The Multistate Bar Exam. AKA: the MBE. 200 multiple choice questions on seven subjects. Almost every jurisdiction requires it so you can’t avoid it. And with more and more jurisdictions adopting the UBE, which weights the MBE 50% of your total bar exam score, you better learn to love it.
Everyone has advice about the “best” way to prepare for and do well on the MBE. However, be wary of strategies that involve gaming the system or require little effort. The best way to do well on the MBE is the same way to do well on an essay exam: Know the material, practice the process, assess your performance. Assessing your performance does not mean looking at your score. It means figuring out HOW you got that score and WHY you missed particular questions.
This is not fun and it takes time. But it works. That is because time reviewing should equal time doing. What is the point of doing 17, 34, or 100 MBE questions if you don’t take the time to review? Reviewing means more than reading answer explanations. This is important but it only addresses one aspect of the test, the substance. You also need to review your process: the analysis you engaged in that lead you to choose a particular answer choice.
One way to review your analysis is to keep a log as you answer MBE questions. Write down your thought process as you eliminate and choose different answers. Again, this is not fun and it takes time. But it works. You’ll notice patterns in how you approach different questions and different topics. Are you missing Property questions because you don’t understand Property or because you don’t like reading the long hypo and get lost in the all of those facts? Figure this out and you’ll be able to correct yourself adjust your process.
Want more on how to do well on the MBE? Check out this post on how to use IRAc and this one for general strategies.
You’re at the point of studying where it’s getting hard. So hard that you are not sure if you can do it. When faced with a challenge, it is completely normal to feel self-doubt. People deal with these feelings of doubt one of two ways: Some give up, some push forward. The difference is not ability or intelligence. The difference is mindset.
Fixed Mindset v. Growth Mindset
If you have a fixed mindset you believe that qualities like ability and intelligence are fixed. If you have a fixed mindset you believe that talent dictates success. You quit.
If you have a growth mindset you believe that ability is a skill that can be learned and developed. If you have a growth mindset you believe that talent is a part of the equation, it is the starting point. Effort, changing strategies, getting input from others, and resilience are what leads to success. You keep going.
It’s Decision Time
You are at a pivotal point in bar study. Yes, it is hard and yes, your confidence is wavering. How you handle it is what matters. If you are looking for an excuse to quit, you can stop reading. Give up and never find out what you are capable of doing. Let the bar exam win.
If you want this, then let’s keep going. Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck is the leading expert on motivation and mindset. Dweck says we must acknowledge that we all have fixed and growth mindsets. In order to develop a better growth mindset, we must first acknowledge the fixed mindset feelings. We must also acknowledge the the next step is a choice. We can choose to give in to the fixed mindset or chose to respond with a growth mindset attitude. How can you do that? Below is a wonderful graphic with 9 ways to acknowledge and respond to a fixed mindset.
You can do this.
It’s a given that skill development requires practice and it seems logical that the best way to do this is to practice one skill at a time (“blocking”). Blocking is when you repeatedly practice a skill/concept until you are proficient, and then move on to the next skill/concept. So why does a typical commercial bar prep daily schedule look like this?
– Read Corporations outline
-Watch Corporations lecture
-Write Corporations practice essay
-Practice Evidence MBE questions
-Write Contracts practice essay
At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive: you need to focus on one subject at a time in order to master it. You can’t learn when you mix them up. However, this “mixing-up” is better for overall learning. It incorporates the concept of “interleaving,” which is when you mix practice of several distinct yet related skills. For example, if you want to learn skills X, Y, and Z:
Blocked practice would look like this: XXXYYYZZZ.
Interleaved practice would look like this: XZYXYZYXZ
Again, interleaving seems counter-intuitive: how can you learn Z if you haven’t yet learned X? Although it is true that learners using interleaving will initially perform worse than learners using blocking in practice sessions, interleavers will outperform blockers in the long-run (i.e., on the bar exam).
Studies consistently show that when we mix up the study material, our ability to sort and connect information is enhanced and the result is a better and more complete understanding of the concepts. Interleaving does make learning more difficult but this is a good thing because we learn more effectively when challenged. Your mind is less likely to wander because you brain continually has to focus and re-focus on different material.
Tips For Integrating Interleaving Into Bar Prep
- First, study the material. This is why bar exam subject lectures are sequential. You have to know what you are supposed to learn before you can acquire the skill.
- Mix up material. Incorporate spaced repetition and focus on one concept/task at a time but then cycle back to previously learned material. Warning: don’t confuse this with multi-tasking. What you think of as multi-tasking is actually task-switching which is not effective for learning. It wastes productivity because you have to expend brain energy to switch gears and you never allow your brain to really focus on one thing. What is more effective is to focus on one concept/task at a time
- Make deliberate connections. As you practice different concepts, identify connections between them so you see the relationship of the parts to the whole.
- Interleaving is more effective in the long-run so don’t get discouraged if things don’t automatically “click.” Easy doesn’t equal effective. Know that you are making progress and keep pushing through.