Tag Archives: MBE

Planning for Worst-Case Scenarios in the Bar Exam

I remember some of the nightmares that I had in the weeks leading up to the bar exam. Like many of you, I worried about all of the things that could go wrong before or during the exam. What if I forgot my pencils on the day of the MBE? What if my computer crashed on the first essay question? (I had heard a rumor that someone had failed the prior bar exam after freaking out when his computer crashed—the story was that, by the time he got himself back together, he didn’t have enough time to finish several of the essays.) What if my car broke down on the way to the exam, and they didn’t let me take it because I arrived after it started? What if I looked at the first essay question and realized that I hadn’t studied that law? What if . . . ? What if . . . ? What if . . . ? You get the point.

Some of the things that I worried about were a little silly, and other things, while highly unlikely, could have affected my performance on the bar exam if they had actually happened. My focus on these worries, regardless of their validity, increased my stress in the days leading up to the exam and absorbed energy and focus that could have been better spent on other things. The key to reducing your stress so that you can stay focused on what’s important, especially in the final days leading up to the bar exam, is planning. Many of the things we worry about can be avoided by planning in advance, and other problems can be mitigated by having an action plan in place before anything even happens. So how can you do this?

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advanced Planning for Exam Rules: First, review all communications (letters, emails, etc.) that you have received from the bar examiners. Make sure that you are familiar with the rules going into the exam, and create any necessary plans so that you won’t be in violation of those rules at the last minute. (Those rules are often available on the bar examiners’ website as well.) Review what you are allowed to bring into the exam with you, and get things ready in advance so that you are not scrambling at the last minute. For example, Georgia only allows you to bring black ink pens in for the essay day, and pencils for the MBE day. Many states will not allow you to use mechanical pencils (although some states do). There often will not be a pencil sharpener on site, so you will need to make sure your pencils are sharpened in advance. Some states require you to put personal items in a clear plastic ziplock bag. Look for dress codes as well—some states may not allow hooded sweatshirts (concerns about hiding things in the hood), while others may ban flip-flops (because of the noise they make when you walk). Each state has a detailed list of what is allowed and what is prohibited, and you don’t want to be surprised by any of these requirements on the day of the exam.

Advanced Planning for Getting to the Exam: Second, create a plan for how you will get to the exam each morning, making sure to allow a significant time buffer. If you have not previously been to the bar exam location, do a test run in the days before the exam. If possible, do it during the same time of day that you will be traveling on the morning of the exam so that you have a good idea of how long the trip will normally take. If you are driving, scope out your parking options—and don’t forget that, on exam days, you and every other bar examinee will be arriving and parking at about the same time.

Advanced Planning for Taking the Exam: Finally, identify your worst case scenarios for what might happen during the exam and create an action plan for what you will do if any of those scenarios happens. For example, if your fear is that your computer will crash during the exam, then decide right now what you will do if it happens. Decide that you are prepared to hand write if necessary (actually, that is what most bar examiners will actually tell you to do anyhow). Think about how you will approach the exam at that point. Creating an action plan in advance allows you to let go of that worry—you know what you will do if it happens, so why worry more about it now. Moreover, if the worst-case scenario actually does happen, you won’t waste any time figuring out what to do at that point. Instead, you will just start acting on the plan and continue focusing on what you need to be successful on the exam.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can take a similar approach to another worst-case scenario that many bar examinees fear: getting an essay question that you don’t know what to do with. Once again, a plan of attack can help you get through this situation without panic. For example, you could create a multi-step plan for attacking the question: (1) identify the area(s) of law tested by the question (i.e., property, torts, professional responsibility, etc.); (2) identify the issues and sub-issues that the question asks you to address (usually set out specifically in most questions); (3) create a quick chart with a row for each issue and space to list relevant facts for that issue; and (4) start pulling out and organizing those relevant facts. As you go through this process, it will help you to focus on what you do know rather than what you don’t know, allowing you to avoid panicking.

Take control of your bar exam fears by planning for your worst-case scenarios in advance. That way, when the exam begins, you can just focus on doing your best.

Good luck to all of you taking the bar exam next week!

