Performance Test Tips

To start with, there are two kinds of Performance Tests: the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the California Performance Test (CPT). Both are essentially the same, except the MPT is only 90 minutes while the CPT is 3 hours. Although I am unsure of exact totals, at least 33 jurisdictions (66% of them) use the MPT. If you plan on taking the test in a non-PT jurisdiction, consider yourself lucky.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I have passed both the Oregon and the California bar exams. The Oregon bar exam uses the MPT. I found the 90 minute format to be rather easy. There is only so much you can do in 90 minutes. In contrast, the 3-hour format of the California bar PT is onerous and, as a lawyer might say, overbroad as to time and scope. The PT is, allegedly, designed to test how you can think and write as a real lawyer. I think this is BS since no "real" lawyer would digest 3-5 cases, review an entire litigation file, and draft and finalize a memo in 90 or 180 minutes. At least, I hope no real lawyer would do this.

OK, Bar Advisor, enough narcisistic intellectual masturbation: tell me how I pass this thing.

As with all portions of the bar exam, the key to success is practice. (Of course, stress reduction and visualization matter as well.) To be successful, practice must be done in an efficient and useful way. Let me lay out the steps to go through as you advance in your bar preparation.

General Preparation

Step 1: Read at least two examples of PT questions and answers. This will give you a sense for how the diverse information contained in the Library and File portions (see below) of the PT get converted into a passing answer. For those of you taking the California bar exam, you can get some examples on the Cal Bar website by CLICKING HERE. For those of you taking the PT in an MPT jurisdiction, you will probably have to rely on sample answers given by your bar prep course. I would also suggest reading one or two sample answers from the Cal Bar website as well.

Step 2: At the proper time in your study schedule, do your first practice PT. Do not write the answer out, but merely outline the answer. Then read the sample answer and see how much of the information you gathered and how closely you got the order. You probably missed a few things. That's okay, make a note of what you missed and try to figure out why. This is the key: self-knowledge and understanding of your errors. You can plow away and write 30 sample PTs, but if you never review and learn, you will have much less success.

Step 3: At the proper time in your study schedule, write out an entire PT. I would suggest doing a maximum of 5 sample PTs in their entirety. I think I probably did 5 when I took the Oregon bar and 3 when I took California. For me, writing out an entire PT is soul-killing. The PT has nothing to do with memorization or knowledge and everything to do with how you spot relevant pieces of information. So, once you can do that, there really is no need to practice writing them out. The real reason to practice writing them is to make sure you can get the job done within 90 minutes or 3 hours. In other words, you need to practice writing out entire PTs only until the point when you know the time pressure is no longer an issue for you. Then, you can just review PT tests periodically and do outlines to make sure you can spot all the relevant facts and legal authority.

Okay, so now I have given you the high-altitude overview. What about the neighborhood map? In other words, how do I write the thing. Here is my approach. Think about it, try it once. If it works for you, great; if not, try to figure out why not and then modify it to suit your style.

Structural Anthropology of the PT

The PT consists of a File and a Library. The File contains the assignment memorandum, format guidelines, and the facts you need to complete your task. The Library contains the various legal authority (statutes and cases, usually) you need to interpret those facts.

First, read the assignment memorandum in the File.

Second, skim (spend a max of 5 minutes) the entire Library, looking for anything that might be useful (e.g., multi-pronged tests, key words in statutes, etc.). Put a check mark in the margin next to these useful bits.

Third, skim (again, max 5 minutes) the entire File, noting facts that seem to relate to the assignment memorandum and the Library. Check marks in the margins again.

Fourth, read the assignment memorandum and the format guidelines memo (if there is one) carefully. Write down the major topics in basic outline format on a separate sheet of paper. [NB: some people who type the exam will type the outline into their computer and then fill in the written portion of the PT. Although I typed both of my bar exams, I could not do that. If I could, I probably would have as it seems to increase efficiency and permit more time to write.]

Fifth, read the Library carefully and fill in the various legal tests and statutory language that is relevant to the topics you generated by reading the assignment memorandum. If necessary, re-write your outline on another sheet of paper.

Sixth, read the File carefully for facts applicable to the legal authority you have culled from the Library. Write the basic fact and a citation (i.e., the page number so you can find it again) to that fact.

Seventh, review the outline and make sure it makes sense. If anything seems confusing, find the needed information to de-confuse. [By now, a maximum of half your test time should have expired.]

Eighth, write . . . quickly.



Anonymous said...

Good comments/tips

Anonymous said...

Great tips.

Bar Advisor said...

@Anonymous 2014 -- Thank you

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