California Bar Exam: Less than 60 Days to Study!

Happy New Year all!

The February 2018 California bar exam is less than 60 days away. If you are taking the February bar exam, you will want to make the very most of this time. So how can you best utilize your study time?

With the new two day bar exam, the weighting of the written portion and the MBE portion of the exam is now 50% each. In the past, the written portion was worth 65% of an examinee’s score and the MBE portion was worth 35%. This is a significant change and should change how an examinee prepares for this new exam.


This does not necessarily mean that you should spend 50% of your time preparing for the MBEs and 50% of your time preparing for the written portion (five essays and one performance test). Instead, your focus will need to be on making certain that you have the ability to pass each section. I realize this sounds obvious. But, do you know what that truly entails? To pass an essay you will need to correctly identify the issues. Knowing the law will only get you part of the way.

One of the main reasons examinees fail the California bar exam is because they simply do not understand what it takes to develop the skill set to actually pass. Most examinees believe that what is required to pass the California bar exam is to simply learn and memorize the law and then everything will work out. Well, ask any person who has failed the California bar exam (in spite of studying constantly for two months) and you will tell you this is not the best way to prepare.

You need to know the law in the context of the exam. This is true for both the written portion and the MBE portion of the bar exam.

How to prepare for the MBEs:

Most examinees see the value in practicing MBEs. If you have not begun practicing MBEs yet then you had better start now. There is still plenty of time. But, you should not delay doing MBEs. Many examinees make the mistake of thinking that they need to review the topics prior to practicing MBEs. You should review the substantive law. But, do not let this delay your MBE practice. Some of the MBEs will be answerable based on your knowledge of the law. But, many of the MBEs will come down to technique and interpretation of the call of the question. So, it is imperative that you practice as many MBEs as possible.

If you are working full time, completing even just 5 MBEs every work day will be effective. If you have full time to study, then I recommend 30 MBEs a day to start and then work up to 50 (at least 4 or 5 days per week). You will ultimately need to work up to 100 and 200 sets. I will write more about how to prepare for the MBEs and the sources that I recommend for the MBE. Utilizing past MBEs is critical. You should complete every released MBE from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

How to prepare for the essays:

In order to pass the essays for the California bar exam you will need to understand the law in the context of the essay. One of the best ways to achieve this is to read and issue spot past California essays and to study the released answers. The released answers are critical to your studies as this is the very best way to learn what the California bar examiners are looking for in each area that is tested.

The released answers (there are always two per essay and performance test) are selected by the California bar examiners. It is what they have decided is a reflection of the correct issues, correct analysis and conclusions. It is the very best way to learn what the California bar examiners want. This kind of study (reviewing past essays and answers) is not only a substantive review, but it is one that is in the context of the actual exam.

So how many past exams should you review? I recommend reviewing 100 or more past California essays. If you do this, you will walk into the bar exam having seen everything that could possibly be tested multiple times. You will likely have seen a version of each of the five essays. You will have studied it, you will remember the issues, you will remember the answers. It is like having the test in advance.

And it is completely within your ability to review this many exams prior to the February bar exam. Think about it this way: if your job on day one and day two of the bar exam was to write out outlines from memory for each of the tested subjects, then it would make perfect sense to memorize subject outlines. But, this is not your job. Your job is to write a passing answer. Studying past exams (and released answers) is critical to being able to write your own passing answer. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, study what the bar examiners have embraced and emulate what is in the released answers.

The California bar examiners want certain things in a certain order on the essays. For example, if you look at ten past negligence essays you will see that the California bar examiners select essay answers that have a particular order and emphasis. Of course, the answer will include: duty, breach, causation and damages. But, did you know that the Palgraf case is in virtually every released answer for negligence?

The California bar examiners want you to address both the Cardozo majority view and the Andrews minority view under duty. There would be no way of knowing this without a study of the past essays. This is true of every topic. For example, there is a particular way the the California bar examiners want to see easements addressed, the Fourth Amendment, the 5th Amendment, First Amendment Speech etc.

I cover these areas in our Bar Exam Cram Sessions. Our next Bar Exam Cram Session will be held on Saturday, January 13, 2018. Click here to register and for more information.

We have created Bar Exam Templates that essentially have set up the order of issues for the most commonly tested areas that are based upon the past answers. Here is an example of our Fourth Amendment Bar Exam Template. By studying past bar exam essays you will begin to see the patterns and order that the California bar examiners embrace. This is not something that will come from any bar prep company’s outlines. At least not any that I know of other than the Bar Exam Templates and our Bar Exam Cram Sheets (as these are based upon years of past bar exam essays).

For additional short cuts/bar exam templates: Bar Exam Writing Templates

It is also important to write practice essays and to get feedback on your writing. Here is an example of what we think is good feedback. If your bar prep company is only giving you a number or a score, this is not likely going to help you very much.

Make studying the actual past exams and practicing MBEs your New Year’s resolution and you will be well on your way to passing!!!

Stay tuned for more tips on how to prepare for the February 2018 bar exam!

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