What is The Multistate Bar Exam?
For most law students, the bar exam is an unfortunate inevitability, unless they pursue a non-traditional career path. Most dread its approach and the time and preparation that comes along with it. Although the bar exam is hard, knowing what to expect can alleviate some stress and help you to better prepare for the road ahead. That is why we put together this post on one component of the bar exam—the Multistate Bar Exam—including what the Multistate Bar Exam actually is, the subjects tested and topics tests, what questions to use to prepare, and 5 top tips for success.
What is The Multistate Bar Exam?
What is the Multistate Bar Exam?
In a nutshell, the Multistate Bar Exam, commonly referred to as the “MBE,” is a multiple-choice test consisting of 200 questions created and administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) twice per year. Every jurisdiction in the United States, with the exception of Louisiana and Puerto Rico, administers the exact same Multistate Bar Exam as part of their bar exam. This is possible because it does not test state-specific law. Bar examinees have 6 hours total to complete the Multistate Bar Exam portion of the bar exam. So, one hundred questions are answered during a 3-hour morning session and the remaining 100 questions are answered during a 3-hour afternoon session.
Subjects and Topics Tested on the Multistate Bar Exam
Seven subjects appear on the Multistate Bar Exam, with 25 scored questions on each subject. While each subject is weighted equally, within each subject, certain topics are tested more frequently than others. Although you should not skip studying any topic altogether, to prepare efficiently and effectively for the Multistate Bar Exam, you will want to focus more heavily on the highly tested topics to maximize your score.
Below is a list of the most highly tested topics within each subject and the percent each topic appears on the exam—as well as links to our detailed, subject-specific posts addressing highly tested topics. Keep in mind that this list does not incorporate all topics that might appear on the MBE. Instead, we are just including the topics that appear at the highest frequency.
- Jurisdiction and venue: 22.2% (5-6 questions)
- Pretrial procedures: 22.2% (5-6 questions)
- Motions: 22.2% (5-6 questions)
- Individual rights: 50% (12-13 questions)
Contracts and Sales
- Formation of contracts: 25% (6-7 questions)
- Performance, breach, and discharge: 25% (6-7 questions)
Criminal Law and Procedure
- Constitutional protection of accused persons: 50% (12-13 questions)
- Relevancy: 33.3% (8-9 questions)
- Hearsay and admissibility: 25% (6-7 questions)
- Presentation of evidence: 25% (6-7%)
- Real estate contracts: 20% (5-6 questions)
- Mortgages/security devices: 20% (5-6 questions)
- Ownership of real property: 20% (5-6 questions)
- Rights in real property: 20% (5-6 questions)
- Titles: 20% (5-6 questions)
- Negligence: 50% (12-13 questions)
For a full list of topics, check out our MBE Frequency Chart!
Multistate Bar Exam Scoring
The Multistate Bar Exam is scored on a scale that ranges from 40 (low) to 200 (high). Only 175 of the 200 multiple-choice questions are factored into a student’s score. Twenty-five of the questions are experimental or “test” questions that are not scored. Because it is not possible to tell which questions are experimental and which are scored, you need to put equal effort into answering all of the questions.
Additionally, depending on which state bar exam you take, your Multistate Bar Exam score can be worth anywhere from 33% to 50% of your overall bar exam score. The MBE makes up the following percentage of an applicant’s bar exam score in the states listed below:
33% of Total Bar Exam Score
40% of Total Bar Exam Score
50% of Total Bar Exam Score (most states)
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Virgin Islands
Updated November 2023
In most states, there is no minimum passing Multistate Bar Exam score. So, as long as you receive an overall passing score on the bar exam, you will pass! However, there are exceptions, such as South Dakota, which does have a minimum score requirement. Be sure to always check your state’s specific requirements for the most up-to-date information for each bar exam administration.
Want to know more? Check out this post on Multistate Bar Exam Scoring.
Preparing for the Multistate Bar Exam
Preparing for the Multistate Bar Exam is a multifaceted process that requires time, effort, and focus. You need to learn the law, memorize the law, and practice applying the law. Doing all three of these things will set you up to pass the Multistate Bar Exam!
Learning the Law
Before you can memorize the law, you need to understand it, which requires the right materials. Ensure that you have high-quality outlines to work with. Our bar exam prep courses include great Multistate Bar Exam outlines that have helped countless students pass the exam (read more about what sets JD Advising’s outlines apart from the rest here!). With the right materials, you will learn the law more efficiently and effectively so that you can then memorize it and apply it. If you are struggling with any concepts, take the time to learn them—don’t just memorize them. If you are unsure what something means, it will be harder to spot it on the exam! Learning and understanding the law is critical for success on the Multistate Bar Exam.
Once you understand the legal concepts, the next step is to memorize the law. Failing to adequately memorize the law is one of the most common mistakes that first-time bar exam takers make. Some assume that the Multistate Bar Exam does not require full memorization because it is multiple choice. However, the multiple-choice questions are hard. If you don’t have the law committed to memory, it will be impossible to spot the small nuances in questions and minor differences between the multiple-choice answers.
