Recommendations from My Experience Passing the California Attorneys’ Exam on the Second Attempt (While Working)

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TLSBarRev

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Recommendations from My Experience Passing the California Attorneys’ Exam on the Second Attempt (While Working)

Post by TLSBarRev » Mon May 11, 2020 5:30 pm

Background

I am an out-of-state attorney licensed in two other states who graduated from law school just under a decade ago. I passed my first state’s bar exam on the first try right out of law school, and my second state’s bar exam about three years after law school. My partner and I decided to move to California, and because I had more than five years of practice experience, I was eligible for the Attorneys’ Exam (i.e., “just” the essays and PT, no MBE). My practice area requires me to write extensive, analytical correspondence and dispositive motions boiling down complex issues into digestible legal arguments. Because my practice is so focused on writing, I assumed that my writing skills would carry me through the exam, and that my focus only needed to be learning the California distinctions and re-learning the general legal rules from previous bar exams. I quickly learned that assumption was incorrect.

I took the July 2019 exam and failed; most of my essays were scores as 60s, and I had two essays scored 55. I was beyond upset. After wallowing for a few weeks, I developed a game plan and dove into studying and practicing LOTS of essays and PTs. With all this practice, I was able to pass the Attorneys’ Exam in February 2020. I worked at a firm throughout studying for both exams; I took some time off in February, but for the most part I kept to a full-time work schedule throughout, taking off a day or two in early February, and then the last few days before the exam.

Because I relied on many of the posts on this board in preparing to re-take the Attorneys’ Exam, I promised myself that if/when I passed I would write a post about the study techniques and resources that worked for me. Here goes…

Self-Assessment - How the CA Bar is Different from the Other Bar Exams I’ve Taken

In my opinion, the distinguishing factor of the California bar exam, at least with respect to the essays, is how the responses are graded. There is little margin for error, and the graders want to see essays written a specific, compartmentalized, linear way.

The quantity of material I had to learn for the CA bar was not necessarily anything more than I what I had to learn for other states’ bar exams, each of which had their own state-specific topics that are not standard law school topics. However, the way in which the essays are graded is very specific. I have read/heard that CA bar graders typically have approximately 3-5 minutes to grade each exam. From what I was able to discern, the graders look for a specific answer structure. This goes beyond simply using headers and bold/italics. For me, it came down to teaching myself how to write in a compartmentalized IRAC format that is contrary to how the way I write when I am drafting letters to clients or dispositive motions.

Thus, for me, it was not simply enough to know the law and know how to write as a practicing lawyer. Rather, it was about learning how to write for the test. This required changing my previous study techniques.

How Studying for the CA Attorneys’ Exam (the Second Time Around) Differed from Prior Bar Exam Study Techniques

The first bar exam that I took immediately after law school, I prepare using the full Barbri course. I watched the videos, wrote outlines, did practice tests, and wrote out a few full essays, as well as issue spotting/outlining other essays. I passed.

For my second bar exam, I had to study while working full time. I studied nights and weekends, but didn’t take off much time other than the few days I had to travel out of state to take the exam. I purchased a recent set of Barbri books online, wrote my outlines, and issue spotted/outlined essay responses. I passed.

For the July 2019 CA Attorneys’ Exam, I used the same method as I had for my second bar exam. I studied a few hours every evening after work from approximately mid-June until the exam in July. I also spent most of the weekends studying, however because we were preparing to move there were some days when I didn’t even have time to crack open a book or glance at my outlines. I purchased a current set of CA Barbri books online, as well as the Basick/Schindler CA Essays Blue Book. I prepared outlines, and I issue spotted/outlined essay answers as practice. I looked at a few PTs, but otherwise did not do any specific preparation, assuming that my several years of experience as a practicing attorney would carry me through the PT. Obviously, it didn’t, because I didn’t pass.

For the February 2020 exam, I spent more time studying (about 8 weeks as opposed to 6 weeks) but also revamped my study techniques. Because I was still working, I studied about 2-4 hours 4 weeknights per week, and between 4-8 hours each Saturday and Sunday. After looking over my notes and researching tutors for the first few weeks of December, I started studying in earnest right around January 1. Fortunately, my long outlines from July 2019 were solid, so I was able to focus on refining those outlines down to shorter study sheets to review and memorize.

More importantly, however, I spent most of my time practicing essays and reading through prior successful essays. This differed drastically from my previous bar exam studying habits. I wrote full answers, under mostly timed conditions, for approximately 40 essays and 5 PTs. I also issue spotted/outlined approximately 5 more PTs and about 40-45 additional essays (using BarEssays – more below). I used a tutoring/essay grading program to submit and get feedback on most of my written essays and several PTs (more on this below). I also really dove into the Bastick/Schindler essay book, focusing not just only the outlines of the legal rules but on the essay writing techniques.

