Skip to content
Bar Exam Essay Questions With Answers

Bar Exam Essay Questions With Answers

Passing the bar exam requires more than just knowing the law. Passing the bar exam also requires the ability to properly analyze a bar exam question, organize the issues, and write an effective answer. To demonstrate essay exam proficiency and how to apply the essential test-taking skills, consider the following bar exam sample question below, which will be used as an example to demonstrate how to approach an essay from start to finish, step-by-step, in order to produce a passing written answer.

February 2020 CA Bar Exam Question - Contracts

Barn Exports ("Barn") hired Sam, an up-and-coming artist whose work was recently covered in Modern Buildings Magazine, to paint a one-of-a-kind artistic design along the border of the ceiling in its newly renovated lobby. After discussing the work, Ed, the president of Barn, and Sam signed a mutually drafted handwritten contract, which states in its entirety:

Sam shall paint a unique design along the entire ceiling border of all public areas of the first-floor lobby. Barn shall pay $75,000 upon completion of the work.

When Sam began work, he was surprised that the new plaster ceiling in the lobby had not been sanded and sealed. Sam complained, but was told by Ed that preparation was part of his responsibilities. Although Sam disagreed, he spent four days sanding and sealing the ceiling. When Sam finished painting, he submitted a bill for $78,000, having added $3,000 for labor and supplies used in preparing the ceiling. In response, Barn sent a letter to Sam stating that, because he had not painted the borders in the two public restrooms in the lobby, no payment was yet due. Barn's letter also stated that it had recently spoken to several artists who perform similar work and learned that "surface preparation" was typically the responsibility of the artist.

According to Sam, before the contract was signed, he told Ed that the restrooms could not be included because his paints were not suitable for the high humidity in those locations.

Sam sued Barn for breach of contract in the amount of $78,000.

Barn countersued for specific performance to have the borders in the bathrooms painted.

  1. Is Sam likely to prevail in his breach of contract lawsuit against Barn and if so, what damages will he likely recover? Discuss.
  2. Is Barn likely to prevail in its lawsuit seeking specific performance against Sam? Discuss.

Step 1 – Call Of The Question

First, always start with the Call of the Question, which is usually located at the end of the exam, because the Call reveals what the Examiners want to know so the facts, yet to be read, can be put in that context. To interpret the Call, use the acronym SPOIL, which stands for the subject matter (S), parties (P), organizational structure (O), issues (I), and applicable law (L).

Like most Calls, the ones in the Contracts bar exam sample question reveal a wide variety of information, including:

(S) Subjects being tested - Contracts/Remedies:
  • Call 1 specifies a "breach of contract lawsuit" and asks about "damages", which is a remedy in contracts.
  • Call 2 specifies a "lawsuit seeking specific performance." Specific performance is also a remedy in contracts.
(P) Parties: Sam and Barn
  • Call 1 asks about "Sam…in his…lawsuit against Barn."
  • Call 2 asks about "Barn…in its lawsuit…against Sam."
(O) Organization structure to be considered - Sam vs. Barn, followed by Barn vs. Sam
  • Call 1 asks about the "Sam…lawsuit against Barn."
  • Call 2 asks about the Barn…lawsuit…against Sam."
Issues – Breach of contract, damages, and specific performance.
  • Call 1 asks about "breach" and "damages." The second to last line provides "Sam sued Barn" for "$78,000."The facts, yet to be read in their entirety, can be put in the context of whether there was a "breach" by Barn that supports Sam's "$78,000 damages" claim.
  • Call 2 asks about "specific performance." The last line provides "…specific performance to have the borders in the bathrooms painted." The facts, yet to be read in their entirety, can be put in the context of whether the court will find that Sam promised to paint the bathroom borders, and order such performance to Barn.
(L) There is no reference to the applicable law

Contracts test both common law or the Uniform Commercial Code (U.C.C.) The sample exam does not state which body of law to use. Thus, based on the facts, the examinee must make this determination after reading the fact pattern.

2 – Read The Facts To Understand The Story

Second, read the hypothetical facts once for content only. Focus on the story. Pay attention to the names of the parties, dates, quoted language, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc. If there is any confusion, read the hypothetical again for clarity.

In reading the exam facts, pay attention to the names of the parties ("Sam" and "Barn") mentioned in the Call. 

"Ed" is not a named party in the Call, but Ed is identified in the first paragraph as "the president of Barn." This reveals that based on Ed's conduct as an agent of Barn, Sam will likely impute arguments against Barn and vice versa.

