Okay, so I know what you are all thinking: the performance test is hard enough when it’s on paper, but now I have to continuously scroll up and down on a screen, cannot write on the document or highlight, and I can’t have physical pages in front of me? Although the answer to all of those questions is, unfortunately, yes, there are ways to successfully approach the performance test when it’s all in an online document. Whether you’re taking the MPT on the Uniform Bar Exam or the Performance Test on the California bar exam, we are here to help you! Take a deep breath, and let’s dive in.
First Thing’s First – What Will This Look Like?
When you are taking the bar exam online, all of your questions are going to be on your screen. It is unlikely that jurisdictions will allow applicants to use dual monitors. Therefore, you should be prepared for this only using one monitor or screen. There is some good news in this, however slight: the software you are taking the exam in is likely going to split the screen for you, so you can see both the questions and your typing area. Here are likely the two-screen variations you are working with:
Okay, What’s Next?
Now that we have an idea of what this could even look like, it’s time to talk about how we will approach this. One of the greatest difficulties in this is that although the questions are now online, you still get the same amount of time – 90 minutes – to complete this. It’s online, but much of the PT approach itself should remain the same so you can write an effective PT. So let’s walk through this step-by-step.
1. Read the task memo first.
This is one of the most important documents in the PT because it gives you some background information on your problem, and gives you your task. Let’s say you read the task memo, and it tells you that you have to argue, persuasively, two different things: (1) your client entered into a valid marriage, and (2) your client is entitled to more than 50% of marital assets at divorce. You need to argue this in a memo to your supervising attorney who will be arguing the case.
It’s not as easy to flip pages back and forth now, so when you are writing the PT online, you have to keep track and organize all of your information once you receive it. So, what do you do?
- Right after you read the task memo, in your typing space, set up your document as a memorandum (To, From, Date, Re). You won’t have to scroll back up to remember which legal document you are supposed to produce.
- Type what the two legal issues are in your document. You will always have those two issues in front of you while you are scrolling through the PT. So, write “Client entered into a valid marriage” and “Client is entitled to more than 50% of marital assets at divorce.”
2. Scroll to the library next.
Instead of reading the file next, it’s better to jump to the library after reading the task memo. This is true for two important reasons. First, it’s better to first get the law you need to answer the issues first so you know exactly what you’re dealing with and what you need to look for in the file. Second, now that you are online, if you read the rest of the file first and then the library, you would have needed to keep scrolling back-and-forth to see how the facts correlated with the law and vice versa. Now, with reading the library first, you are going to be not only knowing all the law you’re working with right away, but you’re also going to be reading the file with all of the law in mind, so you will be able to pick out the legally significant facts quickly.
So, how can you most effectively go through the library when you’re reading it from a screen, without the ability to highlight and underline? Type out the relevant law as you go through the library in your exam document.
Let’s continue with our hypothetical example. The first thing I need to argue in my PT is that my client entered into a valid marriage. In the library, say we have the following sources: (1) a statute on common law marriage; (2) a case in which the court found that the parties did enter into a valid marriage; and (3) a case in which the court found that the parties did not enter into a valid marriage.
So, while I am reading, I am going to pull out the rule of the statute, and type it already. Then, I go on to the cases. What am I look for? I’m first going to the court’s holding so I can see what the case is about. When I do that for my first two cases, I see that it’s about valid marriages. So, I’m going to actively type out the court’s holding and the court’s reasoning into my exam document. That is all you need for an PT. What’s an example of this?
“In Raposa v. Raposa, the court held that the two parties did not enter into a valid marriage because (1) the parties’ only cohabitated with each other for 1 week prior to getting married; (2) the parties referred to each other as “friends”; and (3) the parties did not share any financial responsibilities, did not file joint tax returns, and did not have a joint bank account.”
If I then do this for the second issue, after I read the library, I have everything in my typed document in one place. I have my issues and I have all the law I need. So then, I’m ready to go into the file.
3. Scroll back up to the file.
With all of my law laid out, it’s time for me to scroll through my file. You want to do something similar with the file as you did for the library. As you are reading through each factual source, make a list of the facts you want to use in your document under the issue where each fact would belong.
Say, for example, I am going through my file for the first issue – whether there was a valid marriage. I know which facts I am looking for because of my library. So, as I see them, I am going to list them right underneath where they would go. In this way, I am putting everything in one place, and I am combating the idea that I would need to constantly scroll up and down through an electronic document to keep finding sources.
4. Write the remainder of the PT.
If you followed this method up until this point, there’s no reason to go back and forth on your screen to sort through the PT electronic document. Of course, maybe you will need to a couple of times for a few things, but this process keeps having to do that very minimal. Now, all that’s left for you to do is to take those facts you listed and turn them into an analysis. Remember to compare the facts to the law, and to compare/contrast your facts to the cases in the library (you can now easily do that since you have the court’s holding and reasoning rule statement right in your document). Polish up the document, make sure it has conclusions, leave some time to proof read, and you’re good to go.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Do not let the first time you practice with an PT on your screen be the day you sit for the bar exam. If your bar exam has moved online, you should be practicing every PT reading from the computer screen, using one (or both) of the methods of what your screen will look like as I have demonstrated above. This is uncomfortable, but there is time to get comfortable with this.
Getting used to taking the PT online is an adjustment, but you all can do it. Have an attack plan (try this one), and get plenty of practice in. Check back here for more articles on the PT and other bar exam related issues!
Looking for more PT help? Check out our grading packages, where we can help give you feedback and strengthen your PTs!