My studying evolved as the exam grew closer, and mostly went like this--

January:
--Review long outlines daily
--Write out a full essay response once every other day – open book/notes, allowing about an hour and ten minutes per essay.
--Prepare short outlines/memorization sheets focusing on issues that I missed in the essays.
--Write out 3 full PTs (usually on a Saturday morning, followed by writing out a full essay response to begin to mimic the fatigue of exam day).

February:
--Write out approximately one or two full essay responses about every other day – open book until the last two weeks before the exam, allowing one hour for each essay. I’ll note that, after doing a certain number of open-book essay responses, you’ll start to remember the rule statements and essay structure. Don’t be afraid to dip back into your notes occasionally if you are absolutely stumped by an essay question. I found it more useful to teach myself how to write out a correct rule statement/essay structure by going back to my notes when needed than going without notes and writing an incorrect or insufficient essay response.
--Review model and BarEssays passing score responses to essays I completed.
--Issue spot/outline about 10-12 essays per week, then review model and passing responses from BarEssays.
--Review and continue to supplement short outlines/memorization sheets-adding issues missed from written and outlined essays.
--Write out another 3 full PTs, and issue spot/outline one PT per week.

Last week before the exam:
--Review short outlines/memorization sheets.
--Review questions and passing/model answers on BarEssays for repeating or similar fact patterns – especially for topics that I thought were likely to appear on the exam (PR, subjects that hadn’t been tested in a few bar sessions such as Evidence and BA).

I found several resources to be useful, each of which I will discuss below.

Useful Resources

Black Letter Law/Outlines—

Conviser Mini Review Book (Barbri): Get the most up-to-date version so you have all the recent California PR rule updates. An excellent resource to prepare your outlines and learn the law.

Essay Exam Writing for the California Bar Exam Book (Bastick/Schindler): Read through the black-letter law outlines to supplement your own outlines/knowledge. Also, read the essay questions and go through the essay grading grids and responses and the end of each topic – this will alert you to common fact patterns, as well as key issues you likely need to address to receive a passing essay score. Chapter 8—Professional Responsibility—has a supplement available online since the book was published just before the November 2018 PR rule changes.

MTYLT MagicSheets/Approsheets: This is another great resource at a good price. Even though I had my own long outlines, these helped me to narrow down key issues/rule statements and were a great quick resource as I did my open-book essay writing early in my test preparation.

Essay/PT Writing and Technique--

Bar Exam Doctor (Essay and PT grading/tutoring): I signed up for this program in early January and had a total of about 25 essays and 5 or 6 PTs graded. I also did a one-hour tutoring session in mid-February to discuss some nagging questions I had about how to best format/structure my essay answers. The graders provided great feedback and I was also able to look at other (anonymous) answers from other students who have used the program. It was reasonably priced and I would definitely recommend it for someone looking to improve their essay scores. Self-grading essays just didn't cut it for me.

BarEssays (Essay database): When I first started to prepare for the California bar exam, I heard about this website but I did not understand how useful it would be to my study process. Yes, the California Bar releases essay questions and model answers going back several years. However, the model answers are *not* the answers you will write in the exam. BarEssays provides you with scored essay responses so that you can compare the differences between an essay that received a score of 55 and an essay that received a score of 75. It also provides multiple answers in the same score range for many of the essay questions. Therefore, you can compare various responses that received passing scores and compare the rule statements and essay structure against your own answers to determine what you might be missing. In my opinion it is a great resource at a good value for anyone struggling with their essays.

California Performance Test Workbook: Preparation for the Bar Exam (Bastick/Schindler): Another great resource that mirrors the format of the CA Essays Blue Book. Again, use the practice PTs to prepare mock answers, then spend some time reading through their advice on how to tackle PT materials and how to outline an answer in the time allowed in the exam.

I hope this information is helpful to someone who is feeling a little lost in the process. I will try to check back in on this post occasionally if anyone has questions for me they’d like to post.

law_underdog

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Posts: 2
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 10:30 pm

Re: Recommendations from My Experience Passing the California Attorneys’ Exam on the Second Attempt (While Working)

Post by law_underdog » Sun Aug 16, 2020 7:55 pm

I just wanted to say thank you for this generous report. As a Texas attorney sitting for the California bar exam, this is exactly what I was looking for!


rhs67858

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Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Jan 30, 2016 4:42 pm

Re: Recommendations from My Experience Passing the California Attorneys’ Exam on the Second Attempt (While Working)

Post by rhs67858 » Mon Aug 17, 2020 11:50 am

Congratulations, and also I appreciate you taking the time to post this.

