Bar Exam Essays Part 5: Write a Good Outline

by Dustin on

So, we know the importance of outlining.  Now, let’s see how to make a good one.

1)      Read the call of the question

You’ll get an idea of what subject is being tested.

2)      Do a brief read-through of the actual essay once or twice

This read-through allows you to get an idea of what the essay is about and what topics and issues are present.

3)      Write down the issues you find on your outline (on a separate sheet of paper)

Issue spotting should come from your own memory, practice, and an issue checklist for each subject.

4)       Underneath each issue, write down the applicable factors

For example:

5)      Go back through the essay and read each fact.  Ask ‘why why why is this fact here and what rule of law does it apply to?’   

For example, here’s a short fact pattern:

A is mad at B for not paying back his lunch money.   A wants to get back at B.  In the parking lot after school, A got his BB gun and shot at B’s car.  He misfired, and the ball grazed B’s head.  B thought a wind gust had flown by.  B finds out later and sues A. 

And our outline:

Granted, not all outlines will be as neatly organized as a torts battery issue; however, you can use this as a base for attacking any subject matter.  Spend a few minutes to plan before, and you’ll save time later.  With a good outline,  you can easily plug the rules, factors, and facts straight into your essay.

Best of luck on your bar exam prep!

“This name appears on the pass list”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 emilio aguilar February 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm

i’ve been reading your posts and appreciate your suggestions, thoughts and words of inspiration!

You have touched in this issue but I wanted to ask what specific suggestions you would have for the last 12 days or so for the bar exam? I find it a little difficult to balance memorization, practice and attention to mbe’s and pt…In particular, how best to memorize and also continue to practice given tme constraints….thanks so much!


2 Dustin February 10, 2011 at 9:18 pm

This is a Fantastic question!
It depends on where you are at.
The biggest thing for me at this point was Practicing and Reviewing answers. I spent a little time reviewing my outline, unless it had to do with Reviewing an answer. I did spend a lot of time memorizing attack sheets, so I would be sure I wasn’t going to miss an issue!

The law does not need to be memorized perfectly. As long as you hit the key words for each rule and your rule statement is coherent, it’ll be fine. The main focus is analysis and use of facts.

As for time, focus mostly on what you don’t know and dedicate some time to what you do know well. Try and fill in the gaps.

How have you been doing on the essays, MBE’s, and PT’s?

Essays – For each subject, if you are spotting most of the issues and using the majority of the facts that are in sample answers, then you are looking really good.
If you’re missing some issues, then make an attack sheet for that subject and ALWAYS go through each potential issue and see if it’s present on the exam. Look for key facts that trigger certain issues. For example, in torts, have your attack sheet start with something like “BAFTT” – Battery, Assault, False Imprisonment, Trespass Land, Trespass Chattels. And run through it to make sure the facts do or do not point to the issue.

If you’re missing facts, make sure you are going through each paragraph and asking ‘why this fact is present and where could I put it in my answer?’

MBE – If you’re getting about 11 or 12 for every 17, you’re looking just above passing. Focus on the kinds of questions you are missing. Some are core issues. In evidence, you need to know character evidence cold. Some issues are stars in the night sky and you’ll never see again. In fact, the bar examiners purposefully place these so you don’t get a perfect score.

PT’s – Make sure your headings & organization are the same as the sample answers, and you’re using case names & statutes in the library.

Most of all be focused and confident. You’ve put in the time and practice. Tell yourself you can do it and it will be so!
Good luck!


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