Mastering the Virginia Bar Exam Essay Section: A Comprehensive Guide

Tackling the essay section of the Virginia Bar Exam requires a unique strategy. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of how to effectively navigate this challenging segment of the test, given its different grading standards and essay expectations compared to other states.

Understanding the Unique Nature of the Virginia Bar Exam

Historically, each state had its own unique bar exam. Major bar prep programs like Barbri, Kaplan, and Themis used to customize their materials for every state. However, as most states adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), these prep programs adjusted their materials to suit a larger audience. They still offer customized outlines and lectures for Virginia, but much of their general essay-writing advice is not well-tailored for Virginia essays and is more accurate for students taking the Multi-State Essay Exam as part of the UBE.

The issue lies in the fact that the essay section of the Virginia Bar exam differs significantly from the UBE’s multi-state essay exam in terms of what it assesses and how it is graded. Consequently, passing the Virginia essay exam calls for specific, tailored advice, which often diverges from the general essay writing advice provided by these prep courses.

The Essentials of Navigating the Virginia Bar Exam

More than just a test of legal knowledge, the Virginia Bar exam gauges your ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. The examiners will supply specific questions related to the fact pattern, unlike in UBE states or on law school exams, where you may have been asked to find all legal issues within the pattern.

Furthermore, the examiners grade partially based on relevance and scope, meaning you could lose points for including legally correct rules that don’t apply to the question. This practice contrasts with the multi-state essay exam, where the goal is often to find and discuss all legal issues in each fact pattern.

There is almost no overlap between the MBE and the Virginia Essay Exam

Unlike UBE states, where examinees take the MBE and the MEE, in Virginia, you must approach the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and the Virginia essay exam as two completely separate tests. Besides federal jurisdiction and the Uniform Commercial Code, there’s hardly any overlap between the two exams, necessitating customized study strategies. What might be a correct response on the MBE could be incorrect on the Virginia essay exam, and vice versa.

How to Prioritize Study Topics

A common yet misguided practice is to predict the frequency of topics that might appear on the exam by using a “subject frequency chart”. But the Virginia exam is no more or less likely to test a particular subject based on past frequency. Instead, the emphasis should be on the weight each topic carries when it does appear, as that significantly influences your overall score and determines how to spend your valuable study time.

The unique grading practices and essay expectations of the Virginia Bar exam present a distinct challenge. To succeed, it’s critical to understand the workings of the exam, adapt your study strategies accordingly, and prioritize topics based on their weight rather than frequency.

As you embark on the journey of preparing for the essay section of the Virginia Bar Exam, there are a few strategies and concepts that will be key to your success. With a focus on understanding the weight of different topics, applying a solid framework for answering questions, and a thoughtful approach to studying, you will increase your chances of achieving a positive outcome.

Prioritizing Subjects in Your Study

Knowing where to focus your attention is a crucial part of preparing for the bar exam. Virginia Civil Procedure is the most important subject, constituting sometimes as much as an estimated 20% of the exam points. Therefore, a solid grasp of this subject will set you miles ahead of the competition. Virginia procedure is often tested with its own fact pattern, and then elements of it are also tested within other subject areas. Wills and Federal Jurisdiction also rank high, and when tested, they often form the core of entire fact patterns.

Less important are the second-tier and lower subjects. Subject charts within the LexBar course categorize subjects within groups, or “tiers” according to how important they are for your study time.

The third-tier subjects, although they may come up relatively often, are less important. Spending significant time on these at the expense of the higher tier subjects can lead to sub-optimal outcomes as you neglect enough time with higher-weight subjects in exchange for trying to learn every detail of a very low-weight subject.

Structuring Your Essay: The Rule-Analysis-Conclusion (RAC) Method

A useful strategy for structuring your essay responses is the Rule-Analysis-Conclusion (RAC) format. This method involves grouping all your rules together, followed by the analysis, and then concluding with a succinct answer for each sub-question under a given fact pattern.

Avoid intermingling your rules and analysis, as clarity is key. Ensure your answer is precise and direct, mirroring the examiners’ labeling. No other subheadings are needed.

Understanding and Answering Essay Questions

When it comes to the actual answering of essay questions, a methodical approach is recommended. Start by reading the question, then preview what your conclusion might sound like. Next, read the fact pattern to figure out what facts are relevant to the rules. Your conclusion should mirror the question, forming a declarative sentence that directly answers the question. This approach keeps you focused on the scope of the question and prevents you from veering off into irrelevant facts or rules.

Practicing with Past Virginia Bar Exams

Past exams can be a powerful tool in your preparation. They allow you to get a feel for the style of questions and how they are structured. Look out for multi-part questions, and practice turning the question into a declarative sentence to create your conclusion at the end of your answer.

Remember, the goal is to understand the question, decide on your conclusion, then which legal rules apply, and finally, use the facts to provide relevant analysis under the rules. This meticulous approach to essay answering will help you master the Virginia Bar Exam essay section.

