My Essay On Passing The Bar

Passing the bar on my second try (and why I think I did)
By Jay Wiseman, JD

Hi all,

I'm still feeling kind of disoriented, and mostly feeling relief. I passed the exam on my second try. I was so certain that I wasn't going to pass that I had my entire schedule for the next 3+ months laid out on that assumption, so exactly what I'll do now is going to take some re-thinking.

While I'm happy that I passed, it's a distinctly bittersweet happiness because some of my best friends in school, who worked harder and got better grades than I did, still haven't passed. I wish them every success next time.

I tested for the first time in July of 2005. Due to personal busy-ness, I didn't retest in February.

What I did differently this time:

I got my essay books back from the state bar (living in SF made this relatively easy) so that I could, among other things, see the comments made by the graders. Unfortunately, there were none. However, I hand-wrote the exam and I can't write all that fast so in looking at my answers I kept thinking about how they could have been longer. I therefore used a borrowed laptop this time around and I think that doing so helped -- a lot. Using the laptop simply allowed me to get more words "on paper" in the time allowed and thus write a much more detailed analysis.

I would _definitely_not_ handwrite the exam if I had it to do over again. For one thing, I can't write all that fast so I can't get as much analysis down on paper as I'd like to. For another, my handwriting isn't very good so it's hard to read -- never a good thing. For a third, on this most recent exam I got way into one question before I realized that my analysis was off. If I had handwritten this, I'd have to cross stuff out and begin again. This time, I merely deleted the text and rewrote it. The reader wouldn't be able to "tell" how off I had originally been. Seriously, the essays just _looked_ better. (According to Adachi, infra, that carries significant weight in terms of its grade.)

On subjects that I felt completely "cold" on, such as criminal procedure, I dragged out my emanuel flash cards and went to work. Of all the law school study aids out there -- and my apartment is a veritable museum of them -- I continue to feel think they offer the best value for the money. (Better, IMO, than the PMBR flash cards.) They're relatively cheap, very interactive, and quite comprehensive. I used them a lot, both in law school and for bar prep. I found them especially useful for going from a cold start on a particular subject to arriving at a point where I felt sharpened up pretty well. This time around, I worked my way through all the cards on crim law, crim pro, evidence, and con law.

I also did "a whole bunch" of PMBR questions, as well as all the Fleming's multistate questions. (I waited until I had finished the flash cards before I went into the multi-states on subjects that I felt cold about.)

However, the BIG thing that I did differently this time was as follows: I copied model answers -- a _lot_ of model answers.

Back when I was a first-year, I was advised to do this by a third-year whose name and face I have forgotten, but it proved to be _very_ useful advice.

Much as art students are encouraged to "copy the masters" I've found that copying model answers does a lot to train both my brain and my hands in how to write a good analysis. I first really started to "get it" when I copied a lot of the model answers in Tim Tyler's "Nailing The Bar" books. (Excellent books; IMO they're the best on the market at _showing_ how to "crack the code.")

I'd read the question, do my own outline, and then type the model answer in. Sometimes I'd then turn right around and write my own answer and compare it to the model answer. This was extremely useful (if sometimes -- OK, frequently -- humbling).

I then got Adachi's bar breaker series and did the same. I also made a point to learn his particular method of outlining a fact pattern -- it's by far the best I've ever seen for that -- and I used his approach diligently both in practice and on the actual exam. Note: I found having his Bar Exam Survival Kit to be an essential accessory to the two "main" books.

One might think that merely copying a model answer would be a mostly passive process that taught very little, but I found very much the opposite. While the front of my brain was copying the words, I found that the back of my brain was studying the technique, and also reviewing the rules and the analysis. It was _very_ much an "active learning" technique.

I copied numerous Tyler model answers. I also copied _all_ of the Adachi answers on torts, CP, and PR. (They essentially always have an essay on PR on the test.) I copied as many answers as I could on other topics before exam day arrived.

After a while, I found myself learning how to sort of "imitate in advance" what Tyler or Adachi would write. I would see something come up and I'd say to myself: "Hmmmm, I'll betcha he's gonna write about that issue something like this..." As time went on, I became correct more and more often. Candidly, doing this was very much like using training wheels when I first learned to ride a bicycle back when I was a tot. After a while, I didn't need them anymore. Something very similar happened to me in this case.

When I got on the actual exam, I was able to apply them. For example, I had written Adachi's "boilerplate" on duty, standard of care, and breach so often for negligence that when I saw the negligence issue on the torts question I was able to plop his approach down onto the paper virtually word for word.

If I had it to do over again, there's no question that I would copy even more model answers. I'd probably also copy several performance tests.

I am more and more of the opinion that the technique of copying model answers, just like art students copy the masters, is a technique that should be used much more widely than it is.

If I could go back and do it over again, I'd buy the Tyler books and the Adachi books during my first semester of my first year of law school, and I wouldn't dream of showing up to take an essay about a particular subject without having first copied their essays on that subject.

Very best regards to all, especially those who will be re-testing.

Jay Wiseman


In response to the numerous requests for information I've received about where to obtain the emanuel "law in a flash" flashcards, Tyler books, and Adachi books, please let me point out that they're available in pretty much any California law school bookstore, whether online or brick-and-mortar.

Websites and other resources:

emanuel flash cards

PMBR books of multi-state questions: These are largely available as the "finals" books in law school bookstores. They're topic-specific, including the "core six" topics and also civil procedure, corporations, wills and trusts, remedies, and community property (both general law and California law). They include good rules review, graph-type outlines, and questions of increasing difficulty, with answers. Excellent value for the money. Used copies of the voluminous PMBR books can sometimes be found at legal bookstores and on eBay.

Tim Tyler


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