There is not much in the way of dates, but "surface preparation" is quoted language from Barn's letter.  This is the Examiners' way of flagging that "surface preparation" is going to raise one or more issues and/or arguments. Further, the indentation of the contract terms is equivalent to quoted language, because the Examiners are drawing your attention to that text.

Finally, pay attention to verbs, adverbs, and/or adjectives, which are discussed below in Step 3. If there is any confusion about the content of the Sam v. Barn lawsuit and Barn v. Sam countersuit, read the exam facts again for a full understanding of the story. 

Step 3 – Issue Spot

Third, once understanding the story, begin issue spotting. Start at the beginning of the exam. Go paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence. As each issue is identified, jot it down in the margin of the exam next to the facts that raised it. By starting at the beginning of the fact pattern to issue spot, the first paragraph leads into Ed and Sam signing a contract, which states the terms that are intended for emphasis.

Here, the contract states, "Sam shall paint…" The verb "paint" may raise a goods contract if the contract requires Sam to deliver paint, or a services contract if the contract simply requires Sam to paint an existing area or object.

Further facts that state Sam shall paint "…a unique design along the entire ceiling border…" identify the applicable law as common law because "to paint along a border" is a service.

Continue the issue spotting process as described in the last paragraph of the exam question.

Step 4 – Utilize Mental Checklists And Approaches

Fourth, if during the study process, mental checklists and approaches for issue spotting have been developed, use them to pick up extra issues that could be overlooked without them. Mental checklists and approaches are recommended issue spots tools that every law student should develop during the study process, because they assist issue spotting and the more issues spotted and analyzed in the answer, the higher the grade will be.

In the Contracts bar exam sample question, the fact that Ed and Sam signed the mutually drafted $75,000 contract to paint the design makes offer, acceptance, and consideration fairly straightforward issues that may be picked up without a checklist.

However, defenses are commonly overlooked, which makes a Contracts defense checklist essential to trigger issues that could be missed without one.

The following is an example of the Fleming's Fundamentals Contracts defense approach that illustrates a mnemonic memory device: So Unless Al Is Mistaken, I Missed Aerobics Fitness During Physical Education.  Each capital letter represents a contract defense that may be raised by the facts:

S – Statute of Frauds

U - Unconscionability

A – Adhesion Contract

I - Incapacity

M – Mistake

I – Illegality

M – Misrepresentation

A – Ambiguity

F – Fraud

D – Duress

PE – Parol Evidence

In the Contracts sample question, the fact that "According to Sam, before the contract was signed, he told Ed that the restrooms could not be included…" raises the parol evidence rule, which bars oral statements (such as what Sam "told" Ed) made prior to the signed writing. This is critical evidence that Sam needs to introduce and that Barn needs to exclude, because the facts and the Call make Sam's obligation to related to the restrooms an important issue analysis.

Furthermore, one exception to the parol evidence rule is an ambiguity, i.e., allowing extrinsic evidence to resolve whether or not "all public areas of the first-floor lobby" in the contract include or exclude the bathrooms as Barn and Sam assert, respectively.

Step 5 – Reread The Call

Fifth, reread the Call of the Question to confirm a thorough understanding of what the Examiners want in the answer.

  • Call 1, if Sam will likely prevail in Sam v. Barn for breach of contract and if so, what damages will he likely recover. 
  • Call 2, if Barn will likely prevail in Barn v. Sam seeking specific performance.

Step 6 – Organize Issues On An Outline Sheet

Sixth, transfer the issues to a formal outline sheet, making sure they are properly organized. Jot down the formation issues of offer, acceptance and consideration, making sure they are properly organized first under Sam v. Barn (the first lawsuit as Call 1 dictates). Follow with defense issues of parol evidence rule and ambiguity. Continue through the damages issues as requested in the Call.

Repeat the outlining process with its particular issues for Call 2.

Step 7 – Reread Hypothetical One More Time

Seventh, go back and skim the hypothetical one last time to pick up any additional issues that may have been overlooked in steps #3 and #4. Add those issues to the outline.

Step 8 – Double Check Work - Reread The Call One More Time

Eighth, reread the Call of the Question one last time, making sure the issues on the outline are properly organized under the appropriate call if there is more than one.

Step 9 – Write The Final Answer

Finally, write the answer, using the proper presentation for each issue, which is usually referred to as IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) or IREAC (issue, rule, explanation, analysis, conclusion).

To check your answer, enter your email address below to download the answer sheet for the above sample bar exam questions. The answer sheet shows you how to use the proper IRAC presentation as demonstrated for each issue above. The answer sheet is a teaching tool to demonstrate the culmination of the above series of sequential steps to follow to properly analyze, organize, and write a passing bar exam essay answer.

Next article The Most Important Skills to Pass Law Exams