In this bar exam episode, I have a great, in-depth interview with Gil Peles, the founder of BarEssays.com. He has compiled thousands of actual, grades, and scored bar essays in California and shares his Top 5 tips for the bar exam. Many of his tips you will not hear from your bar exam prep program.
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Now, on to the tips!
1) Use IRAC properly on bar exam essays
- He describes insightful ways to pass using IRAC.
- Don’t write the Conclusion in beginning as some bar prep programs ask you to (CRAC).
- Don’t splurge long answers.
- Analysis should be short.
- Make answers short and concise.
- Have rule statements memorized.
2) Memorize a few bar essay statute numbers
- Use actual statute numbers for Evidence and Civil Procedure to score 5 to 10 points higher.
- Ca evidence code 352.
- FRE 403.
- Proposition 8.
- State “Under the 4th amendment,” not “Under rule of search and seizure.”
3) Don’t re-write the rule over again later in the bar exam essay
- Instead, write “see above” or “see supra” and move on to analysis and conclusion.
4) Don’t spend more than 1 hour per bar essay
- You can get a zero on an essay if you don’t write anything.
- Many people score high on first or second essay and miserably fail third essay, causing bar exam failure.
5) Don’t predict which essays will come up
- There are no patterns, other than Professional Responsibility.
- Evidence tends to come up more often than others.
Tip #1 – Practice 1 timed essay per day during last month
Tip #2 – Outline 2 or 3 essays per day for 20 minutes
Tip #3 – Practice more recent essays, within the last 10 years
Tip #4 – Practice at least 4 full performance exams
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– Easily search by handwritten or typed essays, year of exam, subject matter, or scoring
– Premium content provides comments and actual model answers from actual bar graders
– Get access for your entire bar exam prep period
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Here is a full transcript of this interview:
Intro: You’re listening to the IPassedMyBarExam.com podcast, helping you pass your bar exam with ease and confidence.
Dustin: Hello and welcome, future bar exam passers! My name is Dustin Saiidi, founder of IPassedMyBarExam.com, and welcome to the show today. I have another very special guest, this individual took and passed the California bar exam in 2005, after doing so he went on to collect and compile thousands of bar exam essays from actual bar exam takers that were graded and scored by actual bar exam graders. So he has seen thousands of essays, he knows what the common characteristics are between those that do well and score well, and those that don’t pass and don’t do well.
And he’s going to come on to the show today and share his 5 top tips for passing your bar exam essay. So his prospective is pretty incredible, and he’s actually going to share some tips to you today that you will not hear in your bar prep programs. So, listen up and pay careful attention to what he has to share today. Also, towards the end of the interview, he’ll share how you can also gain access so you can actually look at all those essays when you’re taking your practice essays and practice performance tests on your upcoming bar exam to have a good actual graded answer that you can review and compare your practice essay with.
So, without further adieu, let’s got straight to the interview with Gil Peles of BarEssays.com.
Alright, welcome! And we are here with Gil Peles from BarEssays.com who’s been kind enough to come on to the call today to give us 5 tips to pass the bar exam essays.
Hi Gil! how are you doing?
Gil: Doing well. How are you doing, Dustin?
Dustin: I’m doing well. Thanks again for coming on to the call today.
Gil: No problem, thanks for having me.
Dustin: Sure. If you just want to give a little bit of background of you and where you went to law school, when you took the bar, and kind of how your bar exam journey was, just real briefly so the listeners can have some background there.
Gil: So I went to law school at UC Berkley, it’s also where I went to undergrad, and I took the bar in 2005. And when I was taking the bar, I found the most challenging part of the bar to be the essay portion. And I took the California bar, and I took the largest review course which is Bar/Bri. And so when I was practicing the essays, I really had no idea what I needed to do to write a passing essay because at my review course the only options we had when we practice an essay was to turn our essay in. And we are allowed to turn something like 10 or 12 essays total, and then we would get that graded by someone that works for the review course which was not a real bar essay grader. Otherwise, we can compare our essay to one of the model answers provided by the review course, which was not an actual real essay taken during the exam, but someone that was employed by the review course that spent an unknown amount of time writing a model answer. So, between those two things, I had no real idea what I needed to do to write a passing essay because when an essay was graded by the review course and provided back to me, I didn’t know whether that was an accurate grade that depict what I needed to do to pass.
