McGeorge Bar Prep

What You Need to Succeed on the CA Bar Exam

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  • June 2017
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A Score Is Just a Number

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 20, 2017

Scores on written practice exams may seem like perfect little indicators of how you’re doing, but they can be deceptive.

One problem is that bar applicants tend to fixate on the number at the end of an exam instead of internalizing the comments.  Many over the years have come to me in distress because they failed their practice exams and are convinced that means they are going to fail the bar, or they get different scores from different graders and think there’s something wrong.  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 that made fixable mistakes that prevented them from passing (e.g., writing a memo instead of a letter for a PT, missing issues in an essay, not using headings, etc.). The mistakes were easy to rectify, but if the applicants had just focused on the number and not the feedback, they would not have made progress.  So when you receive a graded practice exam, instead of zeroing in on the score, look instead to the comments, because that is by leaps and bounds the most important part.  I know some bar tutors who do not provide scores at all for that reason.

As for getting different scores from different graders, unless they are more than ten points away from each other on the same exact answer, do not waste time worrying about it.  No matter how experienced your practice exam grader is, that person will not be your bar grader.  Moreover, when certain bar exam answers move into a second reading phase, even they do not raise a red flag to the Bar unless the two scores are more than ten points apart (see “Phased Grading” near the bottom of this page).

Scores might be helpful to show a progression, and to indicate improvement, but even in that context they’re not perfect.  It is entirely possible for a person to write one practice exam and receive a failing score, and then write another practice exam, make different errors, and receive the same score.  The key is that this person got the same score for different reasons, and she may very well be improving even though that number did not change.  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, or if your score trajectory fluctuates, 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 problems as you continue to practice.

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 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.  And for the exams you write that aren’t graded at all, you still can get some great feedback–maybe the most effective feedback of all, since you are performing the assessment yourself–if you complete an essay or PT comparison chart.

If your MBE scores are not improving, the same general ideas apply.  You are still in the middle of bar prep, and you are still learning the law.  This process takes time–which you still have!–so be gentle with yourself.   Study the answer explanations and determine why you missed certain questions (or got them right for the wrong reasons), and then internalize that assessment and add notes to your outlines/flow charts/flash cards/etc. so you are less likely to make the same errors in the future.

So keep practicing, but remember, a score is just a number.



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