Tips for the Performance Test

The performance test is my favorite part of the bar exam. Why? Because you don’t need to know any law! Great, isn’t it? But I still frequently see students struggle with this part of the bar exam. In this post, I’ve put together a list of my top tips for students who are studying for the performance test. If you have a great study tip I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments!

  1. Familiarize yourself with the performance test. Read the instructions for the test and make sure you’re comfortable with them. It will help you save time in the exam room, and you’ll want all the time you can get. Many of you will be taking the MPT, while others of you will take state-specific performance tests. No matter which test you take, the premise is the same. The performance test tests actual lawyering skills. It’s essentially a mini legal writing assignment! That means you already know how to do it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to practice. (More on that later!)
  2. Find your approach. An approach is essentially a “how to” of what to do when you get your packet. An approach is a great time-saver and stress-reliever when you're taking the exam. It helps ensure that you’ll approach each exam the same way and that you won’t miss anything on test day. You’ll want to develop an approach that you can use each time you take a performance test. Your approach may not be the same as your friends’ and that’s okay! There’s no one perfect approach. If you’re taking a commercial bar exam course they’ve likely shared some approaches with you. You can also find different approaches by looking online, asking friends you know who have taken the bar, or talking to a bar exam tutor (if you have one). You may need to try out a few approaches before you find the right one, but that’s okay. The easiest way to see if an approach will work for you is to practice using it.
  3. Organize your papers. Performance test packets contain a lot of information, and you’ll need it all. You don’t want your space to be completely cluttered and covered in papers (especially because you don’t physically have that much room at the exam). When you get your packet, take a few minutes to organize. As you practice, try out different organizational methods to see what works best for you. One of my favorite organizational tricks involves paper clips. You can use the paper clips to bind together the cases, or create a color coded system with colored paper clips. Seems simple, right? An organizational method doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to help your organize your papers and your thoughts.  Remember, you want to be comfortable with your method, so don’t try anything new on test day! (Also, make sure you are allowed to bring in paper clips to your exam as this can vary state to state.)
  4. Practice, practice, practice!  I can’t emphasize this point enough. Although many people may think otherwise, the performance test is just as important as every other part of the bar exam (here’s why). It’s absolutely necessary that you set aside uninterrupted time to work on the performance test. I recommend that students don’t practice the performance test using electronic files. You want your practice to reflect the actual test conditions as closely as possible, so it’s necessary to print out the exams. You need to practice organizing the papers and making notes on the page. And remember, feedback is a key component of practice. Make sure you’re reviewing your practice test, either on your own or with a tutor. It’s important to reflect on your work and see where you’re doing well, and what needs improvement.

Lee Burgess is the only child of two attorneys, so she had little choice but to become a lawyer herself. Perhaps it was because she had absorbed legal jargon with her breakfast cereal for years, but Lee did very well in law school at the University of San Francisco. She graduated cum laude, was a TA for Contracts and Torts, and was the Managing Editor of the USF Law Review.

After graduating in 2008, Lee worked in a large law firm until she received a letter from the California Board of Bar Examiners about being a bar exam grader. Rather than grade for the bar exam, Lee decided her real passion was helping students conquer the California bar exam! So she left her law firm job and became a private California bar exam tutor and law school tutor. Various Bay Area law schools recognized her teaching talent, and Lee has served as an adjunct member of the faculty at several local law schools. 

Lee created Bar Exam Toolbox with Alison Monahan to help law students across the country find bar exam success. Bar Exam Toolbox helps both first time and repeat bar exam takers through one-on-one tutoring and effective (and affordable) courses and workshops! Bar Exam Toolbox also features a blog with helpful blogs devoted entirely to preparing for the bar exam. She also is the co-founder of the Law School Toolbox, which provides tutoring and courses for law students

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