This is the first of a three-part series I will be releasing regarding bar exam success. This part will cover essays, followed by the second part addressing the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), and concluding with coverage of the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). I have based my methodology on my experience from having taken and passed the bar exam in three different states: Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

Law student studying for the California Bar Exam


Start by reviewing the essay topics tested by your particular state. This will help you create an outline of the law you will actually need to know to pass the essay portion of the bar exam.

Once you know what topics are tested on the bar exam, you should pull at least ten years’ worth of past essay questions. Ten years should be sufficient given changes in law and exam writers. As the laws and exam writers change the content of the essays may vary. Keeping to the ten year range will minimize the affect these changes will have on your studies.

I should include a caveat regarding constitutional and criminal law. The areas are really one in the same. These subjects are a good area for examiners to use well publicized constitutional law cases decided in the previous five years. Knowing that, you should not be surprised to see facts from a relatively recent United States Supreme Court cases appear as an essay.

Now that you have the essays, you will want to divide them into subject matter. Once that is done you can get an idea of how frequently each subject is tested. While it is not a guarantee of what will be on the next bar exam it will give you an idea of what topics are more likely to appear on your exam.

After you have divided the essays into their specific subject matter you need to answer a couple of them in an open book manner. You will treat the first couple of exams as a traditional legal research project. Time will not matter. You will focus on answering the questions presented.

The first two essays should be completed approximately two months before the bar exam. It is during this early period where you should be focusing on ensuring you have a good understanding of the law tested on the exam.


One method to ensure you answer the questions presented is to type the call of the question into your answer sheet before you read the fact pattern. This method keeps you from missing a question when you are under the stress of exam conditions. It also provides an easy method for you to outline your answer by issue under the appropriate heading while reading the fact pattern; each issue will become a subheading under the question presented.

After you have answered two essays in a specific subject matter in an open book manner, then you can work on answering the remaining questions under exam conditions. Do not answer all the essay questions in a single sitting. Spread them out over the month prior to when you take the bar exam.

Of course, you have to know the law in order to achieve a passing score. This should not be as difficult as it sounds if you follow this methodology. You will notice that certain topics within a subject matter appear with more frequency than others throughout the history of the test. Obviously, you should know these “frequent fliers” cold.

If you follow this methodology for the essay portion of the exam your chances of success should improve greatly. On exam day you will encounter some issues that you did not see previously covered, but you will be familiar with the majority of issues presented.

Remember that while no one can guarantee a passing score on the bar exam, there are things you can do to improve your outcomes. Learning the law and the commonly asked questions will definitely improve your odds of success. And with that, I wish you good luck and much success in your future legal career!

Prof. Woodruff teaches Remedies and Trusts, Wills & Estates at St. Francis School of Law and is admitted to the bar in Florida, Nevada, and Texas.