California Bar Exam: Where to focus in the last 20 Days

Hello All,

Thank you for following the blog and for your patience this February regarding the expected Bar Exam Predictions. We had a record turn out in our class sessions and this “guru” has been very busy. I hope that the materials available on this blog are helpful (see the “freestuff” tab above, if you haven’t already for downloads). I will be releasing bar exam “predictions” on the blog this bar round. Also, I will make additional handouts and a few recommended essays for your review (based upon my “predictions”).

A note about my “predictions” – I do not claim to be able to predict what will be tested on the bar exam. Nor do I recommend that you dictate your studies around anyone’s “predictions” – that being said, I think it can not hurt to focus on a few possible essay scenarios – especially in the final days leading up to the exam. So, as I have done in the past, I will begin releasing these “predicted” areas and provide some essay scenarios that I think are worth taking a look at prior to the exam. You may want to take a look at last July’s predictions and essay scenarios – I really thought easements would be tested and so I provided a step-by-step approach to easements on the blog. It showed up on the actual test. Again, I do not recommend that you study around these essay scenarios, but I do think it is helpful to focus in on some of the areas that may be a bit more likely for testing simply because we have not seen it tested in a while. So this will be coming as it gets closer to the exam. I know, you would like it now, and I get that. But, my focus is on my enrolled students and they do expect to have some exclusive access for a period of time. So out of respect for them, I will not be releasing any predictions until next week.

My philosophy about the California bar exam: I do not subscribe to any conspiracy theories about the California bar exam. Nor do I believe that the lower pass rate this past July has anything to do with the bar exam becoming harder or less fair. It is what it is – it is a test. There are swings in the bar pass rates over the years and I have seen swings like this more than once in my tenure both taking the bar exam and preparing examinees for the bar (which I have been doing since 1996). I also do not subscribe to the idea that the February bar exam is harder than the July bar exam. I just want to put that out there. The bar exam is hard. But, you have to believe that you can pass it and you have to put aside any idea that the deck is stacked against you – because it isn’t.

So what do you really need to focus on, right now? You have 20 days left to study for the bar exam. 20 Days. Let that sink in for a bit. Take a deep breath. I know, it is scary, you are right to have some anxiety – it is – after all, the bar exam. And not just any bar exam but, the California bar exam. But, it is passable, you can do it and you CAN resolve to do everything in your power to make certain that you utilize these final 20 days in the best way possible and give yourself the best chance of passing the bar exam.

Why do so many examinees fail the California bar exam? I think it is helpful to understand why (in my opinion) so many people fail the bar exam – even after studying very hard, all of the time, for months. (So that you can avoid these pitfalls)!

It isn’t generally because a student didn’t work hard or study hard. Instead, people fail because they never get enough time in with the actual exam. Think about it this way: you are about to take six essays, two performance tests and 200 MBEs. You need to know what the bar examiners want from you. This is especially true with the essays. So many examinees walk into the bar exam without a clear idea of how they are even going to write the essays. What will your first sentence be if you have to write a Constitutional Law, First Amendment Speech essay? Do you have an approach for that? Because you should. If you don’t, how do you figure this out in time for the bar exam? One way is to review past exams and study the past answers. This is extremely helpful.

So here are some next steps . . .

The next step chalkboard and feet

How do you memorize everything? You also need to memorize a lot of information. Everyone knows this. But, what many bar examinees fail to recognize is that you need to also make sure that you are memorizing what you actually need. I can tell you that memorizing a 100 or 150 page outline for every topic (if this is even something that is humanly possible) will not likely translate into your being able to identify the correct issues on an essay exam. And if you can not identify enough of the correct issues on an essay exam, then you simply will not be able to write on enough issues to pass and it really will not matter that you have that 100 or 150 page outline memorized.

I am not saying that a long outline is not a useful (and even necessary tool) for passing the bar exam. But, when it is this close to the exam, you need to begin (if you haven’t already) getting exposure to as many past bar exam essays as you can (read these, study these, study the answers) as well as memorize approaches and definitions that are manageable. By manageable, I mean that instead of 150 page Contracts outline, you memorize a 4 page, condensed contracts outline. And, preferably you have a step-by-step approach for each subject area.

So now what – great, I came here, read the “guru’s” latest blog post and I am now freaking out! If you do not have a condensed outline, read the essays. If you do not have a step-by-step approach for each subject area – read more essays. The information is there. And it is not too late!

There are so many more reasons to read essays and study the answers but, I will focus on just a few:

  1. If only I could see the test in advance: Past bar exam essays repeat and repeat over the years. In fact, most bar exam administrations do not test anything new or anything in a different way than has been tested previously. This means that if you study past bar exam essays, you increase the likelihood of seeing something on the actual bar exam that you have read and studied before. How great would it be to walk into the bar exam (in 20 days) and open your test booklet for the essays and read the first essay and realize that you had just studied a very similar essay and the accompanying answer. It would be pretty great.
  2. It is actually a form of substantive review: Another reason to study and review and read the answers to past California bar essays is because it is actually a type of substantive review but, in a way more memorable context.
  3. Learn what the examiners want from you: Finally, and this is a big one, by reading past California bar essays and studying the released answers (selected by the California bar examiners as the answers that should be released) you will learn what the examiners were looking for and this is critical.

Understand this: you may think you know the law at this point but, if you are not able to translate your knowledge and memorization of long outlines into correctly identifying the issues that the bar examiners wanted addressed for a particular essay, you will likely fail the bar exam. I know, this is blunt and sounds harsh. But, it is true and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think that you still had time to fix this  (assuming it is an issue for you) with the time remaining. I will write more on this after the Bar Exam Cram Session that I am teaching this weekend.

But, please, do yourself a favor and read past California bar exam essays and really study the answers. This is how you will know what the examiners are truly looking for on a given fact pattern and you do need to know that in order to pass.

Thank you again for following this blog, we have had over 890,00o views – it is humbling and I am grateful to have this outlet to offer a little guidance and help.

Stay positive, you can do this! I will write more in the coming days.

All the best in your studies!


Lisa Duncanson
Founder/Program Director, Bar None Review
Bar None Review