If you haven’t done so already, get your hands on released Colorado bar essay questions and scoresheets. You can request copies of the essay questions from the Colorado Board of Law Examiners. Here’s how:
“Copies of past essay and performance test questions along with discussions and ungraded scoresheets for these questions are available by written request from the Colorado Board of Law Examiners. Include payment of $15 [per exam requested].”
I obtained copies of the Colorado essay questions dating back to July 2003, and then made a chart of topics to see how often they were tested so that I could guess which essay topics might be on the next bar exam. I’ve already updated the chart with the July 2007 essay topics. You can see the chart on the “Materials” page (see the tab menu above). Even if you aren’t taking the CO bar, if your state releases bar exam essays it would be a good idea to make a similar chart.
The scoresheets are really important – they tell you exactly what the bar examiners are looking for in your essay answers. The scoresheets are basically checklists, so if you don’t mention a certain point you won’t get it. It’s not about how well you write or analyze a certain issue, it’s about getting as many points on each checklist as you can. It also can’t hurt to try and write your essay in checklist style. I tried this for the July 2007 bar exam – I’d double-space each sentence so that it would be easier for the grader to read without having to extract a specific point from a paragraph cluster of sentences, and thus the grader would be able to spot that point more easily and check it off. I noticed on previous bar exams that graders would miss certain checklist points even though they were in my essays, but they had been lost in big paragraphs.
I made long and short cheat sheets of each essay topic from the scoresheets and memorized them thoroughly. I used the BarBri Colorado Essay book but I felt it was best to use the released CO essays because they are more accurate. It seemed to me that BarBri added a bunch of unnecessary points on the scoresheets.
My “short” cheat sheets had about 3 items per essay topic. I memorized every one of these points and committed them to memory. I didn’t memorize everything on my “long” cheat sheet since they had a lot of points. You definitely need to know how to start off your essays, and the “short” cheat sheet helped me get rolling on each essay topic. Even if the question stumped me, I found that just by typing out those memorized points, everything else would come to me. It was much easier than staring at a blank laptop screen with rising panic. Personally I thought the hardest part of the essay questions was actually starting the essay. I’m happy to forward my cheat sheets to anyone who wants them, so just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And last but not least, practice practice practice! I can’t stress enough how important it was for me to practice essays so that I could get used to reading essay questions and writing them out. It’s so easy to blank out and freeze up on the essay portion of the bar exam if you’ve mostly studied outlines and haven’t done very many practice essays.
A couple of tips that stem from my mistakes on the bar exam:
(1) Make sure you can distinguish between partnerships, agency relationships, and promoter relationships! CO had a partnership question on the February 2007 bar, but I stupidly wrote about agency instead of partnership and totally bombed it even
though I should’ve rocked it.
(2) Memorize ALL elements of crimes/torts for Criminal Law and Torts. I got near perfect scores on those topics in February 2007 (all but 2 points on each checklist). This is also helpful for the MBE.
The above strategies worked for me. My July 2006 essay score was 141. My February 2007 essay score was 151. And my July 2007 essay score was 156. I will be using the same essay strategies on the February 2008 bar exam, with one variation. I’m making my own outlines on the non-MBE essay topics such as family law. Making my own MBE outlines helped me so much with the July 2007 bar so I wanted to do the same for the other essay topics.
I think that’s all I can come up with for now. I hope it helps!