Tips for taking the California Attorneys Exam
December 30, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm taking the California attorneys exam in a couple months. How do I get ready to do that?

I have been practicing law for five years in another state. I passed one bar exam five years ago, obviously. But at that time, I was fresh out of school, had the whole summer off, and was not taking a notoriously hard bar exam.

Now, I'm working full time. I have BarBri materials, but I need to be efficient as possible with my time and can't possibly go through everything.

Has anyone done this before? What are your hacks? Lessons learned? Are you this guy's wife? Any thoughts are appreciated!
posted by J. Wilson to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I took the CA bar exam as an attorney last year, but I was just within the cutoff where I had to take the full bar exam, rather than the shorter attorney's exam. If they're still scored the same, it was a benefit to me - most people do better on the multiple choice than they do on the essays, and the multiple choice section serves to drag up their essay scores. If memory serves, you need to go it alone on the essays. You should be able to chuck the multiple choice stuff aside and focus only on essays. Focus on taking a lot of practice exams under timed conditions -- the length of their questions stay pretty constant, though you'll get the occasional very long practical question/materials batch. See if your current employer will give you a time credit for bar exam study. And good luck!
posted by craven_morhead at 12:56 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the essays, make a list of buzz words for each topic, memorize them and pack them into whatever you end up writing - that (used to be, anyway) how the graders plow through them.
posted by mmiddle at 1:06 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone I know took it, and said that people were visibly/audibly panicking when they saw that the first question was about a notoriously tricky point of law. He skipped it, did all the other questions, and came back to that one last. Who knows whether he got it right or not (he passed), but the point is, you have to play the psychological game. The notoriously hard exam, the notoriously tricky point of just have to take your Xanax and not let it get to you.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Conviser mini review/short outline will be a godsend. Read through the long outlines just so you get an overview of everything, but really focus on the mini review and taking practice tests. If something is not covered in the mini review, the majority of people taking the test will miss it. If everyone misses it, the pass curve will be adjusted to account for that.

Most people I know opened the long outlines once or twice and did just fine. Are you self-studying? Or taking the full barbri class?

Focus on the format of your essay responses. If you break your answers up into sections, bold and highlight relevant tests, and make it clear where you're applying those tests, you'll make life easier for the grader and my understanding is you'll tend to get better results. For example, if the essay asks you to determine if something violates the establishment clause, you should have a bold heading for each of the three prongs of the lemon test, so that it's really clear on first glance that you know it's an establishment clause question and that there's three parts to the test. Your answer should reflect that, but the layout of your answer should make it really clear without someone needing to read the full text of your answer.

Make flash cards for all of the major multi-prong tests and memorize them!
posted by Arbac at 3:14 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I passed bar #2 about a year ago. I took a month and read the barbri books after work and on weekends, and that was enough. I pretty much focused on the big subjects that I didn't know as well and knew would have a lot of questions.
posted by jpe at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Crush the multi-state. If the exam is still graded the way it traditionally has been, there is a sliding scale between the multi-state portion and the essay/practical exercise portions. A low enough raw score on the multi-state makes it mathematically impossible to do well enough on the other portions of the exam to pass. I believe the raw score number you need to shoot for is 135 minimum, but 145 would provide a safety margin.

The essays are pure IRAC. I found them no more difficult than any first year exam question. Straight up Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. The analysis should be minimal, and the conclusion is almost irrelevant - you're going to hit the key concepts and phrases that the graders are looking for by just spotting the issue and stating the applicable rule(s).

As a practicing attorney, the practical exercises should be a doddle. Writing a short pre-trial motion, or developing a discovery plan - nothing taxing.

Take courage in the fact that out of state bar candidates in CA have a higher passage rate. I think it's because they haven't been soaking in horror stories for three years

Disclaimer: my experience is pretty dated, but I haven't heard of any major changes. Niece and nephew have taken in last six years.

Edited to add: I realize you are taking the Attorney's exam and no the basic bar exam, but perhaps my advice won't be completely useless.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:02 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Huh, I didn't notice this before, but it looks like practicing attorneys with more than four years of experience can elect to take the full exam, not just the two essay days. Cite. I recommend doing that. That allows you to use your multistate exam score to pull up your essay scores. Also, the multistate day is the middle day of the exam, so it's not like you're saving much stress by cutting things short by a day.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:33 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Craven, I was thinking about that. There's probably some benefit to having the middle day off so day three I'm more refreshed -- but maybe not that much. But why do you think the MBE scores will be better and drag the total score up rather than down? I have no idea how to predict that factor.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:13 AM on January 1, 2015

I did practice exams through Themis that were scored, and I consistently did better on the MBE than I did on the essays. I also messed around with score calculators, which suggested my MBE scores would help my essays more than vice/versa.

Here are some other resources.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:47 AM on January 5, 2015

Thanks, everyone! I don't find out until next month, but I feel pretty good about passing. I stuck with the attorneys exam and didn't do the MBE. What seemed particularly helpful to me were flash cards, writing practice essays, and the Conviser "short" outline -- as well as keeping calm and keeping in mind that everyone has to answer the same questions. It was also helpful to hear from all of you about your different methods or points of emphasis.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:22 AM on April 23, 2015

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