BarWinners-Passing the CA Bar Exam–Tips for the Best Way to Write a Bar Exam Essay-“IRAC”

October12, 2016
by Bar Winners

Best Way to Write a Bar Exam Essay-“IRAC”


While law school students might be able to get away without learning how to properly use and apply IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) on essay examinations, IRAC is an invaluable skill for any person planning on taking and passing the California Bar Exam. Some bar review programs recommend “CREAC” that begins with a stated conclusion, but Barwinners does NOT recommend “CREAC” as most Bar Exam graders prefer the IRAC structure and do not like essays that begin with a conclusion.  Essays that begin with the conlusion and work “backwards” can leave the grader with a score “feeling” of 60 or below.

Issue statements on the California Bar Exam should be one or two words,  not a sentence. The reader is taking 1-2 minutes to read an entire essay exam, and are looking for the “buzz words” to give you points.

Therefore, the issue headnote for the California Bar should read:

First Amendment

The key here is for bar-takers to be able to identify “trigger” words that indicate to the grader he or she knows how to “spot the issue.”

On law school exams, this statement should be lengthened to one sentence long and state what the problem is about. An example of an issue statement on a law school exam could be:

“Did Dan have First Amendment rights when he spoke at the park?”

Next, one should write a general, memorized rule of law that applies to the hypothetical. If the issue statement is “Can Gill recover against Dustin for defamation?,” one would then insert the rule for defamation.


“Defamation requires a defamatory statement, of and concerning the plaintiff, published to a third party, that causes damages. Then, one must apply the specific facts of the hypothetical to the elements required by the definition: 1) defamatory statement, 2) of and concerning the plaintiff, 3) publication, 4) by a third party, 5) causation, 6) damages. While there should be an overarching IRAC for the defamation issue, there should also be individual, sub-IRAC for each element within defamation (see the six elements listed above).”

Analysis should begin with the sign post word, “Here,  P will argue that the statement was defamatory “Petra comes to work with alcohol on her breath” because it lowered her reputation among her office workers, employers, and customers. Then argue, if there is an argument, Dustin’s position as to why it didn’t lower Petra’s reputation. Here, “Petra brags how much she drank the night before in front of the whole office, “ therefore the statement is not defamatory as Petra announced it herself.

It is also best if a student separates defendant and plaintiff arguments into different sections, as to not confuse him/herself or the grader! Switching between plaintiff and defendant arguments within the same paragraph can create confusion, as well as indicate to the grader that the student does not have a strong grasp on the issue.

Then conclude, using the sign post language, “Therefore” and reach a one sentence conclusion. Example: “Therefore, the statement was defamatory.”

At the end of the entire defamation analysis, give a final, overall conclusion.

Outline Your Answer Before You Write Your Essay:

One tool students can use when writing essay-based exams is outlining. Outlining ahead of the exam can prepare students for timed writing situations. Outlining during the exam can help a student stay focused on the issues at hand by creating a roadmap to structure a response, without forgetting key elements and case examples. Outlining is a skill that needs to be taught and then learned. For the California Bar Exam, your score will be determined by the first 15 minutes you spent outlining. It will lay out your entire answer and be well worth the time spent outlining before you begin writing.

Self-grading is another great tool that can help students review practice answers. Many professors provide sample essays without answers, which students can answer and go into office hours to review for professor feedback. Students who struggle with issue-spotting can practice with Bar review materials that have sample answers provided.


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