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california bar exam essay tipsCalifornia Bar Exam Essay Tips

If you are taking the California Bar Exam, it is worth it to maximize your score on the essay portion of the California Bar Exam. Here, we give you some California Bar Exam essay tips that will help you do just that!

California Bar Exam Essay Tips


This may seem obvious but so many students forget to use IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) when they approach a California Bar Exam essay. The best way to do this is as follows:

  • Have a heading that is underlined and briefly identifies the issue—e.g., battery.
  • State the applicable rule.
  • Apply the law to the facts and analyze arguments on both sides when appropriate.
  • Arrive at a conclusion to the issue (even if there are arguments on both sides, you should still try to arrive at a conclusion).

Using IRAC will keep your essay answer organized and easy to follow. A grader will be reviewing your essay to see if you stated the issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion.

The State Bar of California website states: “The [California Bar Exam essay] answer should evidence the applicant’s ability to apply the law to the given facts and to reason in a logical, lawyer-like manner from the premises adopted to a sound conclusion. An applicant should not merely show that he/she remembers the legal principles, but should demonstrate his/her proficiency in using and applying them.”

Thus, breaking down your essay in an IRAC format makes it easy for the grader to give you points!

Bonus tip: make sure to use paragraph breaks between each section of “IRAC”—e.g., state the issue in a heading and then use a paragraph break, state the rule and then use a paragraph break, etc.

State the general rule before stating an exception

Some students dive right into stating the exception to the rule when they write answers to essays. Instead of discussing the exception to the rule right off the bat, start by stating the general rule itself.  The grader will be looking for both the general rule statement and the exception, so you can maximize your points by stating both!

So, remember to connect every single dot for the grader. This is especially important on California Bar Exam essays, where you generally are expected to give an introduction to specific issues (e.g., If personal jurisdiction is an issue, you shouldn’t dive right into talking about a defendant’s contacts with the state. Rather, you should discuss general jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction, purposeful availment, etc.).

Remembering to start with a “zoomed out” picture of the law before “zooming in” on the precise issue being tested will help you maximize your score.

Pay close attention to the call of the question

One of the best California Bar Exam essay tips we can give is to make sure you are paying close attention to the call of the question. The call of the question has been a little more specific in recent years—e.g., instead of saying “discuss” it will say something like, “which party has an interest in (a) the car, (b) the goodwill of the business, and (c) the marital home?” If you pay close attention to the call of the question, you will maximize your chances of discussing all of the relevant issues.

To get in the habit of paying close attention to the call of the question, start by reading it first. That way, you will immediately know the issues being tested (and oftentimes, you can glean the subject that is being tested as well.)

Practice past essays

Past California Bar Exam essays are an invaluable source of information. For example, if you practice past bar exam essays you may notice that California distinctions to the law are not tested heavily in any MBE subject besides Evidence. (Even though they are fair game in Civil Procedure, they are rarely tested; though there is speculation that this may change in coming years given the addition of federal Civil Procedure to the MBE in 2015.)

You will also see some essay topics repeat themselves—e.g., some Equity fact patterns from recent years look very similar to Equity fact patterns from past years. A lot of the issues that were tested in the past are re-tested again and again. The State Bar of California does not reinvent the wheel every time it writes an exam.

You can find past essay questions and sample student answers here on the State Bar of California’s website.

Get your timing down!

The California Bar Exam essay portion now consists of five essay questions. You have three hours in the morning to answer three essay questions, and three hours and 30 minutes in the afternoon to answer two essay questions and one performance test question. Thus, you should allocate about one hour per essay.

The best way to get your timing down for the California Bar Exam is to practice. The more essays you complete under timed conditions, the better you will be at completing the exam on time! We recommend that you start by answering:

  • One California Bar Exam essay question in an hour (in the first few weeks of your bar exam preparation).
  • Two California Bar Exam essay questions in two hours (in the middle of your bar exam preparation).
  • Three California Bar Exam essay questions in three hours (toward the end of your bar exam preparation).

Some students also find it helpful to take a full simulated “essay day” before the California Bar Exam. On this day, you would answer three questions in three hours in the morning and two questions plus a California Performance Test question in 3.5 hours in the afternoon.

If you have any questions about our California Bar Exam essay tips or if you have tips of your own, feel free to contact us here or share them in the comments below!

Go to the next topic, Chapter 3: California Bar Exam Essay Frequency Chart.

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