Changes to the MBE: Substance

A few months ago I wrote about changes to the MBE in the number of scored questions. Instead of 190 scored questions, there are now 175. In addition to this, the NCBE has changed how it tests Evidence and and what it tests in Real Property.

Evidence: There are five categories in Evidence: I. Presentation of Evidence (including impeachment); II, Relevancy (including character evidence and expert testimony); III. Privileges; IV. Writings, Recordings, and Photographs; and V. Hearsay. Up through 2016, the question breakdown was:

  • 33%- 8.3 questions- Presentation (including impeachment)
  • 33%- 8.3 questions- Hearsay
  • 33% – 8.3 questions-Relevancy, Privileges, Writings, Recordings, and Photographs

What has changed? The substance of each category has not changed but the number of questions per category has. Now the new subject breakdown is:

  • 25%-6.25 questions- Presentation, including impeachment
  • 33%-8.3 questions- Relevancy, including character evidence and expert testimony
  • 25%-6.25 questions- Hearsay
  • 17%-4.25 questions- Privileges and Writings, Recordings, and Photographs

Why should I care? There used to be two “big rocks,” Presentation and Hearsay, but now there are three: Presentation, Hearsay, and Relevancy. In addition to knowing Presentation and Hearsay really well, you also need to have a good understanding of basic relevancy and how character evidence and expert testimony work within the general relevancy rule(s). Relevancy used to be a “pebble” with 2-3 questions so you didn’t have to spend a ton of time on it. Now you cannot afford to skim. So, without sacrificing Presentation and Hearsay you have to figure out how to devote more time to Relevancy.

Real Property: There are five categories in Real Property: I. Ownership; II. Rights in Real Property; III. Real Estate Contracts; IV. Mortgages/Security Devices; and V. Titles.

What has changed? The weight given to each category is the same (20%, 5 questions) but the content has increased. The following six topics have been added to Real Property:

  1. Ownership: Conflicts of law related to disputes involving real property
  2. Rights in Real Property: Property owners’ associations and common interest ownership communities; Transfer of easements, profits, and licenses
  3. Titles: Requirements for transfer by deed; Drafting, review and negotiation of closing documents; Persons authorized to execute documents

Why should I care? You might be thinking, “No big deal. So there might be a question on property owners’ associations, I can do that.” Multiply that by 6. There are 6 topics so there is the very real possibility of getting at least one question from each. This is almost 25% of all the Real Property questions. You might be thinking, “No big deal. They won’t test all 6 new topics.” You could be right but do you know which topics won’t be tested? You might be comfortable taking a chance because, it’s only one topic. So where do you draw the line? 1? 2? 3? What about the other MBE subjects? Is it ok to blow off 1 topic from each? Now you are at 7. It’s a slippery slope and you have to be careful where you draw the line.

The purpose of this post is not to scare you. The purpose is to inform you of what to expect so you can plan and prepare.


Preparing for the MBE: Do & Review

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.




Changes to the MBE

The National Conference of Bar Examiners recently announced changes to the MBE. The MBE will still have 200 multiple choice questions over seven subjects but instead of 190 scored questions, only 175 will be scored. Beginning with the February 2017 exam, the MBE will now have 25 pre-test questions.

Pre-testing is important because it allows test creators to gauge things for future exams  like how well a question is written, and the difficulty (or ease) and usefulness of the concept tested. It helps the reliability and validity of future standardized exams.

However, increasing the percentage of pre-test questions from 5% to 12.5% means that each question will count more. You will need to answer more questions correctly in order to get the same score as in past years. Therefore, it is even more important to take the time to learn the material, do practice questions, and assess performance.

You must pass the bar exam in order to practice law so don’t run the risk of failing because you are a “good test taker” and think you don’t need to put in the time. Instead, know what is expected of you and make sure to prepare for it.


The Dreaded MBE Vacuum

Last week you took a simulated MBE and have now been working to improve upon that performance. You have probably seen a nice improvement on practice questions but this is about the time when people experience the “MBE Vacuum.”  You will start missing a ton of questions and your scores will drop, sometimes by a lot. I don’t really know why this happens only that it is very common. If an when you enter The Vacuum, Do. Not. Panic. Resist the urge to hurl your book across the room or throw things at your computer. Avoid posting on social media things like; “I just got 3/17 Crim questions right. I’m going to FAIL the bar exam.” Or “I guess all those hours and hours I spent studying Evidence were a TOTAL waste of time because according to this MBE score, I don’t know ANYTHING.”

