Foreign-Trained Lawyers

Five California Bar Exam Tips For Foreign-Trained Lawyers

Many examinees for whom English is not their first language have difficulty with the written portion of the California Bar Exam.  In this post, we discuss some tips to alleviate the challenges the written portion poses to foreign-trained lawyers and non-native English speakers.

Five California Bar Exam Tips For Foreign-Trained Lawyers

1. Be conscious of timing.

One of the biggest obstacles of the written portion of the exam for nearly every person (whether English is their first language or not) is timing.  It is crucial that everyone practice PTs and timed essays so as to get an understanding of how much time they will have.  Timing is a huge component of the Performance Test and it is essential that you practice under timed conditions to know how long each step in completing the PT will take.

Check out more California Bar Exam timing tips here.

2. Divide your time appropriately.

If English is not your first language, how you divide your time on essays and PTs may look a little different from someone for whom English is their first language.  First of all, don’t rush as you read through the questions.  Rushing through the materials can cause you to misread or misunderstand important information, which can, in turn, lead to an incorrect analysis.  In fact, rather than rushing, it may be a good idea to slow down while reading the essay questions, as well as the PT File and Library to ensure that you accurately understand the information presented.

Second, take the time to organize your answer.  Setting up an outline of an answer before you begin writing the text will allow you to see exactly how much you have to write.  If you spot the issues first and list them, you can then divide your time appropriately amongst those issues.  This will allow you to better manage your time as you are writing.

Third, be realistic about how much you can write.  As you are practicing, it is easy to become overwhelmed as you compare your answer to a sample answer and worry that you don’t have enough written down.  If you know that it will take you longer to write a response than a native-English speaker, be realistic about how much you will actually write.  Try to separate the essential points in the sample answers from the “fluff” and see if you covered what is essential for a passing score.  This will help ensure that you actually complete the essays, rather than running out of time as you are still in the middle of writing a response.

3. Memorize the common structures.

For essays, this means sticking to a very rigid IRAC.  Your essay answer does not have to be a work of art.  It can be very formulaic, which is where the IRAC comes in.  Use headings to separate the various issues.  Use a separate paragraph for the rule, analysis, and conclusion.  Not only does it help you organize the pieces of your response, but it also serves as a checklist to ensure that you covered all of the essential information!

For the PTs, you should review the common tasks and have a general format for each common task memorized.  There are several common tasks that are tested over and over: memos, briefs, and letters.  While we have seen some variations on each of these tasks (e.g., objective memorandum, persuasive memorandum, opinion letter, demand letter), the overall structure remains the same.  Having the overall structure memorized will allow you to immediately start setting up your answer as soon as you review the Task Memo and will help save time.

For additional help with the PT portion, check out these attack outlines explaining different types of tasks.

4. Utilize the Library for rule statements on the Performance Test

One of the key tasks of a PT is to figure out the structure of the argument.  Often the structure and the various arguments you need to make come from either a statute or a rule statement that can be found within one (or more) of the cases in the library.  As you review the library, be on the lookout for these rules that will guide the overall structure of your response.

Also, don’t spend an excessive amount of time trying to re-write the rules in your own words.  As you are going through the library, copy the relevant rule statement into your working document word-for-word (be sure to use quotation marks and include a citation!).  You will be accomplishing the goal of stating the rule without spending an excessive amount of time trying to craft a rule statement!  After you copy the rule statement into your document, you can add transition words and sentences to make the rule statements fit into the overall structure of your answer!

5. Start early and consider getting help!

The only way to get better at essays and PTs is to practice!  Even if you think you know how to write an essay or a memorandum, chances are that you are not usually under the time constraints provided by the bar exam!  Start practicing early to improve the quality of your writing and also to hone your timing strategy.

As you practice, take the time to carefully review the sample student answers.  Take note of anything they include that you did not include in your own answer.  Ask yourself why you missed that: did you misread the rule?  Did you not read the facts carefully enough?  Did you not know the rule being tested?  Take note of whatever went wrong so that you can try to improve in that area and not make the same mistake again!

Also, California essays and PTs can be difficult.  An experienced tutor can show foreign-trained lawyers tips and strategies for how to tackle these portions of the California Bar Exam.  Just like it is important to start practicing early, utilize the assistance of a tutor early on in bar prep!  A tutor can help set you on the right path and can help you improve your score!

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