The Almost Daily Word – Bar Graders and the “Blink” Moment – Create the Best First Impression of Your Essay Answer – Part 1

“Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Say you’re an experienced California Bar Examination grader, as I was. You’ve graded essay answers for ten examinations – at least 8,000 books. You’re grading Essay #5 on the February 2009 examination. (Available at You’re calibrated to the 11 or so other graders on your team – meaning that you consistently stick to the grading standards the team reached following a day and half of deliberations. You read every word of every answer, often twice, before you assign it a grade. You take your job seriously.

Do you honestly think you can ignore your first impression of each answer, or even of pieces of the answer, when you’re grading?

I graded bar examination answers – essays and performance tests – for ten years before I went on to membership on the Committee of Bar Examiners and then to becoming the State Bar Examinations Director. To each answer I graded, I almost always had an immediate and instinctive first impression, a “Blink Moment.” Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon as “…[R]apid cognition … the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking about buying, or read the first two sentences of a book, your mind jumps to a series of conclusions.”

I didn’t assign a grade based on that impression – I always read every word before I decided. But I couldn’t ignore my instinct either – it was my introduction to that answer – a handshake with that applicant.

If what I’ve described makes sense to you, how are you going to write an answer that makes your grader’s instinctive reaction a good one?

Further installments on this topic will give you some tips – some easy, some more difficult, on exploiting your grader’s “Blink Moment.”