California Bar Exam Tip: Essay Predictions

If you have read past postings, you will know that I believe it is not wise to base your studies on essay predictions. Instead, you should prepare for all subjects equally. However, this does not mean that it isn’t a good idea to know what has been tested in recent examinations or to develop a sense of which topics or combinations of topics might be likely scenarios on the upcoming exam. This just makes sense. You should know the test you are about to take extremely well.

Each bar round our students take a three-day, simulated bar exam. The exam is given under exam conditions. We use real bar exam questions for the exam. In preparing this mock bar exam, I review the past 6 bar administrations. I do this to determine which topics I will include in that bar round’s mock exam. I choose exam topics that I have not seen in recent administrations as I believe that these may have a greater likelihood of showing up on the next bar exam.

One of the certain things about the California bar exam essay section is this: each bar round the examiners repeat one or two (and sometimes even three) of the subjects that were tested on the prior bar exam. Usually it is at least two subjects that repeat. If you look at the past bar exam administrations you will see proof that the subjects repeat from one round to the next. As a result, it makes trying to predict the next set of essay subjects to be tested unrealistic. In addition, it means that you would be foolish to think that if a subject were just tested on the July 2008 bar exam, that this subject would not show up on the February 2009 bar exam.

Since the same subject will often be tested on the essay exam from one round to the next, it is important to review the past exams not in terms of which subject was tested (i.e., Torts, Criminal law, Criminal Procedure, Wills, Contracts etc.) but, instead in terms of which topic within a subject was most recently tested (i.e., Defamation? Negligence, Murder, 4th Amendment, 8th Amendment, Will formation, codicil, undue influence, Contract Formation, Common Law, UCC, Remedies, Conditions etc.).

This is what I look at when I am preparing our simulated bar exam for our students. And, this is also the same source that I go to in order to provide “predictions”. I try to be very careful with the word prediction in the bar exam context. First of all, it is misleading to even suggest that someone could predict the bar exam essay topics. But, if the bar examiners were going to test Property again on the February 2012 bar exam (it was tested on day three of the July 2011 bar exam) then perhaps the examiners would be more likely to test areas within landlord/tenant or easements.

Similarly, it would make sense that if the bar examiners have historically, over many years, tested certain areas, and one of those areas has been glaringly absent in recent years, then perhaps the examiners will test it soon. Just seems to make sense, doesn’t it? Well, I think it does. Still, this being said, I do not believe that you should place a great deal of stock or reliance on what anyone might predict for the exam. If it helps you think about possible scenarios, fine. But, if it is something that you use to direct your studies away from less predicted subjects or less likely expected subjects, then it is nothing short of dangerous. Be prepared for every subject and each topic within each subject.

Okay, I am not going to provide a list today of predictions. I will, however, pass along some of what I address in my lectures about areas that are probably worth a little extra attention simply because the bar examiners have not tested these areas in some time.

As I teach each subject in our bar review course, I let our students know which areas of that topic were tested recently and which areas have not been tested recently.

Then as the bar draws even closer, we spend time reviewing additional essays that have tested these very topics (the topics that have not shown up in a while). It is not that all will show up on the next administration, or that it would be wise to study only these areas. However, I know that our students reap a great deal of confidence from this exposure simply because when they do arrive at the exam and open their essay booklets, they will inevitably see some of these areas tested in exactly the same way on exam day. This is a great confidence builder.

Still, I constantly reinforce with my students that anything can be tested (for example, First Amendment speech and Murder essays have shown up back to back on not just two administrations, but three in a row in some years). Other topics have repeated in this same fashion. Therefore, while predictions are very tempting not only to make but to rely upon, it is not a good way to decide which subjects to review or study harder. Instead, study all of the subjects, of course.

I will do my best to provide postings about some of these subject areas that I believe the bar examiners might be more inclined to test on the upcoming February 2012 bar exam.

Incidentally, I do not intend to pass along every point that I make in my lectures regarding the essay predictions. I do not think that my students would think that was fair as they chose to enroll in Bar None Review and paid the associated fees. But, I will provide some information here when I can and to the extent that I think is both helpful and fair.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment here on my blog or to email me directly at:

Good luck in your studies!


Lisa Duncanson
Program Director/Founder
Bar None Review
(949) 891-8831


    • Hello Portia Legal!

      Thank you for your comment on my blog! Yes, I will be posting my thoughts on what I think might be tested. I have had good luck in the past in terms of “predictions” but, always hesitate to call it predictions. In any case, I will be posting something soon and will continue to do that as it gets closer to the exam. Also, I will post my thoughts after day one of the bar exam (after we know what has in fact been tested on the essays of day one) what I think might be worth a bit of extra time for day three.

      Always, your focus should be on what you need to focus on . . . for example, if you feel weak on Constitutional Law then that should be an area of focus. I am sure you recognize this, but, thought I would point it out.

      Initially, I too am “predicting” Evidence and Civil Procedure. So far, I see those are very possible, especially Evidence. Our class ends this Saturday and so I will be reviewing the past five years worth of bar exams to see which issues were tested (not just whether Torts was tested, but, for example, when the last time Products Liability was tested). This is how I go about making “predictions”.

      Stay tuned 🙂

      And thank you again for your comment on my blog, always appreciated!

      Best of luck in your studies!

      Lisa Duncanson
      Bar Exam Guru
      Founder Bar None Review
      (949) 891-8831

  1. In my opinion, anyone serious about passing the California Bar Exam is wise to pay close attention to what Lisa has to offer, including her “predictions” which, by the way, it’s important to remember, she is not obligated to share with the general public, but does so out of a generosity of spirit. I was fortunate enough to have taken a Bar None Review course in preparation for the July 2005 exam. I found Lisa’s unique expertise and advice about how to “attack” the exam invaluable, not to mention the encouragement and support provided throughout the bar prep. process. Due in large part to the positive experience I received from Lisa and Bar None, I was able to walk into the exam on day one feeling focused, confident and hopeful. And, Lisa’s predictions for the July 2005 exam were absolutely spot on — thank you, Lisa, you truly are the Bar Exam Guru!!

    • Thank you Emily,
      I appreciate your comments very much. It was a pleasure having you as a student. And, I am so glad that you are enjoying (not surprisingly) a successful career as an attorney.

      All the best,