Notice: This guide has been expanded for 2020
Starting with the July 2017 administration of the California Bar exam, the Attorney’s exam was shortened to one day rather than the usual two. Although the scope of the exam remains unchanged, the Committee of Bar Examiners assures us that “administering a two-day examination will yield essentially the same results as those for a three-day examination and that it will be more efficient”, and that “the modifications to the California Bar Examination will not make it an easier test to pass”.
The new exam now requires an attorney to complete 5 essay questions in one day along with a 90-minute Performance exam, as opposed to having two days to complete 6 essays and 2 Performance exams. Because Attorneys do not have to take the MBE, they enjoyed a “day off” between the first and third days. For many, this in between day allowed an attorney to re-group. If for example, Wills, Contracts and Community Property were tested on day one, an attorney can in a sense disregard these subjects in favor of what he/she is most likely to see on day three. It also allowed for a break from the mental marathon we undergo when taking this exam. The new exam format allows very little room for error, and time management becomes crucial. The first half of the day involves three one-hour essays, and the second half involves 2 more-hour essays followed by a 90-minute Performance Exam. The new format will require applicants to endure a 3.5-hour afternoon consisting of both essays AND a Performance Test.
“Seasoned” attorneys enjoy the added benefit of having experience in the real world. Because the Performance Exam essentially tests this “real world” experience, having to complete two three-hour Performance Exams could optimize a score. If an attorney happened to be a good writer and had written several briefs and memos in the past, the two Performance Exams could make a significant difference in his/her overall score. And given that each Performance test was three hours in length. We had a bit more time to properly digest the material and present a sound Performance test response. But now, an attorney only has one chance (within 90 minutes) to outshine his co-applicants. Between that and having to quickly shift gears between subjects, Attorneys MUST bring their “A” game in order to succeed. Trying to write a Persuasive memorandum in 90 minutes is really just unfair. But it is what the exam requires.
So, that begs the questions as to whether attorneys should now consider the MBE. The new exam format weights the written and MBE portions of the exam equally. 50% for the essay and 50% for the MBE. If an attorney happens to be a decent multiple-choice test taker, then the MBE is something to consider. The MBE also tests endurance which is a new wrinkle on the written side of things, and also helps in memorizing the basic legal principles for 7 out of the 13 subjects tested.
Attorneys generally specialize in a particular area of law and are not often required to recall multiple areas of law in one sitting. Coupled with time pressure, attorneys often find themselves frustrated and ultimately run out of time on every section of the bar exam. Further, attorneys have been out of law school for quite some time. With law school exams way in the past, how can an attorney be expected to compete with recent law school graduates on this exam? The answer has everything to do with proper preparation. Let’s first quickly dispense with a common myth: performance on the California Bar Exam directly correlates with an applicant’s ability to practice law. No. Not the case. How you perform on the bar exam has nothing to do with how you engage a client, prepare a brief, research case law, or even make a decision.
The practice of law affords us time. The California Bar Exam does not. So, trying to draw from your experience (attorneys please pay attention here) will get you nowhere. We, at Executive Bar Review have the opportunity to speak to thousands of attorneys about this one-day exam. On almost every occasion, attorneys tell us how their particular practice area will be an advantage on the bar exam. We wish that this is true. Simply put, it is not.
As a suggestion, attorneys who choose to opt out of the MBE should work on creating what are known as rule paragraphs. In essence an attorney should have “canned” responses readily available at exam time. By creating these particular paragraphs, attorneys can keep up with the speed of the bar exam. If you do not have to think about what you are going to write, then you are saving precious keystroke moments.
We all know that Community Property essay answers begin with “California is a Community Property State”. We all go on to then define Community Property, Seperate Property and Quasi- Community Property. Knowing that this is the exact way to start a Community Property answer will allow for more time to digest and analyze the given fact pattern. How about then, creating a rule paragraph for the Commerce Clause and then another for Equal Protection? Certain staples are always tested and serve as the heart of any bar examination essay question. When addressing Criminal Procedure, make sure to open your essay answer with standing, government conduct and, most likely, whether your defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Know that when addressing the 4th amendment the requirements of a warrant should be addressed. Then of course knowing that in most cases the officer had no warrant, be prepared to discuss at least three exceptions to the warrant requirement. Fruits of the poisonous tree? Almost always a given. Any evidence obtained in violation of a defendants 4th, 5th or 6th amendment right will be excluded at trial. If I already know what to write when I spot an issue, then again, I am saving a great deal of time. Rule paragraphs are far more effective than regurgitating or re-creating subject outlines.
Outlines might help to organize a subject, but rule paragraphs (memorized of course) have direct application to essay responses. In selecting a bar review course or method of studying make sure to select one that addresses your immediate concerns. Do you type slowly? Does it take you a long time to figure out what the tested issues are? Do you have trouble with rote memorization? All of these queries can be addressed in a very successful manner. One size fits all bar exam preparation courses are not suitable for busy practicing attorneys. Find a one on one bar review course that focuses on you as the test taker.
Back to the MBE. The decision to take the MBE of course must be carefully weighed against the relative time a busy attorney has to prepare for the California Attorney’s Exam. Whether you have one hour a day available to study or four hours a day should weigh heavily on whether the multiple choice Multistate Bar Exam is a good option. In helping an attorney make the decision as to whether the MBE is the way to go, the experts at Executive Bar Review have developed a proven MBE diagnostic which can quickly determine whether the MBE will help an applicant’s overall score. Should an attorney make the decision to take the MBE, the Executive Bar Review program allows for the inclusion of this portion of the exam while still maintaining its proven time-efficient model for Bar Exam success.
A Bar Review course should focus on a particular individual and asses the needs of that bar exam candidate. Not all applicants are the same, and the approach to studying for the bar exam should reflect the candidate. On a final note, give yourself enough time. Trying to prepare in a six-week time frame is overly ambitious. A three to four-month lead time is optimal if possible. Managing a work schedule and the California bar exam is possible. Uncomfortable at times, but certainly manageable. Good luck to all of our Executive Bar Review exam candidates!
For more information about Executive Bar Review’s private tutorial services visit our home and about pages linked here.