So I after I took my bar exam, what I did is I spent several years buying people’s essays that took the exam and had their essays returned back to them until I developed a large database of actual passing and failing essays, and then I put that database online, and you can have access to that database at BarEssays.com.
Dustin: That’s awesome! I actually took Bar/Bri as well myself, and I recommend people when they are taking practice essays, and I’d recommend they take a lot of them, to look at their review answers as well. But the problem is, like you said, Bar/Bri has their model answers which, I mean, they’re good to compare to but they’re not actual answers. They even tell us that they spent maybe a week writing up those essays, so it’s not something that’s real. And then the model answers on the website are ridiculous, on the California bar website, are ridiculously good and those aren’t good to compare yourself to either because they’re superstar answers, they’re not passing answers.
And one of the key turning points for my bar exam was actually when we were in Bar/Bri’s class, and they took a 65 answer – an actual 65, and showed it to us and the light bulb went off when I realized what the bar exam graders are really looking for. I didn’t have to write this awesome, perfect, stellar answers. Like, actually, a lot of mistakes, just follow a couple of fundamentals. You can still make a lot of mistakes and still pass.
Gil: Right, exactly. And just to give the listeners some background, a 65 is considered a passing but barely passing answer. Usually, it’s about a 62 or a 63 that you need to pass an essay on the California bar exam, but that’s exactly right.
When you look at a model answer, one of the top answers that are put up by the bar, that’s not reflective of what the average person wants to write. The average person that’s not aiming to write a model answer or write a top answer, they want to write a passing answer. And so when they’re just basing their practice essays on these models, they’re not sure exactly how much worse than the model they have to do unless they see something that’s barely passes. The review course might provide a few examples of actual essays that pass and received high scores or barely passing scores or low scores, but they don’t provide many, only a few and usually they’re very old.
And on my site, I have about 2,000 essays in my database and you can easily search through them in a great search engine that in a few seconds you can look up any essay tested since 2004 and get high and low score examples of that essay.
Dustin: That’s awesome! So you’ve seen a couple of hundred – several thousand, actually – essays now. What are the 5 things that bar exams students must put in their essays in order to pass their essays? What are 5 things they got to do to pass their essays?
Gil: Okay so, the most important thing that I can say, that differentiates a high scoring and low scoring essay, is IRAC. Getting proper IRAC format and nailing that. You must must must study IRAC format because it doesn’t matter how much you know the rules, if you can’t put the rules out in the proper format and can’t format your essay properly, you will not pass that essay. I’ve seen many many essays that write in long paragraph, long format, and you can see that they studied and they memorized everything but they still failed because they didn’t write their essay in IRAC format. And what I mean by that is when you state the issue, just state the issue, underline it as a heading, and then state the rule. Have a clear and concise rule statement under that issue, have a short analysis, don’t go too long in your analysis, and then have a concise conclusion. And if there’s sub-issues, have clear and concise rule statements within those sub-issues.
And if you don’t know how to write a rule statement, look either the, whatever model’s are given to you if they’re good or look at the passing or high scoring answers on my website and you can just copy those rule statements and memorize them. And memorize them to a tee, don’t just have a vague understanding of what the rule is. You must have the rule statements memorized to put them in proper IRAC format, that’s the #1 piece of advice I can give you.
Dustin: Alright. I like what you said too, that what’s key is that, it needs to be underlined. Make sure to underline the issues. I noticed, and I was looking to some of the essays on your website, that underline is key. A lot of people they missed that because it provides a clear path for the graders to follow when they see things that are underlined rather than just a big mass of text.
Gil: That’s right, and if it’s like a long paragraph format, a lot of times the graders won’t even read it. They won’t try and find the rule and give you the benefit of the doubt, they’ll just give you a failing grade. And that’s the reality of the situation, and I’ve seen many many essays that scored 55s, 60s – that is just a big long mess. And they have everything there in a long paragraph and if the grader spend an hour reading it they can probably find it all there, but they’re not going to do that.