Yes, you might get some sympathetic responses from friends but this won’t improve your scores. This won’t get you out of The Vacuum. Take a few deep breaths, close your book, shut off the computer and take a break from the MBE for a few days. Come back with a better attitude and I promise your scores will improve.


Take the Practice MBE and Expect to Fail


Many of you are taking a simulated MBE today. You’re going into it with a mindset similar to how you felt about exams your first semester of law school: “I just want to pass. I’ll be happy with a C.” For most of you, grades came out and you did pretty well, better than you hoped for. Even if you didn’t do well, you didn’t quit. If you had, you wouldn’t be studying for the bar exam right now. It’s human nature to do things like this- failure happens but no one likes it. When you fail, it’s easy to want to give up. Planning to fail is called “failure expectation” and it actually helps you maintain confidence. Even if you do poorly, you are prepared for it and it doesn’t kill your motivation. The rationale behind this is that we learn from our mistakes often better than from our successes.

So prepare for the simulated MBE with a “failure expectation” plan. Aim for a realistic score like 50%. Then come up with a back up plan if you score under this. If you score higher, you can move forward but even if you “fail,” you have a plan to reach your ultimate goal. Giving up is not an option and neither is whining about it. Know what you will do to keep yourself moving forward.



IRAc Your Way to Success on the MBE

People either love or hate multiple choice questions, there is no in between. Unfortunately for all the haters, if you want to pass the bar exam you better learn to at least like multiple choice questions. However, doing 1500+ practice questions is not an efficient or effective way to prepare. You may be getting some questions wrong because you don’t know the law but the top reason for getting an MBE question wrong is missing the issue. Most people miss the issue because they look for it in the answer choices. You read the hypo and then go straight to the answer choices for help. Don’t. The answer choices are not there to help you. They are not your friends. Three of those choices are there to distract you from the best one. They look attractive with shiny words and pretty facts. Don’t get seduced. Get back to the fact pattern because that’s where the central issue is waiting. It’s your rock so find it and hold on to it. Once you’ve got a solid grip on the central issue, put wax in your ears and sail past those sirens.

Rely on your good friend IRAc to help you work through the question  without getting distracted or seduced by those answer choices.

  • I: read the call of the question to get a sense of the general issue, then read the hypo and identify the central issue triggered by the facts.
    • When practicing, it’s a good idea to write this down. It will serve as an anchor when those answer choices try to seduce you away.
  • R: once you know what the central issue is, recall the relevant rule.
  • A: apply this rule to the answer choices and eliminate any that aren’t both factually and legally correct.
    • Factually correct: addresses the central issue.
    • Legally correct: applies the relevant rule.
  • c: stay in control and don’t be distracted or seduced.
    • If this seems simple, it is. You need to control the question, not the other way around.

Keep practicing but focus on the process instead of the product.


The Practice MBE: Tips & Strategies

In the next week or two you will take your simulated MBE. Keep it in perspective and focus on the process, not the product. Don’t skip ahead to the score you want or think you should get. First you have prepare for the exam experience. This is an exam simulation so simulate exam conditions:

  • Start at 9am and follow the time permitted (100 in the AM, 1 hour break for lunch, 100 in the PM).
  • Use a regular #2 pencil, but no pens, highlighters, separate erasers or pencil sharpeners allowed.
  • No notes, watch, cell phone, snacks, cell phone, ear plugs, or drinks other than water.

Remember, this is not the actual bar exam and even though you think you should know the material, you don’t. Your brain has been so busy taking in new information that it hasn’t had time to process it. You are not going to do as well on this practice test as you will on the actual bar exam. 45% or more correct is a good score. Let me repeat that: anything over 45% is a good score. Again, it’s about the process not the product. Your score is a starting point. A lot of learning will take place in the next few weeks so figure out why you missed questions- didn’t know the law, didn’t understand the question asked, misread something, you were tired, hungry, bored. These are the things you need to know in order to improve.
In the weeks that follow continue simulating the exam experience when you work through questions:

  • Do mixed-subject sets.
  • Don’t use notes/outlines. You need to force your brain to recall the information.
  • Be cognizant of time: 34 questions in 60 minutes.

Most important, keep the MBE in perspective. You don’t have to get an A to pass.
Check back tomorrow to learn about how to approach the MBE just like an essay with IRAc.