Answer California Bar Exam Essays

How To Answer California Bar Exam Essays

The California Bar Exam has five essays.  In this post, we break down how to answer California bar exam essays to ensure you get the most points possible!

How To Answer California Bar Exam Essays

1. Start with a Checklist

Many California essays are similar to law school essays in that they often involve an open-ended call of the question.  When this is the case, the first thing you have to do is spot all the relevant issues.  Some essays can have many issues – for instance, Evidence essays can have as many as 30 issues!  The only way to cover this number of issues under the time constraints is to be efficient!

In order to comprehensively spot all the issues that are relevant in a particular fact pattern, we recommend that you start with a checklist.  The checklist should be short enough that you can easily recall everything on it quickly. However, it needs enough detail so that you don’t skip over anything.

The checklist can be a bare-bones version of your study materials.  So, for instance, if your Evidence outline has sections for hearsay, character evidence, impeachment, etc., start with those as the items on your list.  You can make your checklist more detailed by adding sub-items (such as non-hearsay, exceptions to hearsay, etc. under the hearsay topic) within each topic.

Once you make the checklist, you have to memorize it!  If you are an audible learner, try saying it out loud over and over.  If you are a visual learner, try writing it over and over.  Draw charts, color code the different sections of the checklist, and use pictures to help remember all the items!

During the exam, you can mentally run through the checklist as you issue-spot the fact pattern. This will ensure that you cover everything that is relevant!

2. Stick to IRAC

Sticking to the IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) format as you answer California essays will make your answer more organized. It will also serve as a guide to make sure that you remember all the crucial pieces of your answer.

We recommend starting with a bold, underlined heading as an issue statement.  This will break up your answer and make it easier for the grader to read.  Once you have spotted the issues, your next task is to discuss them.  Memorization is the key to good rule statements.  You have to be able to state the rules as accurately as possible for full credit.  Many students overlook the importance of memorization, so practicing and quizzing yourself along the way will ensure that you are doing enough to memorize all the black letter law!

The meat and potatoes of your answer is in your analysis.  Unless the call of the question directs otherwise, you should generally discuss both sides of an argument.  Also, California essay fact patterns are often intentionally vague.  The analysis is also a great opportunity to discuss the facts that are missing that would be helpful in fully analyzing an issue.  While you should never assume facts not in existence, you can identify the facts that, if you knew them, would allow you to fully analyze a particular rule.

Finally, you must reach a conclusion.  Tell the grader which party has the better argument.  Sometimes the facts are skewed so that there is a clear “right” answer and the graders are looking for you to reach a particular conclusion.  Other times, the facts are balanced enough that it is reasonable to conclude either way.  However, you should always pick a side and not just say “it’s too close to call.”

3. Be familiar with how topics are tested

Some subjects have a very particular approach that you must take in order to receive full credit on an essay.  For instance, most Community Property essay answers should start with a general overview of community property, including a definition of community property, a definition of quasi-community property (when relevant), and a brief statement regarding how community property is divided.  Check out JD Advising’s California Bar Exam Essay Guide for more information on exactly what this “introduction” to community property must include.

Constitutional Law essays are another example of why it is important to be familiar with the “correct” way to approach them.  Even when it is not the main issue, points are generally awarded on Constitutional Law essays for addressing standing.  So, you should be prepared with a “canned” statement about the rules for standing that you will almost certainly be expected to discuss on a Constitutional Law essay.

JD Advising’s California Bar Exam Essay Guide has more great information for how each subject is commonly tested on the California Bar Exam! 

4. Practice highly tested topics

While you should not ignore any subjects or topics, some topics appear more frequently than others on the California bar exam essays.  Therefore, it is important to be very familiar with them given the higher likelihood that they could appear again.

A great resource to find out what topics are highly tested are the JD Advising California One-Sheets!  Not only do the One-Sheets tell you which issues come up most often. They also have the dates those issues appeared on the exam. Our One-Sheets also provide the black letter law that you need to know for those issues!

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