And the other part of that is that I’ve seen a lot of people write in CRAC format, where they write their conclusion first, such as “John is liable for negligence” and then they go to the rule, and then they go to the analysis; that’s wrong. And I’ve actually seen a lot of model answers written by review courses that write in this format, and that’s wrong. And people that write the conclusion first, will not score high on their essays.
Dustin: That’s interesting, that’s very interesting. Another thing I like that you said in that first tip was the analysis, keeping that short as well. I thought this too, going into my bar. And I know a lot of people do is, they think they have to write a long analysis to impress the graders with their fancy arguments. And when you look at the actual answers that do well, it’s the analysis is very short. Often just maybe a sentence, maybe 2 sentences, maybe even 3, at the most per little issue.
Gil: That’s exactly right. I have essays on my site that score 75 and 80 that are 3 pages long, and I have a couple there of 2 pages long. But they have every issue, they have every rule statement that’s concise and clear, and their analysis is only maybe just 3 sentences long, and then they move on. And then they have the next issue, and it’s underlined. And a lot of this depends on the essay itself, some essays will have more issues that others; but if you nail all the issues and you have clear and concise rule statements, your analysis doesn’t have to be long. You just have to have analysis, that’s all. A few sentences will usually be enough.
Dustin: Awesome, great tip! What’s your second tip?
Gil: This one’s a little bit more specific. For the Evidence and the Criminal Procedure essays, I would memorize some statute numbers and amendments. For example, when you mention the rule for exclusion of evidence, memorize California Evidence Code 352 and the Federal Rule of Evidence 403. You don’t have to do this in every subject, but for Evidence and for Criminal Procedure, I’ve noticed the essay that score in the 70s and 80s memorized the rule numbers and they separate themselves by having the actual statute numbers memorized. That’s something that you will not hear from any review course.
I’ve seen California Proposition 8, the Truth of Evidence Amendment for criminal cases. I’ve seen that thrown out, and people that have that memorized and know what that is have gotten 75s and 80s. And that’s what I’ve noticed in Evidence and Criminal Procedure, what separates a 65 from a 75 or an 80.
Dustin: Oh wow. So actually having that specific rule memorized and calling it out like, California Evidence 352, Federal Rule of Evidence 403.
Gil: Exactly. Yeah, right. They seem to love it. Not a lot of people have that down but the ones that do, in addition to getting all of your issues and everything else, but if you can throw a few of those numbers out and they’re correct, then you’ll score an extra 5 or 10 points.
Dustin: Oh wow! Very interesting. I’ve never was told that in my bar prep, that’s very interesting.
Gil: And that’s something you can only see by comparing essays that scored 75 to essays that scored 65 or 55, you see these nuance differences.
Dustin: Okay, cool! Very great. I think the listeners will definitely benefit from that.
Gil: And just to throw in, when you’re talking about like Search and Seisure, don’t just say the rule of Search and Seisure – say, Under the 4th Amendment and then site the rule. Under the 5th Amendment for Self Incrimination and site the rule, and that will score you extra points.
Dustin: Nice. It makes sense. It’s signaling the grader, “Hey I know what I’m talking about. I know the specific Amendment or statute that I’m pointing to.”
Gil: That’s right. And I know a lot of the review courses will say, “Act like sheep, don’t separate yourself from the heard.” and in general that’s right. Don’t be cute, don’t be creative but when you know a rule better than somebody else and when you can actually site a rule – a statute number; that’s not being creative, that’s showing that you know the material better than anyone else. And so I would memorize just a few, I’d say like 5 statute or Federal Rules of Evidence, and just throw that in.
Dustin: Okay, Awesome! Perfect, great great tip again. What’s your third one?
Gil: Okay, so when you’re going through an essay and the same issue comes up more than once, like say in an Evidence essay and you see hearsay over and over again because you have to analyze different pieces of evidence, don’t write the rule over and over and over again. Just write hearsay, underlined, and then write either see above or see supra, and then go into your analysis and conclusion. The essays that do that are cleaner and score higher than the essays that just cut and paste, and re-write the rules over and over and over again.
