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Three Bar Exam Nightmares, Solved



  • Overcome rule-related uncertainties in bar exam essays by employing creative approaches and leveraging key facts.
  • Tackle uncommon Multistate Performance Test tasks with adaptability, focusing on legal analysis and following IRAC as needed.
Three Bar Exam Nightmares, Solved

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I plugged in my laptop on the morning of the bar exam, and an unwelcome thought rippled through me. I couldn’t remember the rule for larceny by false pretenses. I tried to chase the doubt away. Larceny by false pretenses—it was such a tiny slice of law. I told myself it wouldn’t be tested on the exam.

The proctor passed out the essay questions and started the countdown clock. The clacking of keystrokes broke the silence, and I settled into writing. I finished two essays and turned to the third. The question jumped from the page: was the defendant guilty of larceny by false pretenses?

The rule never came to me, but I passed the exam. Let’s unpack how to solve bar exam nightmares, including the one that befell me.

You Forget a Rule on the Essays

Forgetting a rule is a common bar exam nightmare. But as my experience shows, passing remains possible—your final bar exam score factors in multiple exam components. One weaker essay may not significantly impact your overall score, but you should still aim to earn as many points as possible.

Leaving an essay blank isn’t a good idea. Instead, create and apply a fake rule statement. Use the fact pattern to help you. The bar examiners generally include facts that have legal significance. Scrutinize these facts for clues on what your fake rule should include.

Pay special attention to oddly specific facts. If a criminal law fact pattern gets into minutiae about what someone knew, knowledge might factor into the rule. If a property fact pattern describes improvements on land as clearly visible, the rule might rely on notice. Let the details guide you to a reasonable rule statement.

Next, apply the rule. Incorporate specific facts from the hypothetical into your analysis. Even if you’re applying a fake rule, you might earn points for analyzing the right facts. End your analysis with a conclusion, then move on to the next question.

You won’t be able to use made-up rules as your default approach. Strive to be as prepared as possible for exam day. However, if you draw a blank, faking a rule can salvage some points and get you across the finish line.

You Get a Strange Task on the Performance Test

If you’re taking the Uniform Bar Exam, you’ll face the Multistate Performance Test, a practical lawyering test created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. When you take the MPT, you’ll receive an exam booklet assigning a specific task and providing related fictional evidence and legal authorities. You’ll have 90 minutes to draft a practice-oriented document.

The MPT typically requires you to draft a familiar document type, such as a memo, brief, or demand letter. On occasion, the examiners assign an uncommon task type. Over the years, the MPT has featured several unusual assignments, including findings of fact and conclusions of law, an early dispute resolution statement, and a legislative leave-behind, which is a letter persuading legislators to adopt a bill.

Facing an uncommon task on the MPT might seem like a nightmare, but the MPT packet provides hints on how to proceed. Follow these breadcrumbs to a passing answer.

First, check the task memo from your fictional supervisor. It will contain hints on whether to draft in an objective or persuasive tone. With the proper tone, you can adapt your prior knowledge about legal writing.

If the task requires an objective tone, draw from your experience drafting memos. If it requires a persuasive tone, draw from your experience writing briefs.

Next, check the packet for specific drafting instructions. For uncommon tasks, the examiners typically provide line-by-line instructions or a template with blanks for you to fill in. These instructions will give away how to draft an unusual task.

From there, you can follow an ordinary approach for the performance test. You’ll master the law and facts given in the packet, put together an outline, and then draft a response.

Don’t get too carried away with the unusual aspects of the task. Even if the task seems unfamiliar, there will be some portion in which you’ll conduct legal analysis and follow IRAC in some form. Spend time and energy on those sections, and ultimately, you’ll convince the grader that you’re competent to practice law.

You Run Out of Time

It’s no secret that the bar exam is a time-pressured test. Running out of time is an exceedingly common issue. To avoid a nightmarish experience, try these tips:

Track Your Time on the Essays

Check with your jurisdiction, but the exam proctor typically starts and ends the essay session. Because time won’t be called in between individual essays, you’ll need to track your progress and move on to the next essay when it’s time.

Mark the top of the page with the time the essay session started and intervals for each essay. Divide your time equally between the essays. Generally, each essay receives the same weight in your overall score, so avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time on one question.

Track Your Time on the Multiple-Choice Component

If you’re taking the Multistate Bar Examination, you must answer each question in 1.8 minutes to stay on pace. But it won’t be possible to track time question by question. Instead, establish check-in points. Here’s the pace we recommend:

  • At the 55-minute mark, be at least starting question 33.
  • At the 1-hour-and-50-minute mark, be at least starting question 66.
  • With 10–15 minutes left in the exam session, be at least starting question 99; you’ll have a few extra minutes to return to difficult questions.

On exam day, if a few problems remain when the session is nearly over, don’t leave them blank. As a last resort, fill in answer circles to the remaining problems without stopping to analyze them. The MBE doesn’t penalize guessing, so you might pick up a few additional points.

However, don’t just pick random letters. Instead, pick the same letter for each problem. Statistically, this makes it much more likely that you’ll guess correctly on at least some of the questions.

Investigate How Time Will Be Displayed in the Exam Room

Will the proctor simply write a start and end time on a board? Will the exam room have a countdown clock displayed on a projection screen? With these details in mind, tracking time will be easier. You’ll pass the exam and move on to life as a practicing attorney. 

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