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How to Pass the MBE in Six Simple Steps
Here, we outline six simple steps on how to pass the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam). Many of these steps are hard work, but following these six steps is the best way to see improvement in your MBE score.
Many students who want to pass the MBE make the mistake of simply answering MBE practice question after practice question and hope that their score improves. That is not the right way to approach the MBE! (Practicing MBE questions is step #4 below—not step #1!) You will save a lot of time and energy—and feel much more confident in your MBE approach and your MBE score—if you follow the six steps below.
How to Pass the MBE in Six Simple Steps
1. Make sure you are using excellent outlines.
One common mistake that students make when attempting to pass the MBE is that they do not use high-quality outlines when they study.
- Some students use MBE outlines that are simply too short (e.g., five pages)
- Some students use MBE outlines that are overwhelmingly long and unmanageable (e.g., 100+ pages)
- Some students use outlines that they acquire from their commercial courses that are not helpful (e.g., they are poorly organized, do not contain enough rule statements, etc.)
So, the first step toward making sure that you pass the MBE is to start with the right materials. If your outlines are too sparse, overwhelming, poorly organized, or not tailored to your learning style, you are not starting off on the right foot! Your outlines should be lengthy, but not unmanageable. They should contain enough law. And they should be easy for you to learn.
If you find your commercial course outlines are not working for you, try purchasing other course outlines from Amazon or eBay. (Check both sites because often you can get a much better deal on one site!) Note: we also have great outlines that come with our courses or private tutoring.
2. Make sure you understand the law.
The next step is to make sure you understand the law. It is critical to understand the law before attempting to memorize it and apply it. Many students have a false sense of confidence in their understanding of the law. That is, they think they understand it even if they don’t. If you are unsure if you understand the law, ask yourself these questions and see if you can answer them:
- What is the difference between first- and second-degree murder?
- What is the Dormant Commerce Clause and how does it apply to states?
- What is the Eleventh Amendment and how does it apply?
- What is the difference between claim preclusion and issue preclusion?
These are just some examples. But the point is you need to understand how the law works in order to effectively memorize and apply it.
If you find you do not understand the law, here are some ways you can gain an understanding:
- Watch your bar review lectures (this is more helpful for some and not others)
- Consider bar exam private tutoring
- Join a study group
- See if your law school has any resources to help you gain an understanding of the law
- Google what you don’t understand
3. Memorize the law and set up a retention schedule.
The next step is to memorize the law. Failing to adequately memorize the law is the most common mistake that we see first-time bar exam takers make. Many bar exam takers save memorization for the last two weeks of bar prep—and that is a big mistake! Memorization should be part of your regular schedule. You will feel much less overwhelmed—and bar prep will be much more manageable—if you memorize from the beginning.
Memorization means you have a detailed understanding of the rules of law. You should be able to, for example, state all four elements of a dying declaration, all the elements of larceny and burglary, and all of the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Many students have a “general” idea of the law. They understand what negligence is. And they understand the general differences between, say, the intentional torts. But the problem is that the MBE does not test general principles. It tests nuances. So, in order to pass the MBE, you need to have a nuanced understanding of the law.
Here are some tips for memorization:
- If you are a visual learner, as many students are, cover up portions of your outline and rewrite them as a way of actively quizzing yourself.
- Visual learners also find it helpful to use charts, diagrams, and colors.
- If you are an auditory learner, cover up portions of your outline and state them out loud.
- Auditory learners also find it helpful to listen to lectures, use mnemonics or rhymes, and join study groups where they can hear the law and repeat it to others.
- You may also find other techniques, such as flashcards, helpful.
We have plenty of tips on how to memorize your bar exam outlines here.
Set up a retention schedule.
It is also important that once you memorize the law, you set up a retention schedule—or you will forget it. For example, if you review Evidence during week one of bar prep, you need to also review it during week two, week three, week four, etc. If you wait until week 10 to look at Evidence again, you will forget a lot of what you learned. So plan to review it at least once a week. Your review should be pretty detailed in the beginning and then as the weeks go by, your confidence with the subject will grow and your review will not take as long.
Setting up a retention schedule to make sure you go back and review outlines you’ve already memorized will save you a lot of time and stress during the last few weeks of bar prep. It is also the most effective way to retain the law and boost your MBE score.
