Bar Exam Essays Part 3: Use Headings

by Dustin on

Click here to go to a link of July 2010 California bar exam passing model essay answers. Look at them, and find one thing all the model answers have in common…..the answer is:


Indeed, you won’t find a model answer that doesn’t have well organized headings. The bottom line: HEADINGS ARE IMPORTANT.

Why Headings are Important

Headings do all of the following:

– Make your bar exam essay more readable

– Make it easier on the grader’s eyes when he is grading your bar exam essay at 11pm

– Demonstrate to the grader YOU ARE AN ORGANIZED WRITER

– Give the reader a clear statement of what is going to be argued in the next section

– Let the reader know, “Hey I spotted the issue, and I want you to know I did!”


An essay without headings draws an immediate red flag to the grader and might make him frown. You can still pass an essay without using headings, but proper use of headings just gives that ‘kazaam’ effect.

It immediately signals the reader that you are organized and thought about your answer, before committing it to writing.  It gives that first impression to the grader, “Hey a passing student must have written this answer.”

You might think that your grade is only based on the rules of law and the relevant arguments you make. Think again.

Your exam will not only get points based on the use of facts applied to the law, but it will be graded on how ‘lawyerly’ your answer is.  If you are on the cusp (most people are because grades higher than a 70 are rarely given), your answer might hinge on this ‘lawyerly’ criteria.  If it’s organized and your writing looks like a lawyer wrote it, you’ll pass! If it’s unorganized, you might fall into the 60 or lower range.

One of the best ways to trick the grader is to use headings and make him or her think you are organized, even if you’re not. After all, he’s not spending any more than three to five minutes per essay, so dazzle him with every chance you have.

Now that we know why headings are important, let’s see how we can practice using good headings during our bar exam prep. Use headings for any of the following circumstances:

1) New cause of action

2) New incident that happened (when analyzing an incident in chronological order, such as in contracts questions)

3) New factor you are analyzing

Rule #1 – Make major headings bold and underlined

Major headings are 1) New causes of actions and 2) New incidents that happened (when analyzing an incident in chronological order).  So, for example, if you are analyzing negligence to start an essay, your major headings could be bolded and underlined, looking something like this:

Rule #2 – Make sub headings either italicized or underlined

Sub-headings could be used for each of the negligence factors:

It’s good to even use further subheadings for deeper issues. Here, the heading is italicized:

They don’t need to be long or conclusory: just a statement of what issue or sub-issue is about to be discussed.  For a timeline-based essay, you can include the date of the incident and the issue to be discussed:

If in doubt, take a look at the model answers again.

Try picturing the essay without headings and how much more challenging and horrible it would be to read. Get the idea? Use headings and you’ll increase your chances of success on your bar exam.

Best of luck in your bar exam prep!

“This name appears on the pass list”

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle February 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm

When reading through a NY essay call of the question which ONLY asks if there are any defenses which can be raised to contract formation/or to void the contract, do we need to go through the entire discussion of contract formation/valid contract elements? Or can we just issue spot an affirmative defense, define the rule and analyze..and bam…done?


2 admin February 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Yes, you DEFINITELY must go through the entire analysis from which law applies, to contract formation, statute of frauds, and defenses. I know it can be confusing if the call only asks for defenses, but the graders want you to go through the whole thing. Remember, improper contract formation is also technically a defense. A mere defense discussion wouldn’t take a full hour either, which defeats the bar examiners intent. Good question & good luck!


3 Danielle February 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Thank you so much. Your explanation was very helpful. You put me at ease :)


4 admin February 14, 2011 at 1:32 am

You’re welcome :)


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