California Bar Results: What Should I Do If I Just Failed the Bar Exam?

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What should I do if I failed the bar exam?

If you have failed the bar exam, keep in mind that you are in good company. Also, realize that the bar exam is not an IQ test. Many very bright and hardworking examinees fail the exam. As devastating as this experience is, it is important to start thinking about what you need to do next. If you have failed, you will need to do the following:

1) Get past being devastated as quickly as possible – as harsh as this sounds, you really do just need to get back to work as soon as you can. Those that do, have the best chance of passing the next exam. Start by doing MBEs. If you are an attorney taker, start by re-reviewing the California subjects. And most of all, work on a game plan (see infra).

2) This is going to hurt, but – find out why you failed – this starts by getting your scores back from the bar. The bar will automatically mail score sheets to all examinees who failed the bar. This usually takes 1 – 3 days after bar results come out. When you get your scores, don’t panic and don’t make assumptions about any one section. You will receive both a raw score and a scaled score. Take the time to read the materials that come with your score sheet that explain the raw and scaled scores. See also, other posts on this blog about making it to re-read and interpreting bar scores. And, if you need help interpreting your scores, you can get it free through Bar None Review – contact me (Lisa Duncanson) directly at: (Note: I offer this on a first come, first serve basis and for a limited time. To participate you must send a copy of your actual score sheet, including your name and a phone number where you can be reached).

3) Commit to taking and passing the next exam – in almost every case, I would recommend taking the very next bar exam. Obviously there are sometimes reasons to sit out a bar exam administration – but in most cases, the best advice is to take the very next exam. Think about it, the material seems like it has fallen out of your head right now – just think how hard it will be to put it all back together if you wait another six months – that would be a whole year since your last review – not a good plan.

4) Attend our free workshop –  I will be teaching a free, How to Pass the California Bar Exam workshop this Tuesday, November 24th in Los Angeles. A second workshop will be held on Tuesday, December 1st. Students will receive a free copy of our Guide to Passing the California Bar Exam as well as free bar exam writing templates. The workshop will provide substantive coverage on how to successfully write for the California bar examiners, how to develop a plan for succeeding on the February 2016 bar exam, tips for writing Performance Tests and strategies and tactics for success on the bar exam. Space is limited. Click here to reserve your space in the December 1st workshop.

5) Develop a plan of attack – Your plan might include taking another bar review course, hiring a tutor, or continuing your studies on your own. There are many courses available (assuming you already tried barbri) that cater to different needs – small classes, private tutorials. Do your research and due diligence before enrolling in a course. Ask for references, ask to see the course materials before enrolling, make sure the bar review provider is a good fit for your needs. And, don’t abandon your common sense – if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. But, whatever you do (take a course or study on your own) make a plan – figure out how many hours you will study each day, where you will study, how long will you have to review each topic, how many essays you will write each week, how many MBEs you will do each day, how many PTs you will write – figure it out, map it out and develop a plan. For tips on how to create a study plan, click here.

6) Work hard – no matter how hard you worked the first time, you are going to have to work just that hard again. And, if in your honest assessment of your prior bar studies you conclude that you did not work hard enough – well then you are going to have to work harder. There simply is no magic bullet.


Lisa Duncanson

Program Director/Founder
Bar None Review and Bar Exam Cram Session (™)
(213) 529-0990 and

Bar Exam Tip: How to Create a Successful Study Plan for Passing the February 2016 Bar Exam

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Hello Everyone,

One of the most important aspects of your bar study is having a successful study plan. I have written several posts on this topic in the past, but here is an updated version for those of you about to take (and PASS) the February 2016 bar exam!


Before you can develop a successful study plan, it is important to understand what makes a successful study plan. I do not mean an assignment list provided to you by your bar prep provider. Assignment lists or “schedules” like BarBri’s “Pace Program” are, in my opinion, one size fits all, task lists. I personally think these are designed to keep you busy more than actually prepare you for the bar exam. When I refer to a successful study plan – I mean an actual “study plan” –  a plan for success. A successful study plan not only includes assignments – like completing MBEs, writing practice essays, reviewing and memorizing the substantive law – but it also takes into account the realities of your day – “I need to eat”, “I need to rest”, “I need to exercise”, “I need to keep my stress level at a manageable level”, “I need to work part time” or “I need to work full time.” These are all critical to your success on the bar exam, and will play as important a role in your success on the bar, as your actual bar study.


