The following blog post is a reproduction of a blog originally posted by Elsa Ascencio on her blog Lawtina Elsa. The original blog post can be accessed here. The following blog post has been reproduced with Elsa’s permission.

The past few days, I’ve received inquires about strategies on how to approach the Ontario bar exam. In my previous bar exam post, I talked about how to balance the bar exam studying with anxiety. I hope it helped folks like me, who experience high levels of anxiety.

I want to shift the focus on writing the bar exam with anxiety. Anxiety flourishes with uncertainty. So inherently, if it is your first or second or third time with a bar exam question, your anxiety may go on overdrive. To cope with test anxiety, I found that anchoring myself to the question eased my anxiety.

What is anchoring? Ground yourself with the main point

The Ontario bar exam is basically a mini-fact pattern with 4 multiple-choice answers. These questions touch on multiple areas of law like business law, family law, etc. Inherently we won’t know the answers to everything at first glance.

I coined the term anchoring with the question as a way to draw similarities with grounding myself with meditation. The nature of the Ontario bar exams is to find the answer through your index, table of contents or personalized charts. The same way I ground myself (through breathing or yoga for anxiety), anchoring taught me to focus on the “main point” or “take away” of the question. Many things will be thrown at you with the fact pattern.

Fear not! Breathe. Read the fact pattern. Then ask: So what is the main point of this question?

An example:

Bob Ltd argues that their accountant, Sally Ltd, made a massive mistake on their revenue projections for the following year. As a result, stockholders and the market got nervous, sold their shares and left the company. You have been retained as Bob Ltd’s lawyer. Your client gives you instructions to negotiate a settlement agreement with Sally LTD. You have been informed that Sally LTD has retained a lawyer. You can engage with settlement talks with:

  1. the lawyer representing Sally LTD.
  2. The board of directors of Sally LTD
  3. The accountant at Sally LTD responsible for the Bob LTD file
  4. The account manager at Sally LTD responsible for the Bob LTD file

So lots of information is being thrown at you involving stockholders, revenue projections, settlement negotiations etc. Where do you begin?!

Breathe. Take a step back.

Let’s return: What is the main point of this question? The main point is “who can I (as lawyer for Bob LTD) speak with at Sally LTD regarding a settlement?” In other words, whom am I allowed to talk to for a settlement?

This isn’t a business law question. It’s a professional responsibility question because it touches on your role and responsibility as a lawyer.

This narrows your search. You no longer are wandering aimlessly. You now have an anchor to the materials: If you are using the table of contents, you’re looking under the Professional Responsibility materials for legal instructions. If you’re using the index, you’re looking for key words like “legal representation” or “Instruction” or whichever words fits the scope of the question.

In this question, the answer is (a). If the opposing side has retained a lawyer, you should talk to their lawyer first.

Anchoring takes practice but I found this technique to be the success to my bar exams. Furthermore, it helped me improved my confidence for the bar exams, knowing I had a strategy to attack the questions.

About Elsa Ascencio

Elsa Ascencio graduated from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and she articled at a prominent, union-side firm in Ottawa. Her passion for social justice has been profiled by Precedent Magazine, New York Magazine, and Toronto Star. In each interview, she talked about her own mental health journey in law, and the need to protect Salvadoran immigrants in the US. Most recently, she discussed the financial barriers that young lawyers face to the Toronto Star. Elsa can be reached via her website