How to Write Bar Essays That Grab Points

The MEE, or essay portion of the Bar Exam is a great opportunity to grab a lot of points, but only if you know what you are doing. There are many students who believe myths or lies when it comes to how to properly write an essay, particularly if they feel that they are not as clear as they should be on the law involved. I’m going to use an anagram that is simple to remember.mbe flashcards, kiss

K I S S

Yes, I said it. Keep it simple, stupid.

(No offense intended!)

What Not To Do

I simply wanted to try to emphasize critically important facts when it comes to essays.

  • Longer is NOT always better: in fact, it rarely is.
  • Using big words is not better
  • Speaking in “legalese” is not better
  • Writing highly complex sentences is not better, and does NOT make you look smarter
  • Mixing up or throwing together issues or rules is not better; even if you aren’t sure that you know the material well
  • Trying to “look like a lawyer” in your writing … whatever you believe that to mean …is not better than being SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, and CONCISE

OK, there it is. But let’s break it down some. How do you get the most points from your essays? The best place to start is to think like a grader. Do you know anything about how your essays are graded? Can you put yourself in the grader’s shoes for a moment, and think about what you would want to see if that was your job?

Many students are accustomed to law professors, and how they grade. This is NOT what will happen on the Bar Exam. You see, your law professors had more time. They had anywhere from 20 to maybe 200 students in a class.

Let’s say your professor in law school had 100 essays to grade. He or she had time to ponder your essay. They could think about it, re-read parts of it if necessary. They could stretch the boundaries, and give you points for creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking. And you might think that the Bar Exam essay graders will do the same.

You could not be more wrong.

Bar Exam essay and PT graders have an unbelievably high number of tests to grade. They do not sit by and ponder anyone’s answers. They have a grading rubric that they use to grade each answer. This rubric closely follows the format and call of the question. It follows IRAC. It concisely points out the issues, rules, analysis, and conclusions for each issue addressed in the question.

And each grader spends approximately 1.5 to 4 minutes grading each essay. Ouch.

So what does all of this tell you?

bar essays, deadIt tells you that if they have to work to find the meat of your answer – you’re road kill.

So the bottom-line here is, don’t make them work for it. They won’t. If they see a poorly organized essay that isn’t easily understandable, you simply won’t get points. It is critical that your essays are clear and concise. What does that mean?

Follow IRAC

If you think that this makes you look like a simpleton, think again. They want you to be organized, straightforward, and simple. It makes their life easier. The Bar examiners write questions a certain way, and in a certain sequence, because they want you to follow their lead.

You do not get points for creativity here. In fact, you lose points if your creativity masks the proper rules and analysis.

You get points for following the format of the question, using IRAC, and being CLEAR. Use your scrap paper organize your answer. Quickly write out the issues as presented in the question. Follow their order. For each issue, jot down the rule and a simple analysis sentence. Cover every question and issue presented, in order of presentation. And when you’re writing, use short sentences. Use small words when possible. Use road signs. Great big ones. Don’t skip things.

When you mimic their format, you are giving the graders an easy essay to grade.

If You Don’t Recall the Exact Rule, Do Your Best

There will come times when you can’t completely recall a rule. You know you’re leaving something out. It’s OK. It happens.

But do not try to hide the fact that you don’t know the entire rule by tossing IRAC and mixing up your rule, analysis, and conclusion altogether. You may think you’re slick, and “hiding” the fact that you’re unclear on the law. In reality, what you’ve created is an ungradable mess.

When graders see IRAC gone wrong – they assume you are confused. If you do have anything worth points buried in there somewhere, like a decent analysis, chances are they won’t read the mess carefully enough to find your points. You must make it clear and easy for them. Better to lose a couple of points because you forget part of a rule, then lose all the points because the grader didn’t know what the heck you were talking about.

Use Proper Paragraph Format

Under the time pressure of the Bar Exam, some students feel that they don’t have time to make their answers “pretty.” Well, it’s not so much about making it pretty or polished, as it is making it easily understandable and readable.

If you write huge blocks of text, this is another indication to the grader that you have not thought out the question well. It signals disorganization and confusion. Don’t do it. Take a couple of minutes to sketch out your outline on scrap paper, and then follow it! Make each issue clear. State the rule as clearly and accurately as you can. Don’t freak out if you forget part of it, just write what you know.

Then take each fact that you are given and show how it relates to the rules. Be clear. State how both sides of the case would see the particular fact as it relates to the rules, but don’t get bogged down and overdo it. Remember… KISS.

And always signal when you’re changing topics. Use the format of the question to format your answer (how many times have I said that now?!), and you will be using the same roadmap that the grader has as his guide. It’s the answer rubric, and by following it you will pick up more points.

Don’t Try to Impress By Throwing in Irrelevant Law

Some students want to show off how much they know by throwing in law that does not directly relate to the question at hand. Don’t. That law will not be on the grader’s rubric. Therefore, it will not get you any points. It is a waste of time.

Instead, focus on what is relevant. Be organized. Be concise. Use small words whenever possible. These are not appellate judges trying to absorb every nuance of your creative argument. These are graders that want to get in, get done, and get on to the next essay. If you make it easy for them, you’ll get more points in the end.

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