A successful study plan requires: taking into account your weaknesses and strengths, establishing a routine and habit of study, creating and adhering to a realistic routine that will address your weaknesses and maintain or improve your strengths while also taking into account the amount of time that you actually have available to study (for example, whether you have all day to study, or you work part time, or you are working full time, juggling the responsibilities of work and children and life in general). See below for a sample one day study schedule. Incidentally, most of my students are repeat bar takers and are working full time jobs and have only a few hours each week to study – and yet, they succeed. So, first off – I want you to recognize that you can succeed on this exam even if you do not have 8 to 14 hours a day to study. And, in fact studying 14 hours a day, can actually be counterproductive.

Finally, a successful study plan should maximize your effectiveness by scheduling the right kinds of work during the right times of day or evening (for example, it does not make much sense to practice MBE questions at 9:00 pm after a long work day when you are exhausted). Instead, get up earlier the next day to do MBEs in the morning before going to work. Even if all you can do is five or ten MBEs before going to work, do it. And, do it every day and you will establish a routine. This repetition and routine keeps your head in the game and your mind invested in the pursuit of passing.


No matter what your circumstances, starting your studies early is always a good idea. Even if it is just a few hours a week. If you will be working part time or full time in the months leading up to the bar exam, then beginning your studies early s critical. Whatever your circumstances, be sure to sit down and make a plan. Planning ahead and starting your studies early is like having bar exam insurance. Keep this in mind: I have never met a student who regretted starting their studies early – but, students often regret not starting soon enough.


Be realistic and don’t be so hard on yourself. One of the most common things that my students come to me over is their worries that they are not doing enough. This is because they are deeply invested in their future (understandably) and they fear that the amount of time that they have to devote to their studies will simply not be enough. Students are often very hard on themselves for having not completed the 50 MBEs they set out to do that day – and rather than focusing on what they actually DID accomplish (maybe it was 20 or 30 MBES) they focus on the 20 they did not complete. That is not what you should do. Clearly you must work and work hard to succeed. But, be mindful of the fact that quality is important – going through the motions might get you through 50 MBEs. But, it would be better to spend a more intensive time on fewer MBEs and actually learn from your mistakes so that you will not make those same mistakes again.

Things are bound to come up during the next few months – things you may not have planned on happening. So, it will likely be necessary to make adjustments to your study plan based upon what is realistic for you. You may discover that your initial plan of completing 50 MBEs after attending a four hour bar review lecture is just simply not realistic for you. While it is very important to do a significant number of MBEs and to write many practice exams, you should also realize that this practice is best done at your peak times – when you are most alert. Therefore, you may decide to complete 20 MBEs before going to your bar review lecture and then an additional 20 MBEs after your bar review lecture. Or, you might decide NOT to go to your videotaped bar review lecture . . . and instead study what YOU need to study. It IS okay to do that.


One of the key features of any successful study plan is to establish a routine. While you will have some study days where your study day ends earlier or goes later, the key is in establishing a regular routine. This includes where you will study, how often you eat, exercise, take breaks as well as the types of study you do during the day and when. For example – getting in the habit/routine of completing MBEs every morning at the same time and place every day, writing practice essays on a regular basis (for example, you might use the following routine: write a practice essay every Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Below you will find an example of a typical study day from a good study plan. Here is a sample study day for someone who does not have to work and can devote their entire time to bar study: Note that other study days would likely incorporate writing practice exams and/or attending a bar review lecture or workshop). Also, if like many examinees, you have to work part time or full time while studying for the bar exam, I can help you put together a study plan that is tailored to your schedule so that you are able to maximize the time that you do have.

SAMPLE ONE DAY STUDY SCHEDULE (Note: if you are working full time, this could be your plan of attack for  a weekend day):

7:00 am – workout – short run or walk – (For example, 1 mile run/walk through your neighborhood)

7:30/7:45 am – shower, have a healthy breakfast and “disconnect for the day”. By disconnecting for the day, I mean: disconnect from your cell phone, the internet, text messaging and anything else that can lead to wasted time and loss of focus. This is really critical. Protect your study time, commit to certain study hours and refrain from checking email, voice mail, surfing the internet, checking and replying to text messages, and prepare your friends and family for your absence – see post: “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).

