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How—and Why—You Need To Self-Grade Bar Exam Essays

How—and Why—You Need To Self-Grade Bar Exam Essays

We just had a student tell us last week that learning how to self-grade bar exam essays was the best thing she did when she was studying for the bar exam.

“Self-grading” is a method where you read a bar exam essay fact pattern then write or bullet point your answer and compare what you wrote with the model answer. When you compare what you wrote with the model answer, use a different color pen (or font) to write out anything you missed and to give yourself tips like an actual grader would.

How—and Why—You Need To Self-Grade Bar Exam Essays

Self-grading is helpful for several reasons:

  • You will learn the rules better if you are forced to write out what you didn’t know
  • You will become well acquainted with how to structure your essay
  • You will become better at picking out material facts in the fact pattern
  • You will start to “think like a bar exam grader”
  • You will find yourself improving quickly
  • You are most invested in your success so you will provide yourself with better quality feedback than a commercial course grader. (*Note: It is not bad to hand in your essays to course graders as they may see something you miss. However, the person most invested in your success is you so you will provide yourself with the best feedback!)

How do you self-grade bar exam essays?

You need to have your answer and the model answer side-by-side.

Compare your essay with the model answer and ask yourself:

  • Did I recognize the issues? (If you missed an issue, why did you miss it? Did you misread the call of the question? Are there facts you did not address that you should have?)
  • Did I state the rules accurately? (If not, write in the rules or type them in a different color font so that they stick out to you!)
  • Did I analyze the issues correctly?
  • Did I conclude correctly?
  • Also, look at your general organization and read your writing for clarity.

Grade yourself in a different color font (or a different colored pen) as if you were actually a grader. This will get you into the mind of a bar exam essay grader. For example:

  • If you missed a rule, write out the rule.
  • If you omitted a discussion of an important fact, write out those facts when you self-grade.
  • If you did not discuss an issue, ask yourself “what in the fact pattern should have lead me to discuss that issue?”
  • If you did not conclude or if your conclusion was incorrect, why was it missing or incorrect? Was it because you did not know the rule? Did you read the fact pattern too quickly and miss a fact?

This will help you write essays that graders actually want to read!

Then you can constantly review your self-graded essays to turn weaknesses into strengths.

A few important notes on self-grading bar exam essays:

  • When you self-grade bar exam essays, you can ignore case or statute citations, policy discussion, a lengthy analysis of the history of the law, or anything else that does not directly go to the rule, application, or conclusion.
  • When you self-grade bar exam essays, use the answer promulgated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) if you are in an MEE state, or the answers promulgated by your state otherwise. Do not use student answers. Even highly-graded student answers still tend to frequently miss what is in the model answers!
  • As mentioned above, you can also hand in your essay answers to a bar review course to grade! We recommend that you do not rely solely on any one grader though. You will learn the most from grading your own essays!