Dustin: Okay, makes sense. Okay, so don’t repeat the rules, just say see above or see..
Gil: Write either see above or write see supra. And then that’s it, and then move on to the analysis and conclusion, if you’ve already defined it above in the essay.
Dustin: Okay and you don’t need to say, see above section whatever, just say see above.
Gil: No, just say see above. That’s all you need to write.
Dustin: Okay, perfect.
Gil: And then my next tip is timing. I’ve seen this a lot, if say, essay #1 comes up and you know that subject really really well, don’t go over board and don’t spend an hour and a half or 2 hours on that essay and then think you can just make it up on the next 2 essays. Make sure you stick to your timing and do not spend more than 1 hour or 1 hour- 5 minutes per essay. I’ve seen many many people that do not pass, that score really high usually on essay number 1, maybe essay number 2; and then fail the rest – the other 2. I just saw someone’s score sheet that got an 80 – 85 on essay number 1 and didn’t even get to essay number 3 and scored a 0.
Gil: So don’t try and go over board and make your first or second essay turned into one of the model essays. Stick to your timing, and throughout your essay just make sure you’re on track and if you can’t get everything you want in there, it doesn’t matter, just move on to the next essay. If you have extra time in the end, go back to whatever essay earlier and then add stuff but don’t run out of time because you can score a 0 on an essay if you don’t do it, if you don’t write anything. And I’ve seen that happen. And a lot of the review courses will tell you that the lowest they’ll give you is a 40, that’s not true. They’ll give you a 0 if you only write 1 or 2 sentences in an essay.
Dustin: Oh, really? Interesting. I didn’t know that.
Gil: And if you get a 0 you can’t pass the entire test. You might as well give up because the whole 3 days are out the window. You cannot make up from a 0, it’s impossible.
Dustin: Wow! I believe that’s a golden rule too, 1 hour per essay. If you have to go an hour and 5 minutes that’s fine, but after that you have got to move on to the next one because for the reasons you just stated.
Dustin: Okay. And just to add a little more, I think a lot of people too, they feel like there’s more issues or more facts or something, that can get into that first essay and that they’ll get more points or maybe if they get more points in this first essay it will make up for a lower score for the other essay, but I think it’s really hard to go from a 70 to an 80. You have to really keen in on a lot of things, whereas if you just start on the other essay and write a couple of things maybe they’ll get a 40 at least or a 50 or even a 60.
Gil: Right. I would spend no more than an hour, hour and 5 minutes, and then go on to the next essay. And sometimes you’ll run into an essay that you can actually finish in 40, 45, 50 minutes; and then if you have extra time in the end you can always go back and add whatever you need to add. But don’t get into a situation where you get to essay # 3 or whatever your 3rd essay is, and you only have 10 minutes left and then you panic. That could just be fatal. And I’ve seen many many people, and it’s always usually the first essay on the first day where people are nervous. They’ve been studying for months, they have all this information on their head, and they just go crazy on the first essay and then it just goes down hill from there. And they’ll score very high on the first essay and it’ll just progressively go down for the next two. So don’t fall into that trap. Make sure you practice your timing and keep track of the time throughout the essay.
Dustin: That’s great, great advice. Okay, # 5?
Gil: My last point of advice is, do not gamble on predicting which essays are going to come up on the exam. Don’t listen to any of the predictions. If people come into your review course and they say that they’ve been studying the exam for years and they’ve seen patterns; there are no patterns, actually that’s not true. I’ve seen 2 patterns on the essays, Evidence and Professional Responsibility will come up more than any other subjects, those are the 2 subjects that are tested the most. But apart from that there are no patterns.
Community property could be tested 1 exam and then it could be tested the next exam and it could be tested the next exam, but it could not be tested for 3 years. I think it’s, from what I’ve seen, it’s completely random. I don’t think anyone at the Cali bar gets together, and gets the chart out, and decides which essay should be tested at which time. I think you should study every subject, make sure you’re ready for every type of essay, tune out when the predictions come in during the review courses; it can only hurt you.
