Best bar exam essay tips from a 99th percentile scorer


By Ashley Heidemann

Our course instructors and tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the essay portion of the bar exam. Here are some of our best essay tips to help you boost your bar exam essay score.

1. Focus on the highly tested essay rules

There is no need to treat everything equally when you study for the essay portion of the bar exam. Certain rules tend to be tested more than others.  It is crucial to focus on these highly tested rules.

Remember that your goal is not to learn every single rule of law in every single area of law. Your goal is to pass the bar exam! So it makes sense to focus on the rules that are most likely to be tested. This is how to study smart for the bar exam.

2. Memorize the law early on

Some students make the mistake of waiting too long to memorize the law. We recommend that you start learning the law early on. That way, you will be less overwhelmed, and you will be more likely to pass the exam.

Make memorization a habit. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember the prior tip – focus on the highly tested rules first. You do not have to memorize every single nuance of law!

3. Make it easy for the grader to give you points

For every issue that appears in a bar exam essay, use “IRAC” - that is, briefly state the issue, state the rule, apply the rule to the facts, and conclude. While using IRAC may seem “too simple”, it is crucial to follow this method on the bar exam because it will make it much easier for the grader to see that you addressed every issue. In other words, it will make it easier for the grader to give you points!  

4. Write answers that are easy to read.

Writing organized and clear answers is another great way to make it easy for the grader to give you points. A few tips to do this are as follows:

First, use paragraph breaks.

Many students use a paragraph break between their issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion. This makes it very easy for the grader to read your work and score your essays. Not only that, but it makes your answer appear longer and more complete.

Second, emphasize key words and phrases.

After graders score enough essays, they start to scan the essays rather than read them word-for-word. When scanning essays, the graders are searching for specific words. For example, if the question tests the insanity defense, the grader may be looking for a discussion of the M’Naghten test. Or if the essay contains a joint tortfeasor issue, the grader may be looking for a discussion on joint-and-several liability. It helps to bold or underline these key phrases to make it easy for the grader to notice that you addressed the applicable law.

5. Schedule time to practice writing essay answers each week

Practicing is crucial if you want to score high on the essay portion of the bar exam. Yet many students procrastinate practice!

To reduce your likelihood of procrastination, we recommend you schedule time to practice writing essay answers each week. 

There are plenty of ways you can incorporate practicing into your regular bar exam study schedule. For example, plan to answer one essay question a day when you wake up. Or take a timed exam every Friday.

It is important to make practice a priority from the beginning. Not only will practicing boost your bar exam score, but it will also give you confidence when you walk into the bar exam.

Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising, a law school and bar exam prep company.