8:30 – 9:30 am – Complete 30 – 33 Torts MBEs

9:30 am – Take five minute break (do a couple of jumping jacks, just move around for a bit, eat a quick and healthy snack – for example, grab 6 or 8 almonds. Healthy snacks throughout the day are important to ensure a successful study day. We have all heard that eating small amounts throughout the day will help to keep your blood sugar level steady. This will help maintain your energy level throughout the day as well and will lead to a much more productive study day).

9:35 am – check answers for the Torts MBEs above, review the explanations and make flashcards for each missed MBE. (Note: the amount of time this will take will vary and depend upon how many MBEs you missed, so take the time you need – the corrections you make now will result in a higher MBE score later on).

10:30 am – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move a bit, eat an apple or some other healthy snack like a couple of stalks of celery with peanut butter.

10:40 am – BEGIN ESSAY ISSUE SPOTTING EXERCISE. Read through four torts essays. For each essay, use the following method: 1) read and issue spot the essay, 2) quickly check the model answer to see if you correctly identified the issues, 3) if you did not spot all of the issues then go back to the fact pattern and try to identify which facts trigger the issues that you missed, 4) read the entire model answer, 5) study the model answer and create your own outline from the answer – this outline should be your model for how to approach this essay in the future. You will likely spend about 40 – 50 minutes per essay (15 minutes to issues spot, 5 minutes to check your issues, 20 – 30 minutes to sort out missed issues and to create your own outline/approach for tackling this essay in the future).

10:40 – 11:20 am – Torts Essay One (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

11:20 am – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.

11:25 am – 12:05 pm – Torts Essay Two (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

12:05 pm – 12: 50 pm- lunch break – eat healthy, have something you enjoy, relax (AVOID: email, cell phone, t.v., surfing the net – these are all potential distractions that could lead to lost time – how many times have you just intended to “quickly check your email” and found that it lead to getting involved in replying to emails, becoming emotionally engaged in someone else’s problem, or simply just wasting an hour surfing the web. Don’t take the risk of picking up your cell phone or checking your email. Instead, protect the time you have promised to yourself to study – guard it. See also: post about “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).

12:50 – 1:30 pm – Torts Essay Three (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

1:30 – 1:35 pm – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.

1:35 – 2:15 pm – Torts Essay Four (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

2:15 – 2:25 pm – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move around, perhaps go outside for some fresh air, have a healthy snack.

2:25 pm – OUTLINE REVIEW – Study/review Contracts substantive outline – it is recommended that you conduct your review in 50 minute increments, taking a 5 or 10 minute break every 50 minutes. This will enable you to study more hours per day and to study more effectively/productively because the breaks will prevent fatigue and will allow for more alert study periods. See recommended outline study intervals below:

2:25 – 3:15 pm – Review Contracts outline (see above).

3:15 – 3:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch).

3::25 – 4:15 – Continue Contracts outline review.

4:15 – 4:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch, eat a healthy snack).

4:25 – 5:15 pm – Continue Contracts outline review

5:15 – 6:15 pm – Dinner break – get up, move around, stretch, eat something healthy, make a short phone call to a supportive friend, spouse or family member – the key here is to only contact someone who is supportive of you, positive and aware and respectful of your commitment to study for and pass the bar).

6:15 – 7:15 pm – REVIEW TWO CONTRACTS ESSAYS (Spend 30 minutes for each essay and do the following: 1) Read and issue spot Contracts essay (15 minutes), 2) Check issues against the answer, read entire answer and make note of missed issues (15 minutes).

7:15 – 7:20 pm – Take a 5 minute break.

7:20 – 8:00 pm – REVIEW ESSAY APPROACHES FOR TORTS (Review the approaches/outlines that you created for the four Torts essays earlier during the day. The reason this makes sense is that you will reinforce the issue spotting and organization that you learned from your earlier review. And, since exam fact patterns repeat over and over again from one bar exam to the next, this review of past bar essays is one of the most effective ways to improve your issues spotting ability and to prepare for writing a well organized essay. Spend about ten minutes to review each essay outline/approach).

8:00 pm – End your study and relax.

Ultimately, your success on the bar exam will not come down to counting up how many MBEs you completed or how many hours you spent memorizing the law, but instead, it will come from a combination of things – most important of which is consistency and quality in your review.

