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Breaking down Essay Grading by the California Bar Exam

If you are gearing up to take the February 2020 California Bar Exam, you may be wondering how the California bar essay portion is graded. California recently made some changes to their bar exam going from a three day examination period to two days. Day one is the written portion of the exam and consists of 5 one-hour essays and one 90 minute Performance Test.


California divides the graders into six groups, each consisting of 12 experienced graders and up to 4 apprentice graders. Both groups are supervised. The graders assign a raw score to each essay on a scale from 40 – 100. The State Bar of California has explained, “in order to earn a 40, the applicant must at least identify the subject of the question and attempt to apply the law to the facts of the question. If these criteria are not met, the answer is assigned a zero.” We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume you want to hit a score of 65 and above. That’s exactly what our inexpensive materials are geared to accomplish.


A score of 55 is designated as a below passing paper. The applicant missed or incompletely discussed two or more major issues. The applicant had a weak or incomplete analysis of the issues addressed and the overall organization was poor.

A score of 60 is a slightly below passing paper. The applicant may have missed or incompletely discussed one major issue. Discussion of all issues was incomplete and organization of the issues was poor.


A score of 65 is an average passing paper. Applicant had a lawyer-like discussion of all major issues and missed some minor issues. Overall paper could have been better.

A score of 70 is a slightly above average paper. Applicant had a lawyer-like discussion of all major issues and missed some minor issues. Paper could have been better, but analysis and reasoning warrants more than a 65. Well organized paper.

A score of 75 is a distinctly above average paper. Applicant discussed all major issues in a lawyer-like fashion and discussed the ancillary minor issues. Overall, a well organized paper.


A score of 80-85 is unusually complete and thorough paper. Applicant discussed all major and minor issues in a lawyer-like fashion and very well organized.

Components used for grading include: organization/format, issue spotting, rule statement, and analysis. A passing paper will have use of headings and IRAC used to organize issues discussed. Issues are generally discussed in a logical order. A passing paper will discuss all the main issues, but may fail to discuss some of the minor issues. A passing paper will have clear rule statements that may be stated verbatim or in your own words that blend some of the concepts into one statement. Rules are correctly applied to the facts of the case and there is infrequent discussion of both sides of an issue, but paper still discusses major issues raised from the fact pattern.


We hope this gives you a better idea of what a passing (65 and above) paper looks like. Feel free to head to our sample page to see a CBB sample of Civil Procedure. All subjects are organized in the same fashion and are specifically geared towards a passing score of 65 and above.




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