Dustin: Right. I feel like the bar graders would be doing the opposite. They may be trying to guess what the people are predicting and then make sure that they test on what people aren’t expecting.
Gil: Honestly, I don’t think they spend that much time caring about it to really think it through. I think they just do their job. I think they have submissions from different professors across the country that write the essay questions, they decide which ones are the best, and they just put it out there. I don’t think they’re trying to get into the people’s minds. I think there’s just the bureaucracy, and they put out the test that they want to put out, and then they grade it, and then they move on to the next test, and that’s it.
That being said, they do like to test Evidence and Professional Responsibility, those are the two that come up more often than any other subjects. But apart from that, I don’t think they look at whatever Bar/Bri or Kaplan or whatever review courses that “Hey they’re telling everybody that Contracts might not come up. Let’s test Contracts this time.” I don’t think that happens. I think they just look at the other questions that come in from whoever writes the questions, and they look at what they want to test and they just test it, and they don’t even pay attention to what other people are saying or what’s been tested in the past.
Dustin: Okay, so they’re not as evil as people they make them out to be, is what you’re saying.
Gil: No. And when I took the bar, I have all these conspiracy theories and everybody else did too. I thought it was one big conspiracy between the convention centers and the hotels. And the convention centers and the hotels want people to fail more so they keep renting out more hotel rooms and convention centers. And the more I look into this and the more I’ve been a part of this scene, I just think the Cali bar is one big bureaucracy. And they feel like they have to do their job, and they do it in whatever way that’s confident, and they just move on to the next test. They don’t even pay attention to this extra stuff and blabber that people have.
Dustin: Right, I agree. I’ve heard some crazy conspiracy theories as well, but I feel like, if people just focus on doing what they got to do, put in the work and time, take the right course of action; they’ll be fine.
Gil: Right, I agree.
Dustin: Awesome! Those are great 5 tips, it’s like a speed round, do you have any other tips you want to talk about on that end as well?
Gil: Well I would say, when you’re, especially during the last month; you should be practicing at least 1 full essay per day, spending at least 1 hour everyday and timing yourself, and practicing one essay in any subject you feel you need to practice. And compare that essay to high and low scoring essay to see where you fall in. And then, I would also outline at least 2 or 3 essays a day which means, go through the essay, have an essay time for maybe 20 minutes, write out all the issues and then look and see if you get all the issues. And I would also practice more recent essays, I know a lot of the review courses will give out essays from 1985 or what not, and I would stick to stuff from over the last 10 years because the way they write out their questions has changed somewhat.
One final thing that I would say is, don’t skimp on that performance exams. Practice at least 4 full performance exam between the time you start studying and the exam because I’ve seen time and time again that people think that the performance exams are going to be a piece of cake. And they passed the essays, they passed the MBE, but then they failed both performance exams, and fail the exam. So don’t take the performance exams too lightly, practice at least 4. If you can, practice a few more.
Dustin: Okay, awesome! By the way, you have sample performance test on your website as well?
Gil: Yes, my website has high and low scoring example of every essay and every performance exam tested since 2004.
Dustin: 2004 through 2012.
Gil: Through 2012. The most recent exam, the July 2012 exams, haven’t been released yet but I have up through February 2012.
Dustin: Okay, awesome! And for – go ahead.
Gil: There’s any essay or performance exam since 2004, and I have some before 2004 as well both high and low scoring examples.
Dustin: Tell us some more about your website. I did looked through it, I navigated through it. It’s got a very very clean navigation database that can search per topic, that can search per year.
Gil: That’s right. There’s a few components in my website, the largest component is the essay database, and I developed a search function that allows you to search by hand written or typed essays. You can search by year, you can search by subject or combination of all of those, and find whatever essay you’re looking for or combination of essays. So you can say, “I just want to find all evidence essays in the database that scored 65 and above” and then type that in and you’ll only get every essay in the database that scored 65 and above. And then you can narrow it by typed and handwritten essays, you can narrow it by year, whatever you’re looking for.
