The Bar Exam is Tomorrow – No Problem!

The week of the bar examination is among the most personal and dramatic times in the life of any young lawyer. For some candidates, what happens during the last hours before the exam can make the difference between success and failure.


No bar candidate is likely to learn much law right before the exam. It’s not crazy to study, but many successful candidates do little or no serious work the day before the bar exam. This would not be a smart day to go on a drinking binge, but it’s also not the right day to go on the wagon. Be judicious. Exercise common sense. Realize that the best thing you can do for yourself the day before the bar exam is achieve a modicum of physical and emotional relaxation. Go out for a long walk, or get some other exercise. Try to set things up so you get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam.


It is a good idea to do a few MBE questions before breakfast each day without checking the answers, just to get your mind focused. Everybody agrees it’s important, but not absolutely necessary, to have a decent night’s rest and a good breakfast before the first day of the exam. Be cautious about interacting with other bar candidates. It would be a pity if you ended up in custody because somebody “pushed one of your buttons” outside the test center.


The best essay answers are the most complete and best organized. Read each question carefully, starting with the call of the question. Split the legal issues into elements, outline carefully, and “find a home for the facts.” I have met many unsuccessful bar candidates who got their highest score on the essay subject they knew the least about. They stopped reciting a lot of boilerplate law, because they didn’t know the law, and went on to analyze the facts. That is what the examiners are looking for. A good high school debater could memorize the rules as well as a typical law student.

It is important to answer the questions presented in an essay. If the question is asking whether or not each item of evidence was properly admitted, give them a straight answer.


The MBE is as much a test of one’s reading and reasoning skills as it is a law exam. Read carefully, again starting with the call of the question. Eliminate obvious wrong choices, such as incorrect statements of the law or misinterpretations of the facts. If time becomes a problem, skip long fact patterns that are tied to only one question and come back to them later. Don’t change your answers unless you are sure you made an error the first time.


The “practical essay exam” is just an extension of the essays. One splits the issue or rule into elements, and connects facts from the file to elements from the library. The only significant difference between a performance exam and a standard essay is that sometimes a performance test will require an applicant to do some persuasive writing. Be obedient. Do what the memo tells you to do. Find a home for the documents in the file and use all the authority in the library. Outline carefully before you write, and follow all the instructions carefully. Write simply. Communicate your ideas clearly, and state them affirmatively.


The bar examination requires one’s undivided attention. Do not discuss the details of the examination with other candidates after each session. Do you really want to know that the civil procedure question you answered was in fact a wills and trusts fact pattern? Do your best during each session of the examination, then just let it go and move on to the next session.

When the first day’s work is complete, there is not a lot one can do to prepare for the remaining sessions other than eat a decent meal and rest up for the second day. In California, a jurisdiction that has a three-day examination, it is possible to make an educated guess about what will be on the exam on the third day and perhaps do a little focused studying, but it isn’t very important. What matters is being physically and emotionally and mentally strong the next day of the exam!


Achieve uniform mediocrity and occasional excellence and you’ll pass the bar examination. You’re not striving for an Am Jur award. This is a pass/fail test. Everybody who passes gets the same thing: a license to practice law. Good luck!

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