Be positive, be flexible and adhere to a regular and realistic routine. In addition, keep in mind that your goal when reviewing a topic on a given day is not necessarily to master the entire subject that day. Instead, your goal should be to gain a better understanding of the topic that day and to recognize that you will need to repetitively review every topic over a period of time (two months is typical) in order to truly master it.

Above all, work at maintaining a positive attitude. This will be much easier to do if you begin with realistic goals. And, should you find yourself spending hours and hours in a 150 page outline for one topic (I DO NOT RECOMMEND SPENDING HOURS REVIEWING LENGTHY OUTLINES) consider using a much more condensed version for that subject.

Good luck to you!

Lisa Duncanson
Program Director/Founder (213) 529-0990
Bar None Review and The Bar Exam Cram Session (TM)

California Bar Exam Results: Three Days and Counting!


Hello all, California bar exam results for the February 2015 bar exam are just three days away! I want to wish everyone who is waiting for results the very best of luck! As every bar examinee experiences, these final days are very nerve racking. No matter how well you prepared or how positive you feel about your performance on the exam – you are bound to be worried in these final days. These months of waiting are very difficult. But, these last few days are probably the hardest. it is completely normal to feel worried in these final days. The last week seems to take forever and these final days of waiting are always somehow the most difficult. But, hang in there. Your wait is almost over and good or bad, you will know and be able to plan one way or the other. All the best to all of you who are waiting. For those of you preparing for the July 2015 bar exam, I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching two free, “How to Pass the California Bar Exam” Workshops on May 20th and May 27th. Both workshops will be held in Los Angeles. The workshops will focus on writing for the California bar examiners as well as: test taking strategies, study plans, and simply how to get through this grueling exam with passing results! If you have failed the bar exam previously, this workshop is an excellent program to jumpstart your studies and to figure out how to prepare differently this time. I will also address the Civil Procedure MBE updates to the February 2015 bar exam and how to prepare for this new section of the MBEs. Space is limited, so please sign up early to secure your spot.

Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 20, 2015:

How to Pass the July 2015 California Bar Exam Workshop – May 20, 2015, 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm. Los Angeles, California – taught by the Bar Exam Guru! Back by popular demand, our next “How to Pass the California Bar Exam Workshop” will be held on May 20th in Los Angeles. Our workshops fill up quickly. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis. This workshop is free and includes free bar exam templates. Parking is free. Space is limited. Click here to make your reservation for the Los Angeles May 20th Free Workshop.

Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 27, 2015:

How to Pass the July 2015 California Bar Exam Workshop – May 27, 2015, 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm. Los Angeles, California – taught by the Bar Exam Guru! We have added a second “How to Pass the California Bar Exam Workshop” to be held on May 27th in Orange County. Our workshops fill up quickly. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis. This workshop is free and includes free bar exam templates. Space is limited. Parking is free. Click here to make your reservation for the Los Angeles May 27th Free Workshop. Unfortunately, we cannot make these workshops available online. However, we hope to see you in person! Incidentally, each bar round students fly in from out of the area to attend both our free workshop and our Cram Sessions. Again, all the best to everyone who is waiting for February bar results! Lisa Duncanson Program Director/Founder Bar None Review Bar Exam Cram Session (213) 529-0990

California Bar Exam: What to Expect on Day Three’s Essays

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Hello all,

Hopefully you are getting some rest (as I am writing this, it is about 1:00 am, before your MBE day). I want to congratulate you again on being done with day one of the California bar exam! Also, thank you again to all who wrote in about what was tested today. I really appreciate your taking the time during your break to write to me, thank you.

And, one more thing, thank you again for following my blog. We have had over 650,000 views now and I am truly humbled (and grateful) for the following here. And, I do answer questions, as much as I can, so if you have a question, please feel free to ask. You can either reply to any of the Bar Exam Tips Lists emails or, if you have yet to sign up for the Bar Exam Tips List (it is not too late, by the way) you can ask me a question in the “comments or questions” field – I do actually read all of your emails and I will do my best to respond to you as quickly as I can.

Okay, it is truly my hope that right now you are sleeping. If you are not sleeping, then I hope you are at least resting. Pulling an all-nighter studying is NOT what I would recommend.

For most of you (all who are taking the general bar exam) you will be taking the MBEs on day two. I mention this simply because some reading this blog are taking the exam over six days and some as attorney takers do not have to take the MBEs on day two.

