The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is the final barrier between you and a law career. While the exam is challenging, there is no need to panic. With the right approach and the proper studying routine, you can achieve a passing score the first time you take it. We’re going to take you through a handful of MBE tips and tricks to help you improve your MBE score.
1. Know the Law
The MBE is all about knowing and understanding the law, and we’re sure you know that. Still, there is a lot to know about the law, and many students feel overwhelmed or overlook the minor details. We’re going to help you avoid these problems.
The best way to improve your odds of passing is to know the law to the best of your ability—and not just what the law means, but how it’s applied. Luckily, we have a few tips that can help you gain a better grasp on a handful of key concepts.
Bring out the Flashcards
Whether you like flashcards or not, it’s time to use them. It’s also time to use them correctly. For every section of the law, like torts and evidence, you’ll want to make a handful of flashcards with key concepts surrounding each field of law.
We’ll use larceny as an example. On the front of the card, you’ll write out something that has to do with larceny, like the dollar value of a stolen item. Then, on the back of the card, you’ll write the specific larceny law that would apply to this item.
By guessing which situation your flashcard applies to, you’ll develop a better understanding of the law and the little details that separate each one. It’s one thing to know what larceny means, but you also have to see the difference between petty and grand larceny.
If you don’t know the nitty-gritty of each law, unfortunately, you don’t know enough about law for the MBE. So, break out those flashcards and test yourself on the details of each law. Some great topics to make flashcards for include evidence, contracts, real property, constitutional law, torts, and criminal law.
Try Active Studying
Passive studying is the most common type of studying students use, but it’s the least effective. Passive studying includes approaches like re-reading your notes and flipping through outlines or textbooks.
Instead of using passive studying techniques, we recommend taking an active approach. Some great active studying approaches include re-writing your notes, asking yourself how law concepts apply to the bigger picture, and creating study games. You only remember 10% of what you read, so applying material is the best way to retain information for the MBE.
Many students make a critical mistake during bar preparation. Instead of learning how the law is applied, they go straight from the classroom to the exam. Unfortunately, the details of each law aren’t always discussed in class, so it’s important to gain a deeper, more practical understanding through active studying.
2. Focus on Tested Topics
While knowing the law is essential, there are only 200 multiple choice questions for you to answer on the MBE. This means that some areas of the law will appear more frequently than others. Knowing which topics to focus on makes it easier to get a passing grade on the MBE.
The most common law areas used on the bar exam include real property, contracts, hearsay, negligence, relevancy, and constitutional law. While this is the case, some areas within these sections of law are tested more than others. We’ll use a few examples, starting with contract law.
On the MBE, 50% of contract law questions are based on formation, discharge, breach, and performance. So, for contract law, you want to focus on these four areas. Another example is constitutional law, where 50% of questions are based on individual rights.
If you’re curious about other areas of the exam that are tested the most, referencing an MBE frequency chart is your best bet.
If you focus on the most tested questions, you can use your studying time more efficiently. When you’re preparing for the bar and even taking it, time is not on your side, so maximizing what little time you have needs to be a priority.
3. Use MBE Questions From Previous Exams
When you’re preparing for the MBE, showing up ready on test-day is essential. The best way to prepare is by taking practice exams and looking over questions found on previous exams. While organizations like Kaplan give you randomly generated MBE questions, studying with authentic questions that appeared on the exam is the best option.
The good news is that bar questions from the previous year, and even years prior, are released for students to use as studying material. There are many sources to find these questions, so we recommend looking into multiple options to find affordable pricing. Most commercial courses don’t offer certified bar questions, so verify your course to determine if they’re offered.
4. Pace Yourself While You Study
Preparing for the MBE can be a nightmare. Many students cram in late-night studying sessions that yield poor results. To avoid studying this way, we have two methods you can use to avoid burnout and retain your information.
The 90/20 Rule
One of the best ways to avoid burnout is the 90/20 rule. If you’re going to be studying for a few hours, giving yourself a few breaks will help you last longer. The 90/20 rule is an excellent method to follow because it accounts for your attention span and the energy your brain uses.
Unfortunately, our brains aren’t computers. On average, after 60-90 minutes, a person’s ability to process information declines because glucose stores in the brain are depleted. Glucose is fuel for the brain, so running low is less than ideal for studying.
To avoid this and replenish lost glucose, you should take a 20-minute break between 90-minute studying sessions to stay sharp.
The Pomodoro Method
An alternative to the 90/20 rule is the Pomodoro method. Like the 90/20 rule, this method accounts for short attention spans and gives you time to rest while studying.
The first step is to set a timer for 25-30 minutes. We recommend using something other than your phone to keep distractions to a minimum. You also need to make sure the timer has an alarm, so you know when the time is up.
If a distraction enters your mind during the 25-30 minute session, take out a notepad, and write it down. Describe what distracted you, why it distracted you, and why it was on your mind. Then, resume studying.
Once the alarm rings, give yourself a checkmark and take a 5-minute break. During your break, you can grab a cup of coffee or even stretch out. Regardless of how you spend your five minutes, make sure you take that break.
When you hear the alarm sound for the fourth time, you’ve completed four pomodoros. At this point, it’s time for a thirty-minute break before you get back to studying. You can repeat these steps as often as you’d like.
The 90/20 rule and Pomodoro method are great methods to help you avoid burnout while you study for the bar exam. While both ways are efficient, we recommend experimenting with each one. Once you’ve tried them a few times, go with the one that works better for you.
5. Study One Concept at a Time
Taking practice exams and working on practice questions is a great way to prepare yourself for test-day. Still, you want to be ready for every question. While you’re studying, you have time to break down every question and figure out the answer. Use this time wisely.
