I am a pretty big Harry Potter fan.
I wasn’t “allowed” to read the books when everyone was consuming them in elementary school, so I didn’t realize the wonder of Albus Dumbledore until I was in college. After I finished all the books (in a week flat, seriously), I started on the movies and was able to see the last two films at their premieres. As a film major (ha, also seriously), I was stunned by the visuals in the train station scene – you know the one. Dumbledore was lecturing Harry, as per usual, and there was a very ethereal vibe to the whole thing.
During law school, I caught every single Harry Potter weekend on ABC Family (Freeform??). Dumbledore’s wisdom was a driving force to get me to study more than once. When it came time to study for the bar, I can confidently say good ‘ole Albus helped me once again.
Here are three of the lessons Albus offers to help with the essay portion of the Bar Exam.
- “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
I wrote last week about how important it is to have a general idea of an essay subject before trying to tackle a practice exam. Using even the most basic knowledge can help you delineate some form of a rule which you can then apply.
The Bar Exam is a points game. If you can’t get points for a perfect rule statement, you might as well get them for a bomb format, amazing analysis, and rocking conclusion. Don’t waste time moping about not knowing every single black letter law. You will never know them all. It’s impractical, improbable, impossible. Decide right now that you won’t get stuck on your “failings” but instead focus on your skills.
If you have made it this far, you are an amazing story teller. You know some rules about some weird situations (darn you, banana peels!!!). I can almost guarantee you have faced a problem or two on a final that you didn’t know much about. You can play the game, so play it. Worrying about things you can’t change, like an essay topic you know nothing about, is just as pointless as daydreaming in the middle of the Bar Exam. Focus on the reality of the situation and do what you do best – use the rules to make the story.
- “Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
As much as it sucks, I am convinced the best way to practice for the essay portion of the Bar Exam is to do as many practice essays as you can handle. You can study all that Barbri black letter law mumbo jumbo you want, I don’t think it can hurt anything, but in order to ace this exam, you have to apply the knowledge.
The Bar Exam is different from almost any other test because the BLE isn’t asking you to memorize a bunch of material and regurgitate it back. They want you to own the law. The Bar Exam is testing your ability to lawyer – take what you know, get to the point, win your case. You wouldn’t expect a litigator to come into the courtroom with zero experience and still blow you away. As lawyers (and almost attorneys!!), the same logic applies. You may not naturally be a beast at the Bar, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there with practice.
The truth is, the essays are awful. It doesn’t really matter how much of the law you learn, they will always be awful. Forgetting about them altogether sounds nice, trust me, I know. But “numbing the pain for awhile will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
Bite the bullet and start practicing now. Get someone to grade your practice essays and give you honest feedback. I am offering this service for readers at a mere $5 per essay. I will give detailed notes on what you can work on to get more points and will correct your black letter law, if needed. As much as it sucks, getting in practice now is the best way to improve your scores early on and sustain them until July.
- “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
When I first started looking through practice essay answers, I was super discouraged. I didn’t write like the other examinees and inevitably I missed some crazy detail they pointed out. After attending an event hosted by my law school, STCLH, I realized that it didn’t really matter. As people we all see situations differently and as attorneys we all have different ideas of how to best solve a problem. Why should we expect ourselves to answer stupid essay prompts the same way?!
Don’t be too hard on yourself when looking at practice answers. The ones posted on the BLE website are written by crazed examinees under some of the worst pressure of their lives. The answers given to you by your commercial prep course are on the other end of the spectrum, written by professionals with way too much time on their hands. Sometimes it helped while I was studying to picture the people writing the answers.
Like, oh Bill. Loosen up that tie a little bit, go see if your wife could use some help with the kids. Ain’t no body got time to read your three page dissertation on community property distribution upon the dissolution of Anna and Connor’s marriage. Trust me.
Funny, right? Looking at things this way made me realize that it didn’t matter how I was saying the things I was saying. I was never going to be Bill and until the day of, I couldn’t mimic an examinee. Instead, if I knew the rules I needed to apply and could figure out some way to apply them, it didn’t really matter what that way was.
So there you have it, the three ways Dumbledore helped me walk through the perilous essay portion of the Bar Exam. It was no Goblet of Fire, but let me tell you… by that last day I felt like “the brightest witch of my age” (sorry Hermione!). How can you use these quotes to help on your journey? Practice, practice, practice.
Check out my tutoring and essay grading for help on specific topics. I have posted half of the Essay Study Guides and have gotten great reviews so far. These documents outline the essay topic I think is most likely to be tested in July 2018, based on a variety research. I then break down the most common topics and provide the relevant rules based on those questions. Each subject is one or two pages max, meaning you can easily take them with you on Thursday and happily trash them after you destroy the essays. Feel free to comment, email, or even shoot me a Facebook message if you have any questions or want more info!
I will leave you with a bonus Albus quote: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” Things seem crazy right now and they totally are, but that doesn’t mean this test is invincible. You are invincible. That’s the reality of the situation, despite what your head might be telling you right now.