Step Seven of How to Pass the Bar Exam:
Take Bar Exam Practice Tests
A key component of studying for the bar exam is taking practice tests under real testing conditions! In this post, we provide step-by-step instructions on how to take a bar exam practice test!
How to take bar exam practice tests
Step one: figure out the format of your bar exam
In most states, the bar exam is a two-day test consisting of a multiple-choice portion and a written portion. The multiple-choice portion of the bar exam is written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and is identical in all jurisdictions. The written portion can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For instance, some jurisdictions include a performance test which requires examinees to complete a “lawyerly task.” Some jurisdictions also include some combination of Multistate Essay Exam essays and state-specific essays. Check out the NCBE’s website for specific information regarding what is included on the bar exam in your jurisdiction.
Once you know the components of the bar exam, figure out how they are administered. Under normal timed circumstances, the multiple-choice portion is generally administered in two three-hour sessions, with each session consisting of 100 questions. The written portion of the bar exam can vary widely from state to state, but the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), for instance, administers the written portion in two three-hour sessions: one consisting of two performance tests and the other session consisting of six 30-minute essays.
Once you know this, you are ready to replicate exam conditions!
Step two: determine the scope of your practice test
Taking mini tests
Taking a practice test may seem like a daunting task, but you don’t have to set aside two full days to complete a full test all at once.
Instead, you can take smaller tests that consist of a portion of what an actual test would be (which is why it is important to understand the format of your test in step one!).
You may want to take multiple practice tests throughout the time you are studying for the bar exam to increase your performance and efficiency on the exams. For instance, each week, you may take a mini test that incorporates a portion of the exam. In one week, you can take a test of 100 multiple-choice questions. During week two, you can take a test consisting of six essays. In week three, you can take a test composed of one or two timed performance tests (or you can take another essay test with different subjects if your jurisdiction does not include a performance test).
These mini tests will be beneficial in the following ways:
- They will help you build up your confidence
- You can ensure your timing is on track
- You can dedicate ample time to review right when the mini test is over (thereby getting the most out of the experience)
- You can do other study tasks that day (i.e., you don’t have to dedicate an entire day to a mini test)
Taking a full two- (or three-) day practice exam
Some students get nervous if they do not replicate the full two-day (or three day!) bar exam experience in the exact manner in which the test is given. That is, some students want to take a full day of multiple-choice (six hours) and a full day of essays (generally six hours).
This is not necessary for everyone, but we do recommend you replicate a full practice exam if:
- You are extremely nervous about the bar exam and replicating the exact exam would give you peace of mind
- You struggle with sitting for long periods at a time so want to make sure you can do it
- You struggle with timing/fatigue, particularly after a long day of taking exams, so practice is beneficial
The pros of taking a full practice test are:
- you will feel more confident,
- you will make sure you can sit for the entire exam, and
- you can make sure your timing is on track.
The cons are:
- it takes two full days of bar prep where you probably won’t do much else, and
- many students who do a full practice exam do not review their answers very well afterward (by the time they are done with the practice exam, they already forgot why they chose certain multiple-choice answer choices, etc., so it feels less helpful for them to go back and review something that is not very fresh in their minds).
Keep this in mind when determining the length of your practice exam!
Step three: determine when you will take the practice test
You don’t want to take a practice test too early because you will not have covered all the material being tested, but you also don’t want to wait too long to take a practice test because you need plenty of time before the actual exam to evaluate your performance and correct any problems that occur (e.g., timing problems)!
Taking smaller practice exams (see step two) that are spread out over the course of your studying is the most efficient way to incorporate practice exams into your study schedule. For instance, after you have covered two to three subjects, you are likely ready to take an essay exam of at least a few essays. Try a one-hour essay exam, and then in the next couple of weeks, as you cover more and more subjects, work up to a two-hour and then a three-hour exam. The number of essays in your exam will depend on how long you are given per essay in your jurisdiction.
Approximately three to four weeks prior to the bar exam, after you have covered all (or almost all) of the subjects on the exam, you should set aside two or more days (they do not have to be consecutive) to take one or two three-hour MBE exams and a full written exam. Taking the full exam three to four weeks before the exam ensures that you will have time to review your performance and make adjustments, if necessary.
