appear on the exam.
  • Familiarize yourself with the questions. Fact patterns repeat and question structures are often based on a basic pattern. Identify what those patterns are so you know how to prepare for them.

Here is an example that illustrates these points:

You get a Torts essay question where the plaintiff is a repairperson injured while fixing the sink. She tripped on a tear in the carpet while walking from her toolbox to the sink. You know its negligence and think, “duty, breach, cause, damages” and go to the commercial outline where there are 12 pages on the topic. This is too much information. You flip through and under “duty” you see a section on “landowner liability.” You see that the landowner’s duty depends on the plaintiff’s status at the time of injury and realize that your analysis should focus on this rule, not the general “duty, breach, cause, damages.” You confirm this by looking through the hypo again where you see facts about plaintiff’s status as an invitee as well as the open and obvious defense. You use the outline to craft synthesized rule statements and then work through the problem making sure to apply the specific facts to your rules.  

  • Did this take a little longer than 30 minutes? Probably.
  • Do you now have a strategy for how to answer a premises liability question? Yes.
  • Is it a better response than had you tried to use “duty, breach, cause, damages?” Absolutely.

This is the difficult part of the process but you have to keep practicing. You’ll improve a little bit each time and in just a few weeks, it will be second nature.

Check back tomorrow for strategies on learning in context and how practicing essays helps you learn the material.



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