When you’re starting, we recommend starting slow. Spend time on every question instead of rushing through. Take it one question at a time. Even if it takes you three hours to get through six questions, having an understanding of those questions will help you on practice exams and on the real thing.
If you get stuck on a question, look for what the legal issue is and what the law permits. If you’re having trouble, you can always create a fact pattern to help you reach the right answer. And if all else fails, Google and your bar outline are on your side. If you learn the law now and solve that question you’re stuck on, you won’t have to worry on exam day.
6. Study for the Written Portion of the Exam
Many students focus on multiple-choice questions, which are essential, but you can’t forget about the written portion of the exam. If you want to pass the bar, you need to be successful in both parts of the test. To pass the exam, you need a total score of 266, which requires a combination of your multiple-choice and essay scores.
Typically, the MBE doesn’t have a minimum score you need to pass. If you live in a state like New York, you can get a 110 on the MBE and a 156 on the writing section. As long as your combined score reaches 266, you’ll have enough points to pass.
Still, some states like Kentucky require you to score a 132 on the MBE to pass. For this reason, we recommend aiming for a 133 or higher on the MBE, even if you excel at writing.
If you struggle with multiple-choice questions, the writing section is your best friend. On the essay questions, you can do well and make up the lost points from the MBE. Unfortunately, the writing portion of the exam is not simple. Even if you’re a good writer, if you haven’t tried a few practice questions, your chances of doing well plummet.
In most states, the MBE is 50% of your score, and the writing portion is the other 50%. In states where the MBE counts for less than 50%, the writing portion might count for even more. If you’re curious about your state, there are charts available that break it down for you.
Many students neglect the writing portion of the bar exam. We know that the multiple-choice questions require most of your attention, but you can’t forget about the writing sections. We recommend spending a few hours each week reviewing practice questions to hone your writing skills.
7. Review Your Practice Tests
When you get an answer wrong on a practice exam, you shouldn’t move on unless you understand why you got that question wrong. Moving quickly through practice questions is essential, so we recommend taking notes on the questions you got wrong.
If you got a question wrong, even for a silly reason, write it down. Sometimes, you might get a question wrong because you were stuck between two choices. Other times, you’ll get a question wrong because you missed a word in the question or answers. If you write down why you got a question wrong, you can turn that into one of your strengths and prevent yourself from getting it wrong in the future.
8. Pace Yourself on the Test
The MBE is not just about answering questions. Aside from having the knowledge required to pass, you need to have the discipline to get answers on the test quickly. This means that you have to pace yourself properly if you want to pass the MBE.
During the exam, there are 200 questions you have to answer. These are multiple-choice questions that have a few options you need to eliminate before selecting an answer. What’s more, the multiple-choice questions have many similar solutions that are differentiated by only a few worlds.
Still, based on our math, you have roughly one minute and forty-eight seconds to answer every question. This is what you get when you divide 200 questions by six hours.
If you get stuck on one question, narrow your options down and pick the answer that makes the most sense. When you focus on one question for too long, you’ll run out of time to complete the rest. If you don’t know the answer, move on, and answer questions that you know you’ll get right.
While it might sting to leave points on the table, if you get hung up on one question, you’ll leave more points on the table, even if you end up getting it right.
To practice, we recommend timing yourself. Try your best to answer 33 questions every hour. This will keep you on pace to complete all questions and help you move on if you don’t know the answer.
9. Multiple Choice Strategies
Two hundred multiple-choice questions can get overwhelming. When you have many answers to one question, the process of elimination becomes your best friend. If you want to pass the bar, narrowing your answers down is one of the best ways to improve your odds of answering each question correctly. Take it one question at a time.
Narrow it Down
First and foremost, you want to narrow your options down to two possible answers. On the MBE, most questions have two solutions you can eliminate almost immediately. Once you narrow down your options to two answers, you have a 50/50 chance on each question. This doesn’t work every time, but it’s a great place to start.
Quantity over Quality
When it comes to MBE questions, it’s not wise to answer hundreds of questions each day. While this might seem like a great approach, you can’t retain everything if you’re cruising through questions like that. Instead, try to answering a few questions each day to maximize your understanding of each one. If possible, allocate one studying sessions for practice exams and take questions slow during other sessions.
10. Work with a Tutor or Test Prep Company
Preparing for the MBE is easier said than done. Even with many tips and tricks at your disposal, sometimes getting another perspective can take you to the next level. For this reason, we recommend working with an MBE tutor or participating in an MBE test prep course.
Working with an MBE tutor is helpful because a good tutor can reduce your anxiety and increase your confidence. Good tutors can also help you improve in areas you’re struggling with and give you unique perspectives on exam questions. Overall, working with a tutor is a great way to improve your odds of passing.
MBE Test Prep Courses
If tutoring isn’t your thing, you can also participate in an MBE prep course. These courses are designed to help students thrive and give you classroom-style help. For people that thrive in classroom settings, test prep courses are efficient. MBE prep courses also offer additional study materials that you might not have access to.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. If you’re anxious about the exam, working with a test prep company or MBE tutor can boost your confidence. Plus, it’s always great to get a second pair of eyes on something.
The MBE is one of the most challenging exams you’ll ever take. It’s going to test your knowledge of the law and determine if you’re ready to begin your career as a licensed attorney.
But while the MBE is intimidating, it’s not impossible. If you allocate time for MBE preparation, you can boost your score and pass the exam. These tips can be the difference between passing and failing, and most of them are quick and easy to implement. So, take some time to experiment and see what works for you!