Don’t take this practice exam too close to the actual exam. Taking a practice exam too close to the test could result in your becoming burned out in those last crucial days leading up to the exam. Or, it could result in excessive anxiety right before the exam if you don’t score as high as you had hoped to. Be sure to give yourself a chance to recover after taking a full practice test!
Step four: find a location to take the practice test
It is very important that you recreate actual testing conditions when you are taking a practice test to give yourself the best exposure to what the actual exam will really be like.
Find a quiet location where you can guarantee you will not face any interruptions to take the exam. A private study room at a library is an ideal location. You should not take the exam somewhere like a coffee shop or even your house. It is too tempting to take even a short break from focusing on the test!
Be sure to give the exam your entire focus during the time you set aside for the practice exam! If you will be tempted by distractions such as your cell phone, don’t bring it with you! Don’t take the exam while listening to music. Since you can’t listen to music on the day of the actual exam, this will not help you. Instead, bring earplugs. Do not eat or drink during the exam if you are not permitted to during the actual bar exam. Try to recreate the actual test conditions as much as possible to mentally prepare yourself for what the actual test conditions will be like.
Step five: take a short break
After you finish the exam, take a short break to clear your mind. Get a snack (or meal), take a walk, go to the gym, etc. It is important that you review your performance on your exam the same day so that your thought process in coming to each answer you provided (or selected) is still fresh in your mind.
Once you have had a chance to relax, move on to the next step!
Step six: self-grade your exam
As soon as possible after your short break, check the answers to the multiple-choice questions and tally your score. Additionally, you should review any questions that you got wrong, as well as the answer explanations to those questions. Try to understand why you got each question wrong (e.g., Did you not know the rule? Did you read the question too quickly? Did you mark the wrong answer?). Be sure to utilize the legal pad method as you review the answer explanations. (For more information on the legal pad method, check out tip #5 in How to Improve your MBE Score 20-30 points!)
As for the essays, compare your answers carefully to the Examiners’ Analysis or sample student answers. Look closely at your response and ask yourself the following. Did you:
- Identify the correct legal issues?
- State the law correctly?
- Rely on the same facts in your analysis?
- Reach the same conclusion?
If you notice anything missing or incorrect in your answer, either take a different color pen or change the font color in your Word document and make corrections to your answer. This step is the key to understanding the areas of the law that you need to continue working on and knowing what went wrong. Finally, try to give yourself an objective grade for each essay.
It is critical to do this as soon as possible after you take your exam. If you wait a day or longer, you will forget the questions so you will waste time rereading them, and you may forget why you chose a specific answer choice or wrote a specific answer. If you grade your exam soon after you are done taking it, this will all be fresh in your mind, which will make grading your exam an efficient and informative experience!
Step seven: evaluate what went well and what needs improvement
Take the time to understand your score.
If you took a practice MBE exam, look for patterns. Did you do better on some subjects or topics than others? This could indicate that you need some additional work in a particular subject. Did you answer all of the questions? If not, you may need to work on timing. Are there any stretches of questions that you missed? This could indicate some areas that you need to work on as you continue studying.
If you did poorly on any one (or more) particular subject, certainly you should dedicate more time to studying that particular subject. Ran out of time on the exam? You need to work on your timing (check out How to Improve Your Timing on the MBE). If you notice that you missed the first stretch of questions, you may need to do something to awaken your brain before diving into the test, such as reading a newspaper article or completing sudoku or crossword puzzles. If you missed a stretch of questions in the middle or at the end, think about whether you lost focus during those portions of the exam (and check out How to Combat Fatigue on the MBE).
Similarly, for the essays, take note of any particular subjects that were a struggle. Additionally, evaluate whether there are any issues with the structure of your answers. Are they clear and easy to read, or do you need to work on your writing and organization? Understanding what went well and what did not will help you adjust your study schedule going forward and will allow you to focus on areas of weakness where you can improve your score and pick up more points on the exam!
Go to the next topic, Step Eight: Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically for the Bar Exam.
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