McGeorge Bar Prep

What You Need to Succeed on the CA Bar Exam

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A Score Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 5, 2016

As you start to settle into your bar preparation, you may also be starting to submit practice exams for grading — and with that grading come scores. Scores may seem like perfect little indicators of how you’re doing, but they are deceptive.

The problem is that some bar applicants skip over whatever comments they receive and go straight to the score at the end.  Many graduates over the years have come to me in distress because they failed most, or even all, of their practice exams and are convinced that means they are going to fail the bar.  When I ask what scores they’ve been receiving, they can answer in a snap; but when I ask what the comments said, often they are less able to respond.  I have seen hundreds of practice exams that were really strong answers, but made minor mistakes that prevented them from passing (e.g., writing a memo instead of a letter for a PT, missing an issue in an essay, not using headings, etc.). The mistakes were easily fixable, and if the applicants had just fixated on the number and not the actual feedback, they would not have made any progress.

When you receive a graded practice exam, instead of focusing on the score, look instead to the comments, because that is by far the most important part.  I know some bar tutors who do not provide scores at all for that reason.

Scores might be helpful to show a progression, and to indicate improvement, but even in that context they’re not perfect.  It is possible for a person to write one practice exam and make a critical, but easily fixable, error and fail, and then write another practice exam and make a different critical-but-easily-fixable error, and fail again. Despite failing those practice exams, that person will pass the bar in the end if she fixes those mistakes.  In fact, one seasoned PASS instructor confirms that she failed every one of her graded commercial course practice exams, but she still passed the bar on the first try.  So if you get some scores that are lower than you would like, do not despair!  Look at those practice exams as the learning tools they are, make sure you understand WHY you received those scores, and then work on addressing those mistakes.

Of course if the comments you receive on a graded practice exam aren’t very clear, that’s a different issue.  We created the Extra Feedback Program years ago to try to address graduates’ concerns that their commercial companies’ exam feedback was not that effective.  EFP graders provide specific, individualized feedback — and, yes, a score, although in the first year of the program scores were omitted because they can be so misleading.  (Since there are no “canned” comments used in the program, it takes a little longer to return those graded answers, but if you submitted the PT last week, you should receive your feedback later this week.)  And for those exams that aren’t graded at all, you still can get some great feedback — maybe the most effective feedback of all, in fact — if you complete an essay or PT comparison chart.

So keep practicing, but remember, a score ain’t nothing but a number.  (Thanks to Aaliyah for letting us borrow and tweak her album title for this post.)



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