Bar Exam is Like a Hocus-Focus Game

One of the reasons why people fail the bar exam is because they do not READ CAREFULLY.  Henry Boltinoff was a cartoonist who drew Hocus-Focus puzzles involving two similar panels with six differences between them. The bar exam is like a Hocus-Focus game. 

Reading for the bar exam requires attention to detail, concentration, and observational skills. To improve in identifying the differences between the two panels in Hocus-Focus, a player has to split the photos into smaller parts, such as drawing a cross to turn the photos into four squares, and then comparing the differences between each of the corners, instead of looking at the photos as a whole.  Similarly, on the bar exam, an applicant needs to read carefully to spot the issues, and follow the specific organization.  Not reading carefully may lead to failing even for the applicant who understands the law, and has the law memorized on exam day. 

For the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), read everything word-for-word, including the four choices.  The best choice can easily turn depending on the nuances in the facts.  Example:  In a burglary question, compare “Defendant enters a garage attached to a home to take computers.” with “Defendant enters a home to take computers.”  The word “garage” triggers an analysis of the element “dwelling house.”

On essay questions, be aware of descriptive words (e.g. adverbs, adjectives), and details about people.  Example:  Ryan, a 10-year-old, contracts with Jessica.  You usually are not told how old a person is, or what a person does, so when the facts provide more details than normal, they trigger specific issues.  If you miss a key word, or do not understand the context, you will not recognize the issues no matter how well you know the law. 

Pay attention to details when reading essay interrogatories.  Example from California bar exam July 2004 Question 1:  May Dan properly be convicted of either first degree or second degree murder, and, if so, on what theory or theories, for:  a. The death of Art? Discuss.  b. The death of Bert? Discuss.  Ask yourself:  Why did the bar examiners divide out the question into two parts?  There must be something different between Art and Bert.  After careful reading, you will see:  Murder for Art is based on common law murder that modern statutes enumerate as inherently dangerous felonies, while murder for Bert is based on premeditation and deliberation.

For performance tests, read the Task Memo and secondary instructions word-for-word.  The Task Memo often explains how to organize the answer.  If the Task Memo instructs to respond to a letter or refers to a particular document, read that document word-for-word.  If the Task Memo or particular document specifies a statute or case, read those legal authorities word-for-word. 

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