In just over two weeks, law graduates from all over the United States will be taking the bar exam for the first time. Approximately 80% of states include at least one Multistate Performance Test, or MPT, on their bar exam. Some states, including those who utilize the Uniform Bar Examination, include two MPTS on each exam. Each state values the MPT differently in calculating the total bar exam score, and it is important to check your state bar examiners’ website for more information about scoring.
For current law students who are just beginning to think about the bar exam and don’t know what an MPT is, here is a brief description. Unlike other parts of the bar examination, the MPT focuses on fundamental lawyering skills, not the bar taker’s knowledge of the applicable state’s law. As a result, the MPT is a closed universe exam—you are given a File, which includes any documents that provide facts for the “case,” and a Library, which includes statutes, regulations, and case law. The bar taker completes an assignment from a hypothetical supervising attorney or judge, based upon the materials found in the File and Library. Bar takers have 90 minutes to complete each MPT. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) website, the MPT specifically requires exam takers to:
(1) sort detailed factual materials and separate relevant from irrelevant facts; (2) analyze statutory, case, and administrative materials for applicable principles of law; (3) apply the relevant law to the relevant facts in a manner likely to resolve a client’s problem; (4) identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, when present; (5) communicate effectively in writing; and (6) complete a lawyering task within time constraints.
When law graduates are studying for the bar exam, the amount of material that must be studied, memorized, and absorbed can feel overwhelming. Because the MPT is a closed universe task, it is not possible to “study” for it in the traditional way. There is no bar outline for the MPT, and flashcards aren’t helpful either. Because of these limitations, bar takers are tempted to skip over their preparation for the MPT and instead focus on studying the subjects they will need to be successful on the essays and Multistate Bar Examination questions (multiple choice). Because the MPT can be a significant portion of your total bar exam score, it can be a real mistake to not spend some time preparing for it.
So what is the best way to prepare for the MPT? Make yourself familiar with the format of the MPT and the range of possible tasks involved. The NCBE has released a number of past MPTS, as well as the point sheets that it provided into state bar examiners for those MPTS. Some states, like Georgia, have also released past MPTs—some states even provide sample answers that demonstrate what a high-scoring MPT looks like. Go over a number of these past MPTs just to get an understanding of how they are organized, what types of materials are included in the File and Library, and how you might need to organize your time to accomplish the assigned task in 90 minutes.
Most importantly, set aside time in your studies to take a practice MPT on a regular basis. The only way to really be prepared for the MPT is to have completed several MPTs prior to the bar exam. You need to figure out the proper strategy for reading and digesting the materials provided in the File and Library, organizing what you need from that material so that you can write effectively and efficiently, and completing the assigned task in the time allotted. Time can really be the bar taker’s enemy on the MPT, and it is important to understand what you need to accomplish and have a strategy for accomplishing it when you go into the bar exam. This is definitely one of those situations where practice is a key to success!