CAbar

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Posts: 6
Joined: Sun Jan 05, 2020 4:51 pm

Re: Recommendations from My Experience Passing the California Attorneys’ Exam on the Second Attempt (While Working)

Post by CAbar » Tue Aug 18, 2020 12:34 pm

Thanks for the detailed post.
TLSBarRev wrote:
Mon May 11, 2020 5:30 pm
Background

I am an out-of-state attorney licensed in two other states who graduated from law school just under a decade ago. I passed my first state’s bar exam on the first try right out of law school, and my second state’s bar exam about three years after law school. My partner and I decided to move to California, and because I had more than five years of practice experience, I was eligible for the Attorneys’ Exam (i.e., “just” the essays and PT, no MBE). My practice area requires me to write extensive, analytical correspondence and dispositive motions boiling down complex issues into digestible legal arguments. Because my practice is so focused on writing, I assumed that my writing skills would carry me through the exam, and that my focus only needed to be learning the California distinctions and re-learning the general legal rules from previous bar exams. I quickly learned that assumption was incorrect.

I took the July 2019 exam and failed; most of my essays were scores as 60s, and I had two essays scored 55. I was beyond upset. After wallowing for a few weeks, I developed a game plan and dove into studying and practicing LOTS of essays and PTs. With all this practice, I was able to pass the Attorneys’ Exam in February 2020. I worked at a firm throughout studying for both exams; I took some time off in February, but for the most part I kept to a full-time work schedule throughout, taking off a day or two in early February, and then the last few days before the exam.

Because I relied on many of the posts on this board in preparing to re-take the Attorneys’ Exam, I promised myself that if/when I passed I would write a post about the study techniques and resources that worked for me. Here goes…

Self-Assessment - How the CA Bar is Different from the Other Bar Exams I’ve Taken

In my opinion, the distinguishing factor of the California bar exam, at least with respect to the essays, is how the responses are graded. There is little margin for error, and the graders want to see essays written a specific, compartmentalized, linear way.

The quantity of material I had to learn for the CA bar was not necessarily anything more than I what I had to learn for other states’ bar exams, each of which had their own state-specific topics that are not standard law school topics. However, the way in which the essays are graded is very specific. I have read/heard that CA bar graders typically have approximately 3-5 minutes to grade each exam. From what I was able to discern, the graders look for a specific answer structure. This goes beyond simply using headers and bold/italics. For me, it came down to teaching myself how to write in a compartmentalized IRAC format that is contrary to how the way I write when I am drafting letters to clients or dispositive motions.

Thus, for me, it was not simply enough to know the law and know how to write as a practicing lawyer. Rather, it was about learning how to write for the test. This required changing my previous study techniques.

How Studying for the CA Attorneys’ Exam (the Second Time Around) Differed from Prior Bar Exam Study Techniques

The first bar exam that I took immediately after law school, I prepare using the full Barbri course. I watched the videos, wrote outlines, did practice tests, and wrote out a few full essays, as well as issue spotting/outlining other essays. I passed.

For my second bar exam, I had to study while working full time. I studied nights and weekends, but didn’t take off much time other than the few days I had to travel out of state to take the exam. I purchased a recent set of Barbri books online, wrote my outlines, and issue spotted/outlined essay responses. I passed.

For the July 2019 CA Attorneys’ Exam, I used the same method as I had for my second bar exam. I studied a few hours every evening after work from approximately mid-June until the exam in July. I also spent most of the weekends studying, however because we were preparing to move there were some days when I didn’t even have time to crack open a book or glance at my outlines. I purchased a current set of CA Barbri books online, as well as the Basick/Schindler CA Essays Blue Book. I prepared outlines, and I issue spotted/outlined essay answers as practice. I looked at a few PTs, but otherwise did not do any specific preparation, assuming that my several years of experience as a practicing attorney would carry me through the PT. Obviously, it didn’t, because I didn’t pass.

For the February 2020 exam, I spent more time studying (about 8 weeks as opposed to 6 weeks) but also revamped my study techniques. Because I was still working, I studied about 2-4 hours 4 weeknights per week, and between 4-8 hours each Saturday and Sunday. After looking over my notes and researching tutors for the first few weeks of December, I started studying in earnest right around January 1. Fortunately, my long outlines from July 2019 were solid, so I was able to focus on refining those outlines down to shorter study sheets to review and memorize.