If you are taking the MBEs on day two, then here are some recommendations:

1) You might want to consider simply completing five or ten MBEs in the am to shake of the dust so to speak. I would not recommend that you necessarily even score these MBEs, but just consider taking a few as a way of putting your mindset back into this part of the exam. If you do decide to check your answers (I probably wouldn’t if it were me on the day of the MBEs) do not worry about your actual percentage correct of the five or ten you did. Instead, if you did well – choose to see that as indicative of your likely performance for the rest of the day and if you did not do well, then simply dismiss it as not at all dispositive of how you are going to do on the actual exam. Do you see what I am driving at? An absolutely, 100 percent POSITIVE attitude. This is a necessity (in my opinion) for success on the bar exam. An equally acceptable thing to do prior to the MBEs in the morning would be to do nothing. Or, review a few flashcards – it really doesn’t matter so much what you do in the am right before other than YOUR believing that what you are doing in those moments leading up to the first 100 MBEs is the right thing for YOU to be doing.

2) Expect to not see a correct answer choice and expect this to be the case often. No one that I know of (past student or blog follower – and I have spoken with and worked with thousands of examinees over the years) leaves the MBE feeling like they absolutely nailed it and that for every MBE they felt they were always picking the correct answer. Some feel better about the MBEs than others. But, for the most part, examinees leave this portion of the exam feeling as though they need to really kick it into gear on the remaining essays and PTs in order to pass. So what does this really mean? It means that the MBEs are hard, very hard. I know, you didn’t need me to tell you that – nothing really new. BUT, what is significant is this: you need to be prepared (in my opinion) for feeling like you are not doing very well on the MBEs and you simply need to get through it, be tough and know that if it is difficult for you, then it is also difficult for nearly everyone else.

Do NOT let this test get the better of you. This is a choice that you have to make facing the entire test – that you will remain positive and optimistic about your chances and that you will not let this beast of an exam shake your confidence in your ability to pass. That is half the battle.

3) When you are done with today’s MBEs, take a little bit of a break so that you are able to release the physical tension that builds up over the course of the day of taking MBEs. Go for a walk outside if you can, take a dinner break and eat something healthy and relax, take a bath – whatever will help you decompress both mentally and physically from the day of testing. Of course, this is limited – you really can’t just let it all go, and you really should consider doing some review for the following day’s essays. But, do try to do something(s) to put the day behind you.

What to do for day three’s essays/what to expect?

First, really anything could be tested on day three’s essays – even a topic that you already saw today. For example, in past bar rounds Contract/Remedies was tested on day one on the essays and then it showed up again on day three’s essays as a cross over with Tort/Remedies (so it was part Contract/Contract Remedies and part Torts/TortsRemedies). This is pretty unusual and it threw most you can be sure. But, you should know it is possible. Do I suggest spending a bunch of time on Remedies for Thursday? No, but I would definitely not put it completely behind you – spend a few minutes reviewing it enough that if you had to address the basic concepts and to address injunction for example, that you would be able to do so.

So far everything that was tested on Day One’s Essays was absolutely expected – there were no surprises.

Day three is harder to predict. But, I still think you could see a Criminal Law Murder exam (see my earlier posts from this week regarding the other areas I posted as suggested areas of study – I still stand by these based upon what was tested on day one). I would definitely consider giving a little bit of time to Wills (either as a solo topic or crossed over with Trusts) as well as the area of Business Organizations – although, I do not necessarily think that you will see both of these topics show up – I DO think that either Wills or Business Organizations is about equally likely of showing up. So be prepared for both topics.

As I stated previously (both here on the blog and in the tips list emails sent out so for for this bar round) Constitutional Law (Dormant Commerce Clause) is still on my list of possibilities as are: Evidence or even Community Property (again, and this would be the fourth time in a row) but, if Community Property, then I would expect it as a crossover with something else (understand – I am not “predicting” Community Property, I am just re-iterating that the examiners can test in any area (whether that area was tested recently or not).

The real issue is, since you did not see a Professional Responsibility Essay on Day One, whether you will see it as an essay on Day Three. Most would say yes, and I would tend to generally agree with this as it is historically the case to almost always see at least one essay on the exam that tests Professional Responsibility. But, it is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that Professional Responsibility will show up somewhere on the written portion of the bar exam. Sometimes this means that Professional Responsibility shows up on both days of the essays (the February 2008 bar exam tested a straight Professional Responsibility essay on day one and then tested Professional Responsibility again on one of the essays on day three – but as a cross over with Business Organizations). Some bar rounds it shows up on both a PT and an essay and some rounds it only shows up on one or both of the PTs. So this is an unknown. Understand, that I do not discuss the Performance Tests until the conclusion of the bar exam (which for some examinees is not until the end of the day on Sunday).

