Teaching to the Test: The Incorporation of Elements of Bar Exam Preparation in Legal Education

Emmeline Paulette Reeves, University of Richmond


"Teaching to the test." The phrase has become a largely pejorative label- synonymous with "bad teaching"-in virtually every academic setting. The notion is most often associated with "teaching a scripted, narrowed and dumbed-down curriculum concentrated on memorization of facts and the lower-level thinking skills needed to pass standardized tests."

This perception is no less true in the context of the traditional law school education, where the emphasis is on teaching students to "think like a lawyer" by the studying of cases and the vetting of legal principles through the time- honored Socratic dialogue in the classroom. The students' mastery of the doctrine and legal analysis is then measured by a single cumulative exam at the end of the course. Even though the bar exam is a barrier to entry into the profession (at least to the typical career path in the practice of law), the notion of incorporating bar exam preparation into the core curricula of doctrinal courses like Contracts, or Property, or Civil Procedure is somewhat anathema among law professors. Indeed, as one commentator recently noted, "It has always been one of the most insulting epithets that could be leveled against a law school that it is 'teaching for the bar."'