How The Bar Exam Tests Your Fundamental Lawyering Skills
The July/October 2020 California bar exam results (released on January 8, 2021) show that bar passage rates doubled after the Bar Examiners lowered the passing score from 1440 to 1390 and administered the exam online. The largest number of applicants in 12 years passed this first online CA bar exam. The published results show 60.7% of test-takers passed, which was the highest passing rate since July 2008.
Despite this impressive increase, the CA Bar Exam remains one of the most difficult bar exams in the nation. For those who did not pass, it does not appear their results reflect a lack of legal knowledge. The vast majority of bar candidates who sit for the exam have an adequate command of the law. Rather, the test results for those who did not pass reflect a general lack of test-taking skills on the MBE and written portions of the exam.
Since the emphasis of the Bar Exam is the ability to apply the pertinent legal rules to the issues raised by the facts in various bar exam testing formats, effective bar preparation demands a two-step process to develop proficiency with legal analysis and reasoning, fact analysis, strategy and problem solving, organization, time management, communication, and a capacity to recognize and resolve ethical dilemmas.
The Fleming's Two-Step
The first step to effectively prepare for the Bar Exam is to learn the rules of law in each tested subject. Developing learning and memory retention devices, such as approaches and checklists for each subject, are essential tools that promote the ability to recall legal concepts associated with each area of law. Bar review outlines, law school class notes, flashcards, and other legal resources are readily available to accomplish this first step.
The second step to effectively prepare for the Bar Exam is to develop analytical and application skills on each Bar Exam testing format. This step is more difficult than step one, and it is the most important step. Candidates who spend the majority of their study time merely memorizing the legal rules at the expense of developing analytical skills by taking practice exams under timed conditions rarely score well.
The fundamental principle of analysis is that out of the facts, the issue arises. Those candidates who understand this concept divide their study time between memorizing the law, and applying that law to the various bar exam formats.
Consider the following example. If the Bar Examiners want to test the Statute of Frauds in Contracts, they write a fact pattern related to a certain type of contract that is required by law to be in writing to be enforceable. Most bar candidates are fully versed in this area of law. However, when they miss the fact that the agreement was made on "the telephone," which raises an application of the Statute of Frauds based on the oral nature of this fact, they miss the issue. This means is that when the bar examiners score the exam answer and find the issue and analysis do not appear, the examinee may not pass the exam even though he or she can recite the memorized rule of law.
An effective bar study requires consistent preparation and practice. There is no substitute for either. To be successful on the bar exam, each candidate must devote the necessary time and effort to learning the law and applying it to essay, Performance, and MBE bar testing formats.
Each candidate must objectively consider his or her abilities to evaluate how much study time is necessary to develop the skills described above. It is not unusual for bar candidates to underestimate these requirements. Therefore, it is wise to solicit feedback from law school professors or bar review professionals so that they can assess a bar candidate's skill level and assist in devising an appropriate study program.
Prepare Properly To Overcome The Fear of Failure
The fear of failure many bar candidates have is usually a result of an ineffective study plan that does not include exam practice under timed conditions. The most effective way to overcome this fear is by setting up a consistent study program and incorporating exam practice, ideally on a daily basis. Taking out a calendar and plotting a day-by-day study schedule will easily accomplish this provided the schedule is realistic and the candidate sticks to it.
Always remember that effective preparation breeds confidence. Learning the law and practicing exam-testing formats build "know-how" and the confidence that results. Bar exam practice is like physical exercise; when you do it, it works.
Fleming's bar review emphasizes the two-step process for effective bar exam preparation. For step one, Fleming's bar review provides comprehensive substantive law lectures with approaches and checklists to promote each bar candidate's understanding and thorough command of the law. For step two, Fleming's incorporates weekly exam practice, both in and outside of class. Fleming's bar candidates receive oral feedback from Fleming's staff of professional attorney readers for every written exam answer they submit. This winning combination is the reason that every year, Fleming's bar candidates consistently exceed the average bar exam pass rates.