If you signed up earlier this week for our February 2015 Bar Exam Tips List, you would have received sample essays and answers (one of which was quite similar to what was tested today in Property – so I am told). I also sent out a Dormant Commerce Clause essay, two in fact) and other handouts. These are still available (up through this Thursday). If you would like to receive these, simply sign up for the Bar Exam Tips List by completing the form below.

Thank you again for following my blog. I truly am humbled by the following, by your emails (which I do personally respond to and enjoy doing) and kind words you have shared. Thank you.

Remember, believe in yourself and do not let this test get the better of you.

All the best on the MBEs (for those of you taking this portion) and on the rest of the exam. I will be writing more soon. As always, I appreciate any feedback, questions or comments you have.


Lisa Duncanson


California Bar Exam: Last Minute PT Tips

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Hello All,

By the time you are reading this post, you will be done with Day One’s Essays, congratulations!!!

Here are some last minute tips for the performance test:

1. Follow the instructions carefully! Exam pressure can lead to missing things and to misreading instructions – so slow it down enough to make sure you are not missing something in the instructions. You are going to base your whole answer on your interpretation of the senior partner memo (the letter to you from your would be boss) – so make certain you read it very carefully and more than once! (See more on following instructions, and evidencing that you have followed instructions, in # 2 below).

With respect to following instructions, do so to a T. If the senior partner memo tells you not to write a statement of facts, then do not write a statement of facts. Pay close attention to the instructions you are provided. Failure to adhere closely to these instructions will cost you dearly – so be careful!  Examinees are often in a rush to get through the materials quickly and end up missing something in the instructions, failing to pick up some of the easier points. So make sure you read through the senior partner memo a few times and be certain about what you are being asked to do.

 2. Make your answer look like it is an answer to that particular performance test. Whatever you are asked to do on the performance test, make sure that you create a document that looks like what you were asked to produce. There will typically be two places from which to obtain your format and instructions for the document you are asked to prepare. The first source is the from the senior partner memo (the letter to you from your would be boss). The second source is also in the case file portion of your performance test and it is a firm wide memo (usually with the title: “To all associates . . .”) that provides instructions on how to write an appellate brief or a memorandum (or whatever it is that you are being asked to write). It is critical that you refer to both of these sources to make certain that you include all sections that you are supposed to include (assuming there are sections, i.e., statement of facts, or point headings, etc.) in your document.

These two sources will also help you to format and organize your document – for example, if you are asked to write a memorandum about the the Constitutionality of a proposed ordinance, then a) you need to make sure that your document is identified as a “memorandum” and b) you need to make certain that your document visually makes it clear that you are in fact addressing the constitutionality of a proposed ordinance. This may seem obvious and it may seem less important than figuring out what the cases mean, but the reality is that many examinees simply fail to do some of these very basic things and end up losing points. So, make certain that you do not forget to make your performance test answer look like it is the very document that you have been asked to produce.

3. How do I know which cases to use? Use them all. Seriously. Really. Do not be afraid. Try to find a use for each case. That is it.

4. What part of the statutes should I include? Assuming you have statutes (not all performance tests do) then look to see which parts of the statutes are referred to in the cases. It is a pretty safe bet that you should also use the sections that the cases refer to as well.

5. Use headings. (first make sure you follow any format that you are instructed to follow). Always err on the side of following instructions. Some of your formatting will likely come from the instructions (either from the senior partner memo and/or potentially from a firm wide, memo to “all associates” in the case file). Remember that your performance test answer (whether it is a memorandum, a points and authorities, an appellate brief, a letter to a client, a closing or opening argument) it is still an exam answer. It will be graded by a human being and you need to be cognizant of that – make it easy to read and easy to follow. Use headings.

6. What if I don’t finish my answer? This is not an option. You need to make certain that you do finish your answer. Just do it. I take my job very seriously and I work hard, I go the distance, I do whatever it takes to get whatever I need done. Why am I telling you this? Because you should too – you should work your butt off and I don’t just mean in your preparation for the bar exam – but I mean right now, right now on this test, today. Suck it up and get through it. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but if you want to pass this thing then go after it, especially in these last hours. Insist on finishing today’s performance test – because you can and because you need to.