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Using Bar Exam Subject Outlines to Evaluate Study Priorities

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the date for the July bar exam approaches, prioritization becomes more and more important. It can be hard to decide what subject areas to focus on when there are so many to study and so little time. Most bar prep programs have completed their presentations of bar topics at this point, and the main focus is on reviewing your bar prep materials and taking practice exams. For many bar takers, it may be time to evaluate your study priorities. Here is one way that you can evaluate your current study status and prioritize your studies over the coming days:

Each year, the National Conference of Bar Examiners publishes an MBE (Multistate Bar Examination) Information Booklet, which can be accessed here. What many bar takers do not realize is that this booklet contains a subject matter outline for each MBE subject. These subject matter outlines make great evaluation tools. For example, one way to use the outlines is to go through each outline, assigning a rating between 1 and 5 based on your level of confidence in your knowledge of each subtopic (with 1 being the least confident and 5 being the most confident). Based upon that rating, you can then spend more time reviewing topics that you rated lower, rather than expending the same amount of time on all topics.

Another way to use one of these subject matter outlines to evaluate your study priorities starts with completing a series of practice MBE questions on a subject. For example, let’s say you take a 50-question set of practice MBE questions on Torts. You can then pull out the Torts subject matter outline from the MBE Information Booklet, and mark next to each topic every time you miss a question on that topic. Based on which topics end up with the most marks, you will then know how to prioritize your Tort studies.

There is also another way that the MBE Information Booklet can help you prioritize your studies. The Booklet provides additional insight into the emphasis that certain topics receive in the MBE. For example, at the beginning of the Constitutional Law outline, the Booklet states that approximately half of the Constitutional Law MBE questions will come from section IV of the outline, while the remaining half of the questions will come from the other three sections. This information may also be helpful as you decide to prioritize your study time during the last days leading up to the bar exam.

You can take a similar approach to prioritizing your studies by utilizing the basic subject matter outlines provided with most commercial bar prep programs. By taking an active approach to prioritizing your bar exam studies, you can make conscious choices about how to best utilize your remaining time before the bar.

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5 Tips for Making the Most of MBE Practice Exams

One of the most dreaded parts of the bar exam is the Multistate Bar Exam, or MBE. Everyone who takes the bar exam takes the MBE on the Wednesday of their exam period, except bar takers in Puerto Rico and Louisiana. By this point in your bar exam preparations, you know that the MBE consists of 200 multiple choice questions, and 190 of those questions are actually scored.

Many law students and bar takers find multiple choice questions more intimidating than essay questions. Here are five suggestions for make the most out of your MBE studies:

First, it is impossible to do well on the MBE if you do not know the underlying law. Although it is important to practice taking MBE questions, if you do not know the law upon which the questions are based you will have limited success. You need to study your bar prep materials for each subject, review your outlines, and memorize the black letter law (maybe by creating flashcards, as I’ve discussed previously). Only after you feel like you have a good basic grasp of the material should you start doing practice MBE questions on that topic.

Second, you need to think about your approach to each question. MBE questions are like many of the multiple choice questions you were exposed to during law school. The questions instruct you to choose the best answer—which means that there technically might be more than one correct answer. As I’ve discussed before, there are specific techniques you can use to help you narrow down the best answer to multiple choice questions. Develop a strategy for how you will tackle the MBE.

Third, numbers matter—it is important to practice MBE questions over and over. The more questions you do over time, the more you will understand how the bar examiners have constructed the questions. You will become more proficient at reading questions because of that understanding. You also will be able to gauge your progress in your studies based upon your degree of success on each set of practice questions.

Fourth, it is important to simulate the actual conditions for the exam. You don’t have to do this every time you take practice questions, but it is a very different thing to take a 20-question practice exam versus spending an entire day taking 200 multiple choice questions. Part of what makes the bar exam challenging is the physical side of taking it—you will be sitting hunched at a table all day filling in bubble sheets with a pencil, and that can be physically taxing. You should also keep in mind the amount of time you will have per question. You will have about 1.8 minutes per multiple choice question on the bar exam—try to apply that standard to your practice questions so that you train yourself to manage your time on the MBE.

Finally, you need to remember that answering the practice MBE questions is only half of the process. To get the most out of your practice sessions, you should review carefully the answers and explanations that go along with those questions. I recommend allowing at least the same amount of time to review the answers and explanations as you devote to taking the practice exam in the first place. As you review your results, take note of why you missed each question. If it is a matter of not knowing the law well enough, then make studying that legal issue a priority in your studies. If you chose a correct answer but not the best answer, then determine what made the other answer better. If you missed key facts in the question, that may be a sign that you are reading the question too quickly and need to slow down. The key is to learn from wrong answers so that you do not make the same mistakes again in the future.

Ultimately, one of the keys to success on the MBE is practice, practice, practice. Set aside the time to do it right, and you will reap the results of your efforts.

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