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Bar Preparation: The Essays

This guide covers bar admission, tips for taking the bar exam, information about bar prep programs and links to bar exam information for individual states.

Elements of a Good Essay Answer

  • A good response answers the question asked.
    • Understand what question the examiners want you to answer and respond accordingly.
  • What role is the test-taker asked to play (judge, advocate for a party, etc )?
  • Read the question(s) you are being asked to answer before reading the entire fact pattern.
    • Some questions tell you not to consider certain causes of action or defenses.
  • A good response accurately identifies the issues raised by the question.
    • Each bar question has multiple issues and a test-taker can miss issues in a question and still pass.
    • 80% of test-takers pass with a 60-75% score.
  • Don't "find" issues that are not there.
  • Begin with a conclusion that explicitly answers the question asked.
    • Ex.: P can allege a claim for battery against the D when the D knocked P's glasses off.
    • D's conversation with P regarding the potential free newspaper ads constituted a valid offer. The objection to the introduction of the photograph into evidence should be overruled because its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect.
  • State the appropriate rules of law.
    • A good answer not only states the rules, but uses the right legal phrases like "probative value", "res judicata" and "collateral estoppel".
  • Examiners want to know that you know the substance of the law as well as how lawyers speak about legal standards and set forth the rules that are to be followed.
    • Many examiners are looking for these legal "buzzwords" and you may lose points if the phrases are not in the answer, even if the concept is correctly explained.
  • A good rule statement includes all elements or prongs of a test to be satisfied, or factors to be considered, even if only one element or factor is in dispute.
  • A good answer applies the rule to the facts presented in the question.
    • Most points on an issue will be awarded for analysis - a thoughtful explanation of why the facts presented in the question do/do not satisfy a stated legal rule or standard.
  •  If only one element or prong of a test is at issue, a good answer explains in a sentence or two why the facts clearly establish the undisputed elements or prong. Then, the answer focuses on the disputed elements and illustrates what facts from the question are dispositive of the claim.
  • The key to good analysis lies in a thorough discussion of the facts presented in the question. The test-taker must zero in on the facts in the question which are dispositive under the relevant rule(s) of law.
  • A good answer will reach a conclusion on each issue and, if relevant, a conclusion for the entire question or sub-part of the question.
  • Time is used wisely. Don't take excessive time to answer one question and rush the others.
  • A different examiner reads each question, so the quality of your "good" answer is not transferable to your "bad" answer.
    • The answer need not be perfect to pass.
    • Take time to question, think about and outline your answer - don't write the minute you finish reading the question.

Questions to Remember when Drafting your Response

  1. Have you identified the issues involved in the problem? Have you alerted the reader "up front" to the issues to be decided?
  2. Have you discussed the relevant law before applying the law to the facts of your problem? (IRAC)
    This is critical to demonstrate your knowledge of the relevant law and to lay the foundation for your evaluation of the issues.
  3. Have you logically discussed the prima facie elements for the causes of action and the relevant facts that support or trigger the application of the law to the facts?
  4. Have you properly raised and evaluated appropriate counterarguments and defenses when the facts of your problem permit or alert you?
  5. Have you properly wrapped up your argument for a specific issue?
  6. Come to a conclusion before moving on to the next issue?
  7. Have you answered the question posed? Is your answer responsive to the question?

Does your answer reflect all of your knowledge of the cause of action, the applicable counterarguments and defenses? Have you told the reader all of the relevant law and facts needed to properly assess the issues? Does your answer indicate you saw the "big picture"?

General Considerations

  • Write about law of that state only.
  • Be objective.
  • Follow IRAC.
    • Issue
    • Rule   
    • Application
    • Conclusion


Writing an Essay Answer in Seven Steps

1. Read the question you're being asked to answer.

2. Read the question from beginning to end without using a pen. Get the big picture first.

3. Go back and read the question again. This time pick up your pen.

    • Underline the facts, words or phrases that cause you to think about legal issues.
    • Make notes in the margin, if desired, as issues start jumping out at you.

4. Read the question a third time.As you do, start making a list on scratch paper of all the issues you see, leaving plenty of blank space between issues.When you see a fact that is relevant to a particular issue, note that fact under the issue in your list.

5. Look at each issue you identified in the above step.

    • Write down the rule that's necessary to resolve the issue or answer the question that issue raises in the blank space under that issue.

6. Put numbers next to each issue to establish the order in which you will answer the questions. o Answer major issues first.

    • If you run out of time, you've covered the most important issues in the most depth possible.
    • Now you have an outline of your answer.
    • Note: Doing the above steps might take 1/3 of the time allotted for that answer. That's fine. You need time to thoroughly analyze and outline an answer.     
    • Just leave yourself enough time to write. You must outline, but don't put off writing.

7. Start writing, putting the most important issue first. Follow IRAC for each issue.


The materials used are from a panel presentation on supplemental bar review assistance programs by Professors Kevin Hopkins, Angela Passalacqua, and Teresa Wallace, at the 1997 Law School Admissions Council Academic Assistance Training Workshop; and a presentation by Professors Ruth Gordon and Frederick P. Rothman, and Sheilah Vance, former Assistant Dean of Academic Support, at a Villanova School of Law study skills workshop on "Successful Exam-Taking Strategies" on November 19, 1998.