4. Study smart. Focus on the highly tested MBE topics.
Not all MBE topics are treated equally. Some MBE topics are tested more than others. For example, half of the Torts MBE questions test negligence. So it is well worth your time to make sure you understand negligence very well! In Evidence, 8–9 questions will test relevancy and 6–7 will test hearsay. These topics are very important! You can read more about the highly tested topics in the section of our MBE guide here.
On the other hand, the rule against perpetuities will show up, most likely, just once on the MBE—1 of 175 scored questions. So it is not worth your time to spend hours learning RAP. Present and future interests will be covered by 2–3 MBE questions. So if you really struggle with present and future interests, it is probably not worth a weekend’s worth of studying. (However, something like negligence would be worth spending a weekend on!)
Be wise and make sure you are studying for the test rather than just studying generally. Your goal is to pass the MBE, so you might as well focus on the areas that the MBE weighs the most heavily.
5. Practice real MBE questions in an untimed setting.
This “step” really has two components:
First, use real MBE questions.
Make sure that you are using real MBE questions when you practice. (This is discussed later in the Guide.) If you are exclusively using questions that your commercial course invented, then you are not using the best MBE questions available. It is not bad to use, say, MBE questions invented by Barbri or Kaplan. But you should also get your hands on released MBE questions.
Next, practice smart.
Don’t start timing yourself right away. Instead, complete questions one-by-one in an untimed setting.
The best way to approach MBE questions, in the beginning, is as follows:
- Read one MBE question at a time. (We recommend you either start with the top of the fact pattern or the call of the question—try both and see what works for you.)
- See if you can spot the issue and state the applicable rule. (If you cannot, you may need to spend more time understanding or memorizing your outlines.)
- See if you can think of the correct conclusion before looking at the answer choices.
- Review the answer choices and pick the right answer. Also, look at the incorrect answer choices and see if you can explain why each one is incorrect.
- Check your answer against the answer key and read the explanations.
If you answer a question incorrectly or you answer a question correctly but for the wrong reason, then it is very important that you do the following:
- Have a legal pad (or some kind of word document or notepad in front of you) and write down exactly what went wrong. For example, if you did not know the law, write down the elements of the law that you did not know. If you read the question too quickly or misread it, write that down! If you actually were going to pick the right answer but then thought “no, that would be too easy” so you picked the wrong answer choice, write that down.
- Constantly review this legal pad. (This way, you will continuously review the elements of law you didn’t know and turn your strengths into weaknesses.)
- Eventually, you will be able to spot patterns in (a) the law you don’t know or (b) other reasons you are getting questions wrong.
This is truly a way to improve your score! We go over this in more detail in the next topic in this Guide on how to answer an MBE question.
6. Get ready for test day: complete timed exams and come up with a scantron strategy.
About six weeks before the exam, start incorporating timed exams into your practice. (Note: If you really struggle with timing, you may want to start earlier. If you do not struggle with timing at all, you can probably start a little later. But six weeks is a good general starting point to incorporate timed exams into your study schedule.)
Your MBE timed exam schedule could look like this:
- Week one: complete 33 questions in an hour
- Week two: complete 33 questions in an hour
- Week three: complete 66 questions in two hours
- Week four: complete 66 questions in two hours
- Week five: complete 100 questions in three hours
- Week six: complete 100 questions in three hours
Some students also find it helpful to complete a “full MBE practice day” before the exam—that is, six hours of testing where they answer 200 questions. If you choose to do this, make sure to not do it too close to the exam. For example, if you are doing this the weekend before the exam, it is more likely to stress you out than help you!
Make sure to develop a scantron strategy.
A “scantron strategy” is basically how you will tackle the MBE.
First, will you fill in each bubble as you go along? This is the preferred method, but some students fill in every five bubbles or have some other system. It is important to determine this ahead of time.
Second, do you have a “system” you will use if you want to go back to a question? It is very helpful to have a system, especially if you struggle with timing and need to motivate yourself to move on when you spend too much time on a question! One system is the dot/dash system. (Put a small “dot” next to every question you are not entirely sure about. Just do this right on your scantron. And, put a “dash” next to every question that you skipped entirely or did not know the answer to at all. Then, if you have time at the end, you can review all the questions with dashes first, and all the questions with dots second.)
Having some kind of system to tackle the MBE on the day of the exam will be very helpful to figure out ahead of time. And, it will help you pass the MBE without having to worry about scantron issues.
Go to the next topic, Topic 4: How to Answer an MBE Question.
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