Maximize Your Bar Exam Essay Score In One Step

By Jamie Molbreak

There is a great deal of literature professing to contain the secrets to passing the bar exam. The internet is filled with seemingly endless articles about various systems, theories, rituals, and an infinite array of approaches to bar prep. There’s even one article claiming you can pass with only ten days of study (the “5-minute abs” equivalent of bar studies). 

Most are useless. The fact is that the only proven method of passing the bar is actually knowing the law. Every subject that you will be tested on has an intrinsic structure to it according to which you can organize the material, memorize the elements, and keep the information accessible for immediate recitation.  

For example, take the common-law tort of negligence. The typical bar exam has at least one essay with a fact pattern where negligence is at issue. Let’s imagine that we are taking the bar exam and stumble upon the following essay excerpt: 


Billy Bob rushed to enter his vehicle. He plugged his phone into the charger, started the vehicle, and pulled out of his driveway.  As he was driving, his phone buzzed, signaling a text message from his love interest. Billy Bob then initiated the millennial mating-call: snapping “selfies.” He took his eyes off of the road in order to eliminate any unflattering photos. While selecting a heavy-duty filter from the choices on his app, Billy Bob crashed into Ms. Bellbottom, a pedestrian and public school math teacher leaving work early at 5:00PM. As a result of the accident, Ms. Bellbottom sustained serious injuries and will be unable to work for six months.  A witness at the scene noted that Ms. Bellbottom had not been in a crosswalk at the time of the accident, and also appeared to be staring at her phone at the time of impact.  


What you see: A fact-pattern themed cross-word puzzle.

What you think: I wonder if my old job is still hiring?

What you should see: A massive amount of potential points.

Let’s start with the free points. Yes, free points. Once you have identified a situation where the question relates to a party who has failed to act reasonably towards another party, you will get points by writing:


In order to prove negligence, the Plaintiff must show a duty owed by the Defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the injury, and that the Plaintiff has sustained damages compensable by law. 


This simple statement of law will net you points without any reference to the facts. You will get points for the above response to every fact pattern where negligence is at issue.  You must commit to memory the elements of negligence (duty, breach, causation, damages) and do the same for every other cause of action, along with the pertinent defenses and excuses.

After you state the law relevant to the fact pattern, you must then explain how the law applies. But what does that look like? Here is an example:


As an operator of a motor vehicle, Billy Bob owed a duty to drive with reasonable care to all others who could foreseeably be harmed by his failure to drive with reasonable care. Billy Bob breached that duty by snapping “selfies” while driving. A reasonably prudent driver would not take his eyes off the road in order to feed his insatiable ego. These actions caused Billy Bob to drive directly into Ms. Bellbottom, breaking her legs. It is foreseeable that someone operating a motor vehicle without looking at the road will injure a pedestrian. Ms. Bellbottom suffered damages in the form of medical damages, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Luckily for Billy Bob, he didn’t hit someone who is paid a living wage. 


The essay fact patterns are drafted to elicit some defense, excuse, mitigation, or exception to a cause of action, which should be viewed as a source of more points. (I’m sure you didn’t miss that Ms. Bellbottom wasn’t entirely without fault.) Whenever you see a complicated, multi-layered fact pattern, you should breathe a sigh of relief and then take a huge data dump on the essay sheet. Do not waste time on creative or artful phrasing. Instead, employ laser-like focus on producing answers with the most buzzwords and substance because those answers have the most potential to net you points.   

These are just simplified examples, but they can be generalized to every area of law and any question that you may encounter.  You are always confronted with the task of stating what claims the various parties have against one another, along with the defenses to those claims. You must therefore memorize the elements to every cause of action, along with every defense, and learn when to apply them. Your bar outlines will be structured in a manner that makes learning the various causes of actions and their defenses a straightforward task.

There is no magic pill to guarantee you success over this last great hurdle of your legal career. There is no quick-fix. If you find yourself googling “last minute tips to pass the bar exam,” then something has gone terribly awry.  The deciding factor will be your level of commitment and the self-discipline that will keep you from projectile vomiting during the exam.


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Jaime Molbreak is an attorney and graduate of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She is the Virginia Director at Themis Bar Review. Since joining Themis in 2011, Jaime has helped thousands of students successfully prepare for the bar exam in jurisdictions nationwide.