The Virginia Bar Exam essay section is not merely about producing a good analysis; it’s about demonstrating your knowledge of the specific legal rules that apply within Virginia. In other words, a beautiful, logically constructed analysis can fall flat if it doesn’t include the correct legal rules. Therefore, the first step in succeeding in the essay section is to learn the law. But how should one go about this?

Learning Through Testing

One effective method of learning and remembering legal rules is through testing. This might involve writing full tests or, more practically, using a tool like flashcards. Creating flashcards on the specific legal rules you need to remember, and going through them repeatedly until you’ve memorized them, can be a very effective strategy. For instance, a flashcard could simply state “federal diversity jurisdiction” on one side, and on the other side, the associated legal rule: “The parties are completely diverse, and the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000 exclusive of costs and interest. Complete diversity means that no Plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant.”

This method of learning leverages the power of spaced-repetition testing, which research has shown to enhance memory retention. Even getting the answer wrong can help, as it primes your brain to correct and remember the right answer the next time you see it. Testing yourself could also take the form of practicing essays and self-grading, then making a note of every legal rule you miss or state incorrectly and committing those to memory.

Where to Get Material for Study

Deciding where to source your study material depends on the importance of the subject matter. For heavily tested subjects like Virginia procedure, an outline from a major bar prep program, such as Barbri, Themis, or Kaplan, could be invaluable. These detailed outlines can be transformed into flashcards for repeated study and memorization.

However, for less significant subjects like the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), past exam questions and sample answers may suffice. Going through these past exams and extracting the legal rules will equip you with most of the legal rules that may come up on your exam. Virginia tends to test the same rules repeatedly, so familiarizing yourself with these can give you an edge.

The number of flashcards you make should reflect the importance of the subject matter. For instance, Virginia procedure, being the most important subject, should yield close to 300 flashcards. On the other hand, less significant subjects can have fewer flashcards.

Preparing for Certain Questions on the Virginia Bar Exam

There are certain questions that appear so often that you should have “rule scripts” memorized verbatim, that you could recite at a moment’s notice with virtually no forethought. For instance, questions involving Dillon’s rule, subject matter jurisdiction by diversity, and perfecting state court civil appeals come up so often that you should be able to write the rules without having to think. Having these rules hard-coded in your mind can save a significant amount of time during the exam.

Preparing for the essay section of the Virginia Bar Exam can be a daunting task. With the proper strategies and a clear understanding of how to approach legal analysis, you can significantly improve your chances of success. Let’s look at essential aspects of legal analysis, discuss key elements, and provide you with valuable tips to effectively tackle essay questions.

Understanding Legal Analysis

Legal analysis forms a crucial part of the “RAC” (Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) organization format that you should use for the Virginia exam. In the analysis section, you show your ability to connect the facts of the case to the relevant rules and draw logical conclusions. By effectively marrying the facts with the rules, you highlight your understanding of the law and its application.

Identifying Relevant Rules and Elements

To perform a strong legal analysis, you must start by clearly identifying the rules that apply to the given essay question. Different acronyms and keywords may be used to describe these rules, such as the “ocean” acronym, which stands for open and notorious, continuous, exclusive, adverse, and hostile, the elements of adverse possession. When encountering an adverse possession question under the real property rubric, you know that all these elements must be met for a period of 15 years in Virginia to establish title by adverse possession.

Crafting an Effective Analysis

In your analysis section, it is crucial to connect the facts of the case to the identified rules. By linking the facts to the rules, you show a thorough understanding of how the law applies in each situation. For example, if the fact pattern states that John occupied the parking lot openly and notoriously, with a shack that has remained there for seven years, you can assert that his possession was open and notorious and continuous for seven years because his shed was in an open parking lot used by others, and the facts tell us it remained there for seven years. This process of connecting the facts to the rules should be repeated throughout your analysis. Every rule element needs an associated fact, and every fact that you use in your analysis must directly connect to a rule element, or it shouldn’t be there.

Formulating a Precise Conclusion for the Virginia Bar Exam

After presenting your analysis, it is important to conclude your essay with a concise and precise statement that directly answers the question posed. For instance, if the question is, “Does Sam have standing to sue Jackson to require him to remove a shed?” then your conclusion should be, “Sam (does or does not) have standing to sue Jackson to require him to remove the shed.” By mirroring the question in your conclusion, you provide a clear and direct response that your grader will immediately recognize.

Applying the Approach: An Example Essay Question

To further illustrate the concepts we just covered, let’s analyze a sample essay question within the realm of real property. The question asks whether Sam has standing to sue Jackson to require him to remove a shed from the shared parking lot of a condominium association. The relevant rule states that in Virginia, only a unit association has standing to sue for misuse of common elements, while individual unit owners lack standing.

Marrying Facts to Rules

To decide which facts matter, we consider the two elements of the rule: 1) individual unit owners lack standing and 2) misuse of common elements. Among the provided facts, the fact that Sam occupied ten parking spaces in the common parking lot stands out as it aligns with the second element of the rule. Additionally, as to the first element of the rule, it is important to note that Sam is not the condo association itself but only an individual unit owner.