7. Okay, but what if I don’t finish my answer? Sigh. Okay, if you see that you are not going to finish what you had planned on writing, then adapt and do so quickly. The clock may not be your friend, but it does not have to be your enemy either. Watch it, keep track of your time. Don’t wait for the proctor to provide a time warning for you to know how much time you have left to finish. Keep track of your time and speed things up as you need to in order to finish your answer. And, if you are really up against the wall, then make it look like you have finished. If it is appropriate for the document that you are writing, then add a heading for “conclusion” and have a few sentences or a paragraph summarizing as best you can what you have written. And, you can even pre-write a conclusion if you think it will help (this is really only helpful to laptop examinees).

8. Be POSITIVE! (I know, how nice of me to yell at you to be positive :)) Seriously though, please do not be miserable – it will only hurt your performance. No one forced you to go to law school (well, I hope not). You presumedly wanted to do this, you want to be a lawyer. Therefore, today is about doing what you want to be doing – taking and passing the bar exam. Be proud of all the hard work you put in to get to where you are right now. So many people say things like: “I was going to go to law school” or “I always wanted to go to law school” . . . well you did go to law school. Be proud of that and don’t let the struggle of the bar exam take any of that away from you. Now go kick the bar exam’s butt!

All the best of luck this afternoon!

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director
Bar Exam Cram Session and Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and

California Bar Exam: Criminal Law Murder Approach

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Hello Everyone,

Thank you again for following the blog. I mentioned earlier that murder might be on the exam. It has been absent for some time and would seem to be due. Of course, anything is possible. And, if you were studying for the bar at any time in the past couple of years, then you will know that many have been predicting a murder exam for some time. It was on my list of possible essay scenarios for July 2014 (along with Criminal Procedure – which did actually show up on the last exam).

But, most seem to have put aside the idea of a Criminal Murder exam showing up on this bar exam. I would not do that. (But, understand – my theory and philosophy towards the bar exam is to be ready for anything – I firmly believe that is the best way to prepare). And, if you have studied past bar exams, you know that on any particular bar round any subject is possible. Since murder has not been tested in a very long time, it would be a good idea to be prepared for it. The following is from an earlier post that I wrote covering the basic murder approach that we have seen traditionally embraced by the California bar examiners. You may have come across this post earlier if you have been searching through older posts. If so, this will be familiar to you – either way it is a good refresher.

Incidentally, if murder were to show up on the exam on day one or day three of the February 2015 bar exam, then I would not be surprised if it were crossed over with some of the lesser tested areas of Criminal Procedure. We have not seen any 8th Amendment issues in some time (see the “Free Stuff” page for a free download of an exam template for this area) and we also have not seen much testing of the 6th Amendment areas of void dire (peremptory challenges, right to an impartial jury, etc.). So these areas could easily be tested this bar round. Evidence is also an area that can repeat and sometimes we see it as a cross-over with Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure (and if you read my post from a few days ago – we have seen it tested with Wills and Community Property as a cross over with marital and spousal privileges).

It is this simple – as I have always maintained over the many years of writing this blog – the bar examiners can test anything on any bar exam round. I do not say this to send you into a panic. It is simply true. As a result, there will be topics that you are hoping for and there will probably be a few you hope not to get – that is the nature of the bar exam. But, you can do it, do NOT give up no matter what you see on the exam –  write your heart out tomorrow.

Did you know that many topics show up back to back (from one bar round to the next) sometimes even three times in a row? Therefore, all bets are simply off on presuming something is not likely to come up.

My main focus in writing during the bar exam days is to simply provide you with something to hang onto, some peace of mind and hopefully even a little bit of sanity.  

I know how demanding and draining and how seemingly impossible taking this exam can sometimes feel like to examinees. But, it doesn’t have to be that way – sometimes a few words of encouragement – or a quick review of an approach – like the approach below :) – can be all a person needs to make that little bit of difference between passing and failing. That is why I write here. I tell you this as a source of encouragement: it is completely normal to be a little bit freaked out about tomorrow (assuming you are awake – like most, and are thinking about the exam). This is normal. It is also normal to feel somewhat calm – we are all different. There is no one size fits all approach to this exam. Ideally you would get a good nights sleep before the bar exam. Some do. I never did – and yet I passed. So where ever you are at (asleep early or awake still and reading this post) you can do it!


