The Michigan bar exam “clusters” are this idea that certain subjects are tested together on the Michigan bar exam. Below, we list the Michigan bar exam clusters. Then, we tell you 3 good reasons for why you really do not need to memorize them.
The exact Michigan Bar Exam clusters are as follows:
State and Federal Practice
Some review courses tell you to memorize the clusters so you can tell what subject is being tested. For example, if you see Constitutional Law as Question 1, you can bet that Questions 2 and 3 will likely be Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, or Conflicts of Law. Out of any given cluster, they will pick three questions from that “cluster” so the theory goes.
Questions 1, 2, and 3 will come from one “cluster” (above). Questions 4, 5, and 6 will come from another one. Questions 7, 8, and 9 will come from a third one. Questions 10, 11, and 12 will come from a fourth cluster, and Questions 13, 14, and 15 will come from a fifth cluster.
(Note: The Michigan bar exam clusters do not tell you what order the subjects will be tested in. So, just because Real Property, Personal Property, Trusts, Wills, and Creditor’s Rights are in Cluster 1 does not mean that they will be questions 1, 2, and 3 on your exam. They could be questions 4, 5, and 6, o r 7, 8, and 9, or any other questions.)
This all may seem convoluted–that is, to memorize all of these “clusters” only to be able to determine what subject is likely being tested. And, to be honest, we do not teach clusters to our students at all! Why not?
The problem with clusters is three-fold:
First, the “clusters” are not always followed.
The Board of Law Examiners does not always test the same group of subjects together. And it could really screw you over if you absolutely depended on the clusters. Here are a few recent examples of where the clusters were not followed on the Michigan bar exam:
July 2016 Michigan Bar Exam:
- No Fault
- Civil Procedure
*Did not follow Michigan bar exam clusters. The very first three questions did not follow the Michigan bar exam clusters at all!
February 2016 Michigan Bar Exam:
- Civil Procedure
- Secured Transactions
- Conflicts of Law*
- Domestic Relations
*Did not follow Michigan bar exam clusters. The first six questions of the exam did not follow the Michigan bar exam clusters at all!
July 2014 Michigan Bar Exam:
- Criminal Law
- Criminal Procedure
- Professional Responsibility*
- Constitutional Law
*Did not follow Michigan bar exam clusters. Again the first six questions of the exam departed from the Michigan bar exam clusters.
The fact that the clusters are so unreliable in that they are not accurate for 40% of some exams, makes it seem less worth it to memorize them when you cannot even depend on them.
Second, the Michigan bar exam clusters don’t exist, even according to the Michigan Board of Law Examiners’.
The Board of Law Examiners denies testing in “clusters.” We think, but are not sure, that Michigan bar exam clusters were invented by Barbri.
Third, you don’t need them.
There are better ways to figure out what is being tested than memorizing a long, random list of subjects.
If you think about it, the clusters are not all that useful to begin with. Even when the bar exam happens to test in the “clusters” all the clusters do is tell you the subject that is being tested. And if you have trouble picking out out the subject then you are in trouble for the most part! The Michigan Board of Law Examiners’ does not generally “hide the ball” when it comes to making it clear which subject they are testing. It is usually pretty clear.
(Admittedly, some bar exams questions, like the Civil Procedure one on the July 2016 bar exam, were challenging when it came to identifying the subject. But even on that exam, the clusters would not have helped you! Most students confused Civil Procedure and Torts—however, these are both in the same cluster so memorizing the clusters would have been of no help if you were struggling to decide which subject to discuss.)
So how do I easily determine the subject if I am not using Michigan Bar Exam “clusters”?
95% of the time you can determine the subject by reading the call of the question (that part in bold at the bottom of the question) or the one sentence before it. Let’s look at a couple examples from the most recent bar exam. Here are some “calls of the question” from the July 2016 Michigan bar exam:
Example #1: Applying principles of Michigan agency law, discuss whether Reston is required to pay (1) Greg’s Granite or (2) Cal Carpenter. Also discuss whether Reston will be liable to Pete for his injuries.
What subject is this? This is clearly Agency as it tells us to apply “agency law”.
Example #2: Does Lawrence have a duty under the applicable rules to report these matters to the Attorney Grievance Commission? Analyze and explain why or why not.
This is Professional Responsibility. (The words “report these matters to the Attorney Grievance Commission” tell us that!)
Example #3: (1) How should the court rule on both of Barkey’s objections? Explain your answers. (2) Discuss why each hearsay exception offered by the prosecution will not succeed.
This is Evidence (as it tells us to evaluate “objections” and to discuss “hearsay exceptions”).
Example #4: (1) Discuss what factors the court must consider to determine whether Tommy validly waived his Miranda rights. Also discuss whether Askins’ argument, in light of those factors, should be sustained. (2) Discuss whether your answer would be different under Michigan Law.
This is Criminal Procedure as it mentions “Miranda” by name.
Example #5: Applying Michigan law on the facts presented, discuss what level of homicide, if any, Carl should be charged with. Explain your answer.
This is Criminal Law as it wants you to discuss levels of homicide.
In summary, while the Michigan bar exam “clusters” are not terrible, they are also not really that useful either. The frequent departures from the “clusters” on the actual bar exam means they are not very reliable. And the fact that there is a much easier way to determine the subject being tested means they are not that helpful.
If you like the Michigan bar exam clusters and want to utilize them in your studying and on your exam, feel free. But proceed with caution. It is clear from this post that Michigan bar exams (especially recent exams) do not always follow the clusters. Depending on them entirely would be a mistake.
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