Memorization is key to earning a passing score. Memorization means that you have a detailed understanding of the rules of law. In other words, you should be able to fully state all of the elements, and any exceptions to general rules, and know the differences between similar rules without relying on your notes/outline. To reach this level of preparedness, you will need to put in significant time throughout the entirety of your studying. If you wait until the last minute, not only will the sheer amount of material to memorize be overwhelming, but you simply will not have enough time to do it all.
A couple of tips on how to memorize your outlines for the Multistate Bar Exam include the following:
- Memorize in sections. For each outline, focus on one small section at a time. For example, in your torts outline, try to memorize tort by tort. Once you are done with that section, move onto negligence and focus on just that section. And so on. Breaking up the task into more manageable chunks makes it easier to memorize and focus on the material.
- Make flashcards. Flashcards are a time-honored tradition. Countless students have used them throughout their academic career, and the bar exam is no exception. It can be helpful to make flashcards in order to learn the law, but it also can be time-consuming and ineffective if not done properly. So, check out this post on how to make Multistate Bar Exam flashcards (without wasting time)!
- Quiz yourself. Cover up portions of your outline and rewrite them or say them out load as a way of quizzing yourself. This form of active learning will help you to commit the material to memory and allow you to see what you still need to work on. It is a more effective way of memorizing than simply passively reading your outlines over and over. Additionally, asking supportive friends and family members to quiz you can also be beneficial.
- Draw charts or diagrams. Visual learners find it especially helpful to see charts or diagrams to work through a topic in a more descriptive fashion. Sometimes you can make new connections this way and better see how the rules interact and overlap, as opposed to just reading words on a page. If you are a visual learner, read this post with 5 Bar Exam Memorization Tips for Visual Learners!
Once you memorize the law, make time in your study schedule to practice retention of the law. Repetition drills the knowledge into your brain. You don’t want all your hard work of memorizing to go to waste! Continuing to test your recollection of what you have already memorized is the most effective way to retain the law and boost your Multistate Bar Exam score.
Preparing for the Multistate Bar Exam is more than just memorizing the law. The exam does not test how well you can repeat abstract legal principles but instead focuses on how well you can apply those principles that you’ve memorized to fact patterns. Thus, you will need to practice questions—and practice early and often—in order to adequately prepare.
Not all practice questions are created equal, though. The best practice questions are real questions, which are those that the NCBE creates (written by the same people who write the bar exam—it doesn’t get much better than that!) as opposed to commercial course-invented questions. NCBE-released questions have appeared on past bar exams and best reflect the style and level of difficulty of the questions that will see on exam day.
Preparing with real practice questions is critical for a few reasons:
- To get used to the format of the exam—many students who use only questions invented by commercial courses feel unprepared on exam day because their practice questions don’t always mimic their exam questions.
- To see how specific areas of law appear on the exam—some issues appear on the Multistate Bar Exam in the same way repeatedly, so by being exposed to how issues are tested ahead of time, you are more likely to answer similar questions correctly on the exam.
- To know what level of difficulty to expect on the exam—some course-invented questions are too easy, whereas real Multistate Bar Exam questions are difficult and test the nuances of the law.
- To feel more confident and prepared for the bar exam—you will walk into the exam knowing that you have prepared in the best way possible.
Top Tips for Success
We already touched on a couple of top tips for success on the Multistate Bar Exam in this post, but we’ll lay them out again for you and add a couple more:
- Memorize the law. In case we didn’t already make it clear, memorization is incredibly important for the Multistate Bar Exam. Even though memorization requires a lot of work, it is the first and most important step that you can take to improve your score. The exam tests more than just general principles. Without having the law memorized, you will miss nuances that make the difference between a correct answer and incorrect ones.
- Focus on the highly tested topics. As discussed above, it is most worth your time to focus on the highly tested topics because that is where the most points are to be had. If you learn the most highly tested topics extremely well, you are maximizing the number of points you will pick up on the exam. So, make it a priority to learn, memorize, and practice the highly tested topics that appear on the Multistate Bar Exam!
- Use real, NCBE-released bar exam questions. Again, as discussed above, the NCBE-released bar exam questions are the best because they prepare you for the format and level of difficulty of the actual Multistate Bar Exam questions. To do well, you cannot rely solely on commercial course-invented questions, although those questions may supplement your practice.
- Study questions that you get wrong. It can be tempting to simply move on after getting a question wrong and assume you will get it right next time. You got the question wrong for a reason though. Keep track of what you missed. Write the reasons for the wrong answers down on a legal pad. Take the time to review those wrong answers and study the topics tested so that next time you are certain to crush similar questions! Reviewing what you missed is an important part of the study process and sets highly successful students apart from the rest. Likewise, pay attention to why you answer questions correctly. If you answered a question correctly for the wrong reasons, there’s still some studying to do!
- Practice in a timed setting. After all the hard work you have put into studying, you do not want to fail the bar exam for something as simple as timing reasons. Try to aim for completing 33-34 questions within an hour (which comes out to about 100 questions answered in the 3-hour allotted time session). If you need some more timing tips, check this post out for tips on how to improve your timing on the Multistate Bar Exam!
Getting ready to take the Multistate Bar Exam or simply want to learn more about it? Access our free guide on how to pass the MBE here.
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