As a bar taker you undoubtedly have a very good grasp of the rules for Murder. However, it is very important that you are able to make your way through all of the necessary points efficiently and in a manner that the grader will recognize as a passing or above passing answer.

Here is a quick, basic essay approach for murder. (Note that you should use a lot of headings and have a physical structure that evidences your approach – this will give the graders a sense that you actually know what you are talking about and it will make your essay far more appealing to read, it will appear organized and it will make it easier for you to write your answer because you have an approach).

Approach for handling a murder question:

Address: Common Law Murder – Common Law Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is proven four ways: 1) intent to kill, 2) intent to inflict great bodily injury, 3) depraved heart killings, and 4) felony murder.

(Address the above and then if you have a felony murder issue, prove up the underlying felony (BARRKS – Burglary, Arson, Robbery, Rape, Kidnapping or Sodomy – incidentally, if this area is tested, the examiners may not test one of the above common law inherently dangerous felonies – watch out for a dangerous felony like drug trafficking or another dangerous (but not enumerated as a FMR felony) felony – it forces you to reach a bit and explain that the prosecutor could charge the defendant for felony murder on the basis that it was an inherently dangerous felony, but not a common law enumerated (BARRKS) felony)

Then move onto:

Statutory Degrees of Murder

First Degree Murder: First degree murder is the intentional killing with malice aforethought, premeditation and deliberation. (here do not spend all day on defining or explaining premeditation or deliberation – it either was premeditated and deliberate (lying in wait, planned, thought out etc.) or it wasn’t – address the issue and conclude and move on).

Second Degree Murder (here is the quick way: “all murders that are not first degree are second degree unless mitigated down to some form of manslaughter”).


There are two types of manslaughter (Voluntary and Involuntary). If you know right away that the facts support a heat of passion killing, then address that first under Manslaughter as: Voluntary Manslaughter. (By the way, anytime there is a fight that results in a death – you should address heat of passion/voluntary manslaughter)

Voluntary Manslaughter: is a killing that would be murder but for the existence of adequate provocation and insufficient cooling time. (there are elements here that you could develop, but, the reality is that if you have a cross over exam and it involves a full murder discussion – from common law murder to manslaughter, then you simply do not have a lot of time. So spend your time focusing on whether what happened would arouse the passions of reasonable person to kill AND whether or not the person did not have time to cool).

Involuntary Manslaughter: A killing is involuntary manslaughter if it was committed with criminal negligence or during the commission of an unlawful act.

There is also the concept of Misdemeanor Manslaughter Rule – it is simply an accidental killing that occurs while the defendant is engaged in a non-dangerous felony or misdemeanor.

Obviously there are defenses like: Intoxication, Insanity (know the four tests as best you can), self defense, defense of others etc. that can all word to either relieve the defendant of liability for common law murder and reduce the crime down to some form of manslaughter. Keep in mind the above is a basic approach. But, sometimes that is really the best thing to have in your head on the day of the exam. You should have a framework or basic approach and then allow yourself the freedom to write your answer based on the particular fact pattern you face.

If you were to get a murder essay, I am thinking it could be in the context of Criminal Procedure (specifically in the context of the 8th Amendment and/or 6th Amendment).

Best of luck to you all!

Lisa Duncanson

Program Director/Founder
Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and

How to Pass the California Bar Exam – Free Workshop

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Hello all,

Good luck to everyone who is waiting for July bar results!

For those of you preparing for the February 2015 bar exam, I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching another free, “How to Pass the California Bar Exam Workshop” on December 3, 2014. This workshop will focus on writing for the California bar examiners as well as: test taking strategies, study plans, and simply how to get through this grueling exam with passing results! If you have failed the bar exam previously, this workshop is an excellent program to jumpstart your studies and to figure out how to prepare differently this time. I will also address the updates to the February 2015 bar exam. The workshop is limited to thirty attendees, so please sign up early to secure your spot.

Unfortunately, we cannot make this workshop available online. However, we hope to see you in person! To register, click here and be sure to check out our Bar Exam Cram Session Website for our other course offerings.

All the best to everyone who is waiting for July bar results!

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director Bar None Review and Bar Exam Cram Session