3 steps to Improve Your Bar Exam Essay Score

By Ashley Heidemann

With over a month left before the bar exam, there is plenty of time to improve your essay exam score. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make Sure That You Have the Right Materials

If you are typing the bar exam, download the appropriate software onto your laptop ahead of time.  If you are writing the bar exam, make sure to purchase pens that are easy to write with and easy to grip. Use these pens when you practice writing answers to exam questions.  Getting comfortable with the materials that you will be using during the bar exam will likely ease your anxiety during your bar exam preparation. It will also make you more comfortable when you take your exam.

2. Simulate the Essay Portion of the Exam Ahead of Time

If you are expected to answer essay questions for several hours in a row when you take your bar exam, it is a good idea to adequately prepare for this mental and physical task ahead of time. One way to do this is to set aside one day per week where you will replicate your essay exam day. At first, just set aside two or three hours to answer the appropriate number of essay questions. Build up your writing stamina by increasing the amount of time that you write essays each week until you have simulated your exact essay exam day.

It is also important to simulate exam conditions: If you get a break during your actual essay exam, make sure to take a break during your practice essay exams. If you are not allowed to eat or drink anything other than water on the exam day, take your practice exams under these conditions as well. You will be much less likely to burn out (or get cramps in your hand) on the actual essay exam day if you have prepared ahead of time.   

3. Study the Model Answers

When you practice answering essay exam questions, make sure to make the most of the model answers that come with your questions. Each time you write an answer to an exam question, study the model answer and compare it to your own answer. The best way to do this is to correct your own answer using the model answer as your key. Did you miss important issues? If so, how will you spot them next time? Did you misstate rules of law? How will you remember them next time? Was your analysis concise and on-point? Did you arrive at the correct conclusion(s)?

Do not forget to look at your format as well: Was your essay easy or difficult to read? Did you underline key words and phrases? Was your analysis clear or did you waste valuable time repeating yourself or stating irrelevant facts or laws?  

If you take the time to grade your own essays, you will become better at spotting issues and stating the highly-tested areas of law in a clear manner. You will also learn to think like an essay grader.

These study tactics can make a big difference on your essay exam score. And with over a month left before the bar exam, you have plenty of time to implement them.


Ms. Heidemann is a bar exam and law school tutor. She graduated as the Number 1 student in her class of over 200 students at Wayne State University Law School in 2011 and scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam. Her website can be found at www.excellenceinlawschool.com.