Friday, March 27, 2009

How to think about and for a bar exam

Simplify, simplify.. Memorize but not too much. Keep your logic skills alive. You will survive..

First, get two dictionaries. Black's and a standard Philippine law dictionary. You need them to have legal concepts down "cold" for the bar exam.

Second, approach each bar subject as a collection of topics. For example, political law includes such topics as due process, presumption of innocence, the political question, separation of powers, etc. Your notes will probably come to something like 50 topics per bar subject.

Third, within each topic, outline your thinking on three levels: concepts, doctrines, and rules. Concepts have to be complete. Doctrines have to be those important enough to be mentioned in the textbook and bar reviewer you use. Rules are based on statutes and cases. You don't have to remember a particular rule if it can be derived from concept and doctrine.

Rules based on unusual cases have to be remembered. An example of an unusual case is Obrecido, on how the Supreme Court decided to interpret the rule on divorce obtained by an alien against his Filipino spouse. It is unusual because it goes against a simplistic reading of the Family Code, but is consistent with the over-arching principle of the Civil Code (Art. 10 on how right and justice prevail when the court interprets a statute).

A good guess is that each topic contains up to 10 concepts, 5 doctrines, and 30 legal rules.

Because of overlap across topics, the number of concepts per bar subject may be about 200, doctrines about 40, and rules about 700. These constitute a core minimum of "knowledge elements" numbering about 1,000 that have to be on "instant recall" for the exam for one who will get a grade of at least 75%.

Fourth, knowing all the above is not enough. You should also know how to write out the essay answer. This is not a memory-dependent skill.

The usual approach is to break any question down as an "issue spotter," and to draft out an answer using IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion). It seems that in the Philippines, the order of a good bar exam answer is somewhat different: CIRA. This is because a typical question asks the examinee to "decide" a hypothetical case based on an actual Supreme Court decision. Thus, the first part is a Yes/No/I qualify. The second part states the legal issue or issues that the court should decide (this is the hardest, but when "spotted" it ensures a correct answer). The third part cites the legal rules that apply (the "codals" or the case law).

The last part is the analysis. It cannot be taught or memorized, except when the question is "on all fours" with an actual case. But it is a matter of logic -- how the rules apply to the facts. Here, one should think fast but not too fast. Thinking too slowly or "over-thinking" is usually fatal because it means you do not have the necessary concept, doctrine, and/or rule "on the ready" for making out an answer.

Each examinee memorizes and thinks in his own idiosyncratic way. But the three-part (concept, doctrine, rule) breakdown of the memorized elements, and the individualized execution of IRAC are universally necessary components of thinking for a bar exam.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, penmanship must be up to par.. It is a cagey edge..