Writing an Effective Analysis

In the analysis section, we would say, “Sam occupied ten parking spaces in the common parking lot, which is a common element. Sam is merely an individual unit owner and does not represent the condo association itself.” Notice how this analysis is short but complete. We have addressed each element of the 2-element rule. We should refrain from introducing any irrelevant facts or guessing about potential outcomes, just to make the answer longer. Stop when you’ve fully answered the question. There is no need to speculate about what the condo association might do, or how Sam might be able to get the shed removed. Just answer the question.

Crafting a Precise Conclusion

Concluding our essay, we would assert, “Therefore, Sam does not have standing to sue Jackson to require him to remove the shed.” This conclusion uses the language of the question itself, converting it into a declaratory statement.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When tackling essay questions, it is crucial to remain focused on the question at hand and not try to solve problems beyond its scope. Some common errors to avoid include:

  • Guessing about future sub-questions or additional issues that may arise.
  • Assuming permissions or actions of other parties without clear evidence.
  • Including irrelevant facts, such as the awareness or knowledge of the parties involved.
  • Attempting to solve broader problems beyond the specific question asked.

To excel in the Virginia Bar Exam essay section, keep these key points in mind:

  • Understand the “RAC” organization format and focus on the analysis section.
  • Find the relevant rules and elements necessary to address the question.
  • Connect the facts of the case to the identified rules in your analysis.
  • Craft a precise conclusion that directly answers the question.
  • Avoid common mistakes like issue spotting and speculation beyond the question’s scope.

Preparing for the essay section of the Virginia Bar Exam requires a strategic approach to maximize your chances of success. Let’s look at some valuable tips and resources that will help you study effectively, navigate the exam, and improve your essay writing skills. Additionally, we will discuss the LexBar online course, a resource designed to help you in your exam preparation journey to the Virginia Bar Exam.

Understanding the Unique Virginia Bar Exam Structure

The Virginia Bar Exam essay section consists of separate, unrelated sub-questions under each fact pattern. Each question requires a distinct analysis and does not build upon earlier answers unless the exam question specifically says otherwise. It is essential to read each question carefully to avoid mistakenly repeating rules or analysis from earlier responses.

Virginia Bar Exam Approach: Skip, Write, Return

On exam day, adopt a skip, write, and return approach. If you encounter a question that completely stumps you, skip it and move on to the next one. Focus on answering the questions you feel confident about, providing complete and well-organized responses. Once you have addressed all the questions you can, return to the skipped ones and do your best to answer them.

As you tackle the exam questions, time management is crucial. Avoid spending too much time on questions you don’t know. It’s better to focus on completing the questions you can answer confidently and returning to the skipped ones afterward.

Embrace the Unknown

If you encounter a question you don’t know, make an educated guess by picking a side and arguing it convincingly. Avoid wishy-washy answers that try to argue both sides. You need to reach a firm conclusion.

In some cases, you may meet questions where you have no knowledge of the applicable rules. In such situations, you may need to make up a rule, then do a good analysis, and conclusion. While this isn’t an ideal strategy, it can earn you a few points. However, be cautious not to present both sides without taking a clear position. Answer confidently.

Leveraging the LexBar Online Course for the Virginia Bar Exam

Virginia Bar Essays Online Course

The LexBar online course is an invaluable resource tailored to help you succeed on the Virginia Bar Exam essay section. The course offers a structured approach, combining quizzes, fact patterns, and true model answers to enhance your understanding and application of the material.

The LexBar course provides model answers that follow the ideal structure. Use these model answers as benchmarks to evaluate your own writing. If your organization differs from the model, make the necessary adjustments to align with the recommended format. Unlike the sample answers written by the law professors and posted online, the LexBar model answers are formatted and organized exactly how you should organize your answer.

The LexBar course offers an opportunity to submit three essays for grading. Submitting your essays allows the LexBar team to supply personalized feedback. This offers insights into areas of improvement and suggestions for enhancing your responses. Our grading is significantly more detailed and actionable than the typical essay grading from the major bar prep courses. Take advantage of this feedback to refine your writing skills and to help learn some frequently tested Virginia-specific rules.

To make the most of the LexBar course, begin the lessons between 3 to 6 weeks before your exam. This timeframe strikes a balance between allowing sufficient time for thorough preparation and avoiding rushing through the program. However, individual preferences may vary, and some students opt to start earlier or closer to the exam date. You will need about 1-hour per day for about fifteen days to complete the course. You should not try to complete LexBar in fewer than 15 days. Doing more than 1-hour (1 LexBar Lesson) per day produces less than optimal results.


Preparing for the Virginia Bar Exam essay section requires a focused and strategic approach. By understanding the unique exam structure, managing your time effectively, and leveraging resources like the LexBar online course, you can enhance your chances of success. Remember to practice writing essays using the recommended structure and seek feedback to continually improve your skills. With diligent preparation, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the essay section of the Virginia Bar Exam.