And then I also have, when you search for an essay, what you’ll get is the essay itself. Like, an essay that scored 65 or 45 or 50, next to that you’ll get the question. And then you’ll also have a direct link to the California Bar model answer, the one they put up on the Cal Bar website. I don’t host those answers but I provide you with the direct link, so it saves you time if you want to look at that.
And then I also have premium content on my site which is, for an extra fee you can have access to certain content that was written by actual former bar graders, and that includes a model answer for every essay since 2005 which is written by a bar grader. And also for selected essays in the database, the bar grader will provide comments for the essay. So you’ll look up essay that scored 65, you’ll have bar grader writing comments on the essay saying “Missed an issue here. Should have written a better rule statement here, it could have scored more point there. Did really well here.” And those comments will pop-up in little bubbles on the essay as you go through. So, not only will you get the essay and the score that corresponds with that essay, but you’ll get comments from the bar grader saying why it scored the score that it did.
Dustin: Wow! That’s fantastic resource, that’s really great. I think that could be very very helpful. I think for people who are in bar prep programs and people who are not in bar prep programs, both of them I think, could totally benefit from that service.
Gil: That’s right. I agree. And I currently work with 11 different schools, and some of those schools I have an agreement with to provide access for every student throughout their 3 years at the school. And a lot of first year students use my site to study for their first year classes such as Torts or Contracts, and then what they can do is they can find the high scoring examples on my site and they can sort of learn what proper IRAC format looks like by looking at those high scoring examples, and also reading the bar grader models on critiquing those examples. So I think, you can look at BarEssays for a lot of different helpful reasons.
Dustin: Awesome! Even law students can benefit from it then. What’s the price currently for BarEssays?
Gil: So we have – I have 2 different memberships. The standard membership, gives you access to the whole database and also gives you access to certain outlines that I have on my site, and that’s $99. And for the content that was written by the former bar grader, is an extra $50, so $149.
And you get access through the next exams. So if you subscribe today then you get access through until the end of the next February exam, and then if you subscribe the day after the next February exam, you’ll get access through the July exam. So the earlier you subscribe the longer you’ll get access, but it’s the same price regardless of when you subscribe.
Dustin: Okay. That’s awesome, Gil! What a great service, and just so it’s clear for the listeners, currently you’re in California only, correct?
Gil: That’s right.
Dustin: Okay, fantastic! Great tips, and I think that would be a great service. I’ll have a link on the blog and on my resource page if you guys want to check that out. And anything else, I guess for now?
Gil: That’s all! I would say just study, study, study as hard as you can and make sure to practice as many essays as you can between now and the exam.
Dustin: Wonderful advice. I think that’s the #1 tip that you can do is to practice essays. Well, thank you very much Gil for coming on and sharing your knowledge and your resource that you have available for bar students.
Gil: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Dustin: Alright, hopefully we’ll have you again for future podcast.
Gil: I would love to come back.
Dustin: Alright, take care.
Dustin: Bye bye.
So there you heard it straight from the source, Gil Peles of BarEssays.com. Take those tips that he gave today, and apply them in your essay when you are practicing and preparing for your bar exam. Also, if you want to have access to the thousands of essays in Gil’s database from every year since 2004, covering every topic that has been tested since then, go ahead and head on over to IPassedMyBarExam.com/BarEssays and that will take you over where you can sign up. When you do sign-up through that link, I do get a small affiliate commission, which of course I do appreciate. I’m also going to give a free bonus gift to those that do sign-up through that link today. That gift will be one of my paid products that will be available on my website and you’ll get it for free today. You can find out what exactly that gift is by going to the blog and looking at this episode page or of course, on my resource page as well. And what you’ll do is after you sign-up, go ahead and email me confirmation from BarEssays.com that you had signed up and I will go ahead and send that free gift to you. Again, and the link is IPassedMYBarExam.com/BarEssays and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So get out there this week, go and get ’em, do a great job, prepare hard, work hard, study hard, and go make this the only bar exam that you’ll ever have to take, and always remember that your name appears on the pass list. Have a great week!