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Law School Essay Exam Scoring, Demystified

Law School Essay Exam Scoring, Demystified—Quimbee

Law School Essay Exam Scoring, Demystified

Law school exam-grading myths abound. Do professors really mark you down if you use CRAC instead of IRAC in your essay? Do the longest answers always score the most points? Does writing style count? In this guide, we reveal how professors approach grading the law school essay exam.

Rubrics

Many law school professors use grading rubrics to aid in assessment. The rubric is a scoring tool that identifies the content expected in an essay response and allocates points to components of the analysis.

A typical law school exam rubric allocates points to the four steps of IRAC. You’ll earn points for identifying issues, properly reciting rules, applying law to fact, and reasoning to a conclusion. 

But here’s a crucial truth: not all parts of IRAC carry the same weight. A typical point allocation looks something like this:

Issue: 10%
Rule: 35%
Application: 40%
Conclusion: 10%
Clarity, writing, and organization: 5%

Notice that the majority of points are allocated to the rule and application sections. Providing the correct rule and applying it to the facts are critically important.

Issue spotting is important, too. Spotting the issues has a cascading effect on your score. If you can’t identify the issue, you won’t be able to earn points for providing the corresponding rule, applying it to the facts, and reasoning to a conclusion.

Maximizing the points you earn

What are professors looking for in exam answers? Let’s compare the approach taken in high-scoring and low-scoring answers for each part of IRAC.

Issue

  • A high-scoring answer is responsive to the question given in the essay prompt and identifies the relevant legal issue. 
  • A low-scoring answer omits an issue statement or states an issue that isn’t relevant to the question asked.

Rule

  • A high-scoring answer gives a rule statement tailored to resolving the issue under consideration and avoids giving irrelevant rules.
  • A low-scoring answer gives a rule statement that omits the dispositive standard, contains errors, or contains principles that are irrelevant to resolving the issue at hand.

Application

  • A high-scoring answer uses all relevant facts given in the hypothetical, links the facts to the elements or factors of the rule, and demonstrates how the facts prove or disprove the rule. In addition, if there are reasonable arguments on both sides, a high-scoring answer provides counteranalysis. 
  • There’s more than 1 way to misfire on the application section. A low-scoring answer could rely on irrelevant facts, give conclusory analysis (with no facts at all), or provide relevant facts but fail to link them to the elements or factors of the rule. 

Conclusion

  • A high-scoring answer states the conclusion and, if appropriate, provides the relative degree of certainty or uncertainty of the conclusion reached.
  • A low-scoring answer omits a conclusion or reaches the wrong conclusion (on facts susceptible to only 1 correct conclusion).
If you’re underperforming on essay exams, check your rule and application sections first. In the rule section, you may need to go into greater depth or conversely to use restraint and not brain dump every rule you know. A longer exam answer isn’t necessarily better—you’ll alienate the grader if you provide irrelevant information.

In the application section, make sure you are incorporating 2 key ingredients: facts from the hypothetical and key language from the rule statement. Great application sections make explicit links between the facts and the legal conclusion. Use linking words such as because or which means. Try these simple formulas to write high-scoring application fast: 

Formula 1: [Fact], which means [legal conclusion].
  • Example: Declan puffed a cigarette and stepped closer to Pia before exhaling the smoke directly in her face, which means he had intent to cause an offensive contact.
Formula 2: [Legal conclusion] because [fact].
  • Example: Declan had intent to cause an offensive contact because he puffed a cigarette and stepped closer to Pia before exhaling the smoke directly in her face.

Do writing mechanics count?

The grading rubric may have a category devoted to style, mechanics, or professionalism in writing. Many law professors dedicate an exam scoring category to writing. However, the practice is not universal.

But make no mistake, graders are affected by poor writing. So even if the rubric does not explicitly allocate points to writing, it’s important to structure your analysis logically and write in a style that conveys professionalism.

If you’re getting feedback that your exam answers are difficult to follow, review our law school exam writing guide, and try these tactics to score more points:
  • Use short sentences. You may have spent hours writing your exam answer, but professors want to speed through assessing it. Simple sentence structures are easier to follow.
  • Hit return frequently. Large blocks of text are difficult to read. At the very least, start a new paragraph for the application section of IRAC.
  • Add simple, bolded headings. Headings help the grader navigate the structure of your analysis. Legal concepts often make good headings (Actual Authority, Apparent Authority), but some exam answers may need to be organized by conflict pairings (Jane v. Ralph, Todd v. Jane) or sets of facts (Car Crash, Dump Truck Crash).
  • Reduce typos. Your grade likely won’t be affected by a few typos, but it’s a different story if your writing contains so many errors that it becomes difficult to comprehend. Typing practice exam answers is a useful exercise for reducing typos. On the real exam, allocate 5 minutes to editing.

IRAC, CRAC, CREAC—which should I use?

Acronyms abound in legal writing. Fundamentally, the acronyms IRAC, CRAC, and CREAC are each trying to help you write organized legal analysis. There are minor distinctions between the acronyms, which we unpack here. But the essential components of legal analysis remain the same under any of the acronyms. Legal analysis consists of stating the legal issue, providing the governing rule, applying the rule to the facts, and concluding how the issue should be resolved. In short, any of the acronyms can guide you to high-scoring exam analysis.

Tackling essays during law school is great practice for the bar exam. Quimbee Bar Review+ offers attorney feedback on an unlimited number of essay submissions, plus real, licensed questions from past bar exams and beautifully designed video lessons. Want to learn more about the unique features Quimbee Bar Review+ uses to help prepare you for the bar exam? Book a 30-minute tour of the course for free. 

Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,600+ real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.

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