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Interview with Bar Exam Readers

Interview with Bar Exam Readers

A bar exam reader determines a grade by comparing the essay answer to a consensus analysis of that particular answer. The consensus analysis is similar to a committee's answer key and contains the issues and their point values, and is achieved after an exhaustive review of possible analyses of each question by the author, readers, and reappraisers.

Each Applicant Should Know the Following Hot Spots

Although they have individual preferences, when a number of bar exam readers were interviewed, their responses to basic essay flaws were relatively uniform. To maximize the chance of success:

1. Read the call of the question.

Readers are not supposed to reduce an essay’s score for wrong answers that do not interfere with the right answer. However, extraneous and irrelevant analysis, or discussion of issues not tested, wastes a reader's time and implies that the applicant does not really understand the question. If the reader is undecided, this applicant may not get the benefit of the doubt.

2. Avoid reiterating the question.

The reader knows the question's fact pattern. Applicants who don't know what to write waste everyone's time and energy with a rambling repetition of the question's facts. This gains neither points nor sympathy. The readers want to grade these exams quickly and accurately. Hence, fact repetition without productive analysis is counterproductive.

3. Think and organize before writing.

Paragraphs crossed out, analyses leading nowhere, and discussions in which the applicant summarily dismisses an issue before completing the analysis, after the applicant realizes the facts don't support a discussion of this issue, are wasteful. Always outline your answers first. Studies repeatedly show that outlining saves time and increases a score.

4. Arrive at a conclusion.

A ping pong discussion of each side without arriving; at a conclusion is a poor analysis. Virtually every issue should be reasoned to a conclusion.

5. Map out your thoughts.

Many applicants start discussions, jump to other issues, and then return to their prior discussions or complete their thoughts pages later. Without clear directions a reader who is not a direct descendant of Magellan won't find the rest of the answer or be able to piece the discussions together. So, make the reader's job easier. Lack of organization supports a suspicion that logical thinking may be missing. That is not a good impression to give the reader.

6. Look for the subtle issues.

Every essay has some primary issues and some secondary, more subtle, issues. Everyone knows they have to hit the main issues to pass, but if you miss a couple of the subtle issues your essay grade will be significantly diminished.

7. Be brief but complete.

Short complete essays typically receive the highest grades. They get to the point quickly and move on. No exam essay has ever won the Pulitzer Prize. Yours won't be the first.

By: Edward C. Stark,
former law professor and member of the Committee of Bar Examiners

CALIFORNIA LAWYER - FEBRUARY 23, 2001

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