How to Succeed on the Bar Exam—20 Tips by a 99th Percentile Scorer
Here, we discuss how to succeed on the bar exam. These 20 tips are by a top 99th percentile scorer! They have helped thousands of our students at JD Advising succeed on the bar exam. You can also find links to additional great (and free!) content if you are looking for more information on any of the tips.
Overview of the Bar Exam
Before we dive into tips, first lets go through an overview of the bar exam. Most bar exams are two-day exams that consist of a written portion and a multiple-choice portion.
Uniform Bar Exam Breakdown
The written portion of the UBE has two parts: the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The MEE consists of six essays and tests 14 potential subjects. The MPT requires completing two lawyerly tasks.
The other half of the UBE is the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). This is the multiple-choice portion, which consists of 200 questions, 175 of which are scored. There are seven subjects tested on the MBE: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts and Sales, Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.
General Study Schedule Tips
- Make a daily study schedule so that you can stay on track. Incorporate the following into your daily study schedule (and learn more about creating a daily bar exam study schedule here):
- Watching lecture
- Reviewing and memorizing the law
- Practice multiple-choice and essay questions
- Save time on lectures! A lot of students regret the amount of time they spend watching lecture and later wish they would have spent less time watching lecture and more time studying. Here are some tips for saving time on lectures:
- Watch them on 1.5 or 2x the speed if you are comfortable with the subject
- Skip the lecture altogether if you know the subject well
- If you are a repeat taker, watching lectures on subjects that you struggle with, rather than re-watching lectures
- Don’t skip self-care! Take care of yourself by incorporating he following into your schedule:
- Breaks (to have fun and relax)
- Memorize the law! Review and memorize the elements of law on a regular basis. Do not put this off! Instead, plan to spend time each day reviewing and memorizing the law.
- Putting the time in (at your best time of day) is critical
- Repetition is key
- Figuring out how you learn best will make this the most efficient!
We have several additional bar exam memorization tips here.
Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) Tips
- Be aware of the subject and topic frequency. All seven MBE subjects are tested equally but all topics are not. Be familiar with the highly tested MBE topics.
There are 25 questions on each subject (Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts). However, topics within each subject are not tested equally. As an example, here is how Real Property and Torts is broken down. You can see that Real Property is tested very evenly. Torts, however, tests the topic of negligence significantly more than it tests other topics. This can frame your studying so you can study efficiently.
Review a full chart of MBE subjects and topics here.
- Real MBE questions are a must. Use released questions when you practice, rather than only using course-invented questions. You can find a link to several sources for real MBE questions here.
- Don’t rush through MBE questions. Answer the questions slowly and methodically when you start. This means you are dissecting each question, trying to answer it from memory, and figuring out what went wrong. We recommend writing down why you answer a question incorrectly on a legal pad or a google doc, then frequently reviewing that. This is the best way to see your MBE score improve. Some students mistake quantity with quality. Do not rush through questions so you can answer thousands of MBE questions. It is better to answer less questions in a higher quality manner.
- Incorporate timed MBE practice into your schedule.
Start early, especially if you struggled with timing in law school. Set up a schedule that might look like the following:
- 33 questions in an hour the first and second weeks
- 66 questions in two hours the third and fourth weeks
- 100 questions in three hours in week five
- Plan for test day. If you are taking the MBE in person, develop a a scantron strategy so you can allow yourself to move on if you don’t know the answer. If you are taking the MBE online, become familiar with the testing software so that you know how you will be able to mark a question to come back to it later.
- Write several essays each week. We recommend writing about 50 essay answers prior to taking the bar exam. In order to stay on track, write (or bullet point) one to two essays per day. This will give you an advantage on the essay portion of the exam! Note: not practicing essays is one of the top reasons that high-performing students fail the bar exam!
- Use IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) on your bar exam essay answer. For each issue, state the rule, apply the law, and conclude. Make it easy for the grader to give you points by clearly organizing your essay answer using IRAC.
- Don’t write law school essay answers to bar exam questions. Bar exam essay answers tend to have less issues, the issues are usually clearer, and the essays don’t generally require that you argue both sides. Instead, the bar examiners are looking for a clear and concise rule, application, and conclusion for each issue presented. In a lot of ways, this is easier than writing a law school essay. (Read more about the differences between bar exam and law school essays here.)
(Note: California essay answers do tend to mimic law school essay answers. Uniform Bar Exam essay answers and many state essay answers do not.)
- Gauge your progress through self-grading. Self-grade your essay answers to track true progress, improve your score, and build confidence!
How do you self-grade? After you are done answering a question, switch into teacher mode where you grade the question like a teacher or grader would. This is critical to seeing score improvement. Otherwise, you are just doing a lot of work without learning much from it! Compare your answer to the Examiners’ Analysis or a model answer and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I address the same issue(s) as the Examiners’ Analysis?
- Did I state the rule(s) correctly?
- Did I analyze the issue(s)?
- Did I incorporate enough facts into my analysis?
- Did I reach the correct conclusion(s)?
If your answer differs from the Examiners’ Analysis, change your font color and fix your mistakes. Unless you take note of what went wrong, you likely won’t remember and incorporate those things in the next essay! We find that students who self-grade their answers see a lot of growth quickly!
- Be aware of the highly tested essay subjects. Not all subjects (or topics) are tested equally on the essays! Spend time reviewing the highly tested subjects to maximize your efficiency.
Here is a breakdown of the subjects tested on the MEE:
- To maximize your study time, focus on the highly tested topics of law. Within each subject, some topics are tested far more frequently than others!
Here is an example of the highly tested topics within Civil Procedure on the MEE:
For more information on highly tested essay topics, check out our FREE guides:
- Uniform Bar Exam: Highly Tested Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) Topics Guide
- Michigan Bar Exam: Highly Tested Michigan Bar Exam Topics Guide
- California Bar Exam: California Bar Exam Essay Guide
Performance Test Tips
- Practice, practice, practice! This is the #1 mistake we see students make with regard to the performance test. It is worth 20% of your score in most jurisdictions. Thus, you should start by using about 20% of your time to make sure you’ve mastered this portion of the exam. Try to incorporate writing at least a few MPT answers every week.
- Make sure you get basic MPT formatting down! Check out our MPT one-sheet here for a quick overview of how to format the MPT.
- Always time yourself when you try the MPTs. Some timing tips are:
- outline and write while you read
- do not brief cases during your MPT
- figure out a strategy that works best for you (e.g., read the task memo, the library, then the file)
We have more MPT timing tips here.
Preparing for Exam Day
- Get mentally ready for the bar exam. Try affirmations, visualization, and positive thinking before exam day! Getting mentally ready for the exam is critical and often undervalued. Read more about getting mentally ready for the bar exam here!
P.S. There is some interesting new science that states it can be beneficial to get excited about the bar exam! Read more here.
- Practice under timed conditions in a setting that you will be in. If you are taking the bar exam online, do a full practice exam in the place you intend on taking it ahead of time. This will allow you to be comfortable with the setting. You may also realize certain things (like the sun shines in your eyes, your chair is not comfortable, etc.) Get familiar with how the testing software works ahead of time!
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