Good writers often refer to “the Guiding Question” as a way to direct their efforts. A strong Guiding Question keeps the writer purposeful and on-track, and makes it easier for the reader to follow the analysis and reasoning.
Too often, bar exam applicants write their essays without a Guiding Question, preferring (or more likely, not thinking at all) to let a stream-of-consciousness inform their work. Without direction, their essays become mash-ups of rules, elements of law and some haphazard conclusions, layered with a covering of issue spotting.
By contrast, a writer with purpose and direction prepares an essay answer that is disciplined, well organized, thoughtful and concise. The answer demonstrates how the law is applied to the facts given to reach a preferred (correct) conclusion.
Does this happen by accident? Fortunately, the answer is ‘no.’ It happens when the writer begins by asking themselves this simple, yet powerful question:
“What is in dispute?”
Those 4 words form the basis of a Guiding Question that directs the writer to what is important (even critical) in the question. Use of the Guiding Question avoids the trivial, mechanical, irrelevant nonsense of mnemonic-addled bar takers and adherents of the “BigBox” Bar Review mentality.
Asking “What is in dispute?” means higher writing scores because the applicant is responding to the actual problem presented in the fact pattern by identifying the dispute and generating from the dispute, the arguments and rules of law that flow into a reasoned and thoughtful response.
So, the next time you sit down to write a practice bar exam essay, read the problem and before you begin to write, simply ask yourself, “what’s in dispute?” Then, if a topic falls within the dispute, write about it and if it does not, leave it out. It’s really just that simple and direct.
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