... to pass the July 2012 Bar Exam.
I just replied to an email from someone taking the CA bar exam again in which I tried to communicate what I did differently this time to pass. As you might imagine, I have thought about this quite a bit since November 16, 2012, at 6:18 p.m., and my thoughts, and understanding on the subject have evolved somewhat since my last post. I have pasted below relevant portion of my reply to this person, (with minor editing):
Looking back, I think that they must be looking for something like
the "casual disdain" (or "casual contempt"?/"casual disgust"?/"bored familiarity"?) with which I wrote my answers on the last exam. I believe the graders try to see through the words on the
paper in an effort to get a feel for the state of mind of the person writing
it. When I think about the instructions on the front of the essay
packet I imagine that they must be looking for signs that the writer is
so secure in their command of the material that they don't have to rely
heavily on the crutch of the strictly structured IRAC format.
After years of struggling to understand why my nicely structured and
IRAC'd answers, calmly written in 60-70 minutes on subjects in which I
knew the rules inside and out, received scores of 50, 55, or 60, but my
hurried, unstructured, much less IRAC'd answers, which had always been dashed
off in 50 minutes or less, and which frequently produced scores of 65 or 70, I finally
convinced myself that I had to make a serious effort to figure out why
this was happening.
The only answer I could come up with (that made sense to me, anyways)
was that they were looking for an answer that was more than what
amounted to an "outline with details." And when they saw a strictly IRAC'd "outline with details" I imagined it created an image in their mind of a writer
who was trying to show he knew all the issues, all the rules for
the issues, all the elements of the rules, and all of the facts which related
to those issues/rules/elements - which was something they specifically
advised us not to do in the instructions on the cover page of the essay packet. I also
knew these (issues/ rules/elements) are things that everyone who graduates from law school
should know. What I needed to discover was the conceptual, fundamental,
ethereal, difference between a nicely structured answer that received a
score of 65, 70, or 75, and my own nicely structured answers that
almost always received scores of 50, 55, or 60.
I decided that this must be what they mean when they say that they
are looking for an answer that shows more than that the writer can
simply recall the issues and rules, but can write about those things in a lawyer-like manner. We must be able to combine them in a way
that communicates an understanding of how the issues/rules/elements/facts relate to each
other and to the solution of the overall problem presented. They must
be looking for an answer that shows that the writer knows those
elemental things so well that he has moved beyond merely being able to
create the blueprint for a complete answer. They must be looking for signs
that writer understands the subject completely and grasps, and
can effectively communicate, a comprehensive solution to the big picture of the problem
I imagined it to be similar to the difference between, for example, a baker who is
competent enough to combine all the ingredients of a recipe to bake a
cake, and the baker who has mastered the fundamental baking process, is
proficient at building a complete cake, with multiple layers, and who can
decorate the multilayer cake in a way that tastes good and is pleasant to look at,
thereby producing a complete, high-quality, nicely finished product that has value to
Despite the short length of that reply it took me quite a while to compose so I decided that I might as well share it with the rest of you. It is basically the same as what I said below, but the different way in which it is presented might strike a chord with someone when the earlier explanation did not.
Take good care, and good luck on the upcoming exam.