More importantly, however, I spent most of my time practicing essays and reading through prior successful essays. This differed drastically from my previous bar exam studying habits. I wrote full answers, under mostly timed conditions, for approximately 40 essays and 5 PTs. I also issue spotted/outlined approximately 5 more PTs and about 40-45 additional essays (using BarEssays – more below). I used a tutoring/essay grading program to submit and get feedback on most of my written essays and several PTs (more on this below). I also really dove into the Bastick/Schindler essay book, focusing not just only the outlines of the legal rules but on the essay writing techniques.

My studying evolved as the exam grew closer, and mostly went like this--

January:
--Review long outlines daily
--Write out a full essay response once every other day – open book/notes, allowing about an hour and ten minutes per essay.
--Prepare short outlines/memorization sheets focusing on issues that I missed in the essays.
--Write out 3 full PTs (usually on a Saturday morning, followed by writing out a full essay response to begin to mimic the fatigue of exam day).

February:
--Write out approximately one or two full essay responses about every other day – open book until the last two weeks before the exam, allowing one hour for each essay. I’ll note that, after doing a certain number of open-book essay responses, you’ll start to remember the rule statements and essay structure. Don’t be afraid to dip back into your notes occasionally if you are absolutely stumped by an essay question. I found it more useful to teach myself how to write out a correct rule statement/essay structure by going back to my notes when needed than going without notes and writing an incorrect or insufficient essay response.
--Review model and BarEssays passing score responses to essays I completed.
--Issue spot/outline about 10-12 essays per week, then review model and passing responses from BarEssays.
--Review and continue to supplement short outlines/memorization sheets-adding issues missed from written and outlined essays.
--Write out another 3 full PTs, and issue spot/outline one PT per week.

Last week before the exam:
--Review short outlines/memorization sheets.
--Review questions and passing/model answers on BarEssays for repeating or similar fact patterns – especially for topics that I thought were likely to appear on the exam (PR, subjects that hadn’t been tested in a few bar sessions such as Evidence and BA).

I found several resources to be useful, each of which I will discuss below.

Useful Resources

Black Letter Law/Outlines—

Conviser Mini Review Book (Barbri): Get the most up-to-date version so you have all the recent California PR rule updates. An excellent resource to prepare your outlines and learn the law.

Essay Exam Writing for the California Bar Exam Book (Bastick/Schindler): Read through the black-letter law outlines to supplement your own outlines/knowledge. Also, read the essay questions and go through the essay grading grids and responses and the end of each topic – this will alert you to common fact patterns, as well as key issues you likely need to address to receive a passing essay score. Chapter 8—Professional Responsibility—has a supplement available online since the book was published just before the November 2018 PR rule changes.

MTYLT MagicSheets/Approsheets: This is another great resource at a good price. Even though I had my own long outlines, these helped me to narrow down key issues/rule statements and were a great quick resource as I did my open-book essay writing early in my test preparation.

Essay/PT Writing and Technique--

Bar Exam Doctor (Essay and PT grading/tutoring): I signed up for this program in early January and had a total of about 25 essays and 5 or 6 PTs graded. I also did a one-hour tutoring session in mid-February to discuss some nagging questions I had about how to best format/structure my essay answers. The graders provided great feedback and I was also able to look at other (anonymous) answers from other students who have used the program. It was reasonably priced and I would definitely recommend it for someone looking to improve their essay scores. Self-grading essays just didn't cut it for me.

BarEssays (Essay database): When I first started to prepare for the California bar exam, I heard about this website but I did not understand how useful it would be to my study process. Yes, the California Bar releases essay questions and model answers going back several years. However, the model answers are *not* the answers you will write in the exam. BarEssays provides you with scored essay responses so that you can compare the differences between an essay that received a score of 55 and an essay that received a score of 75. It also provides multiple answers in the same score range for many of the essay questions. Therefore, you can compare various responses that received passing scores and compare the rule statements and essay structure against your own answers to determine what you might be missing. In my opinion it is a great resource at a good value for anyone struggling with their essays.

California Performance Test Workbook: Preparation for the Bar Exam (Bastick/Schindler): Another great resource that mirrors the format of the CA Essays Blue Book. Again, use the practice PTs to prepare mock answers, then spend some time reading through their advice on how to tackle PT materials and how to outline an answer in the time allowed in the exam.

I hope this information is helpful to someone who is feeling a little lost in the process. I will try to check back in on this post occasionally if anyone has questions for me they’d like to post.

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