Tackling the MBE: Don’t forget your common sense

While preparing for the bar, you will hear from dozens of people (friends, tutors, professors) with opinions on how to tackle the exam. Listen, but do not forget to use common sense. A critical problem that bar examinees encounter is that, when faced with the colossal challenge of the bar exam, common sense sometimes goes out the window. Approach the bar as you would another large obstacle and, above all, take it one step at a time.

Review the material.

First, before you do anything else, review the seven subjects tested on the MBE. Start by reviewing your comprehensive course outlines for each of the subjects in detail. Only after this substantive review should you begin to answer questions.

Shoot for quality over quantity.

If you are a first-time taker, start answering questions one subject at a time and complete about 50 questions in each subject. If you are a repeat taker, do a mix of all seven subjects. I recommend answering between 25 and 40 questions a day, however, you should only answer as many as you have time for. Answering a flurry of questions just to get through them does more harm than good. Choose quality over quantity. Learning the concepts and rationale is paramount.

Use licensed practice questions.

While simulated questions can be helpful, nothing is as effective as licensed NCBE questions. As the name suggests, licensed questions are actual questions from previous bar exams. Studying with licensed questions is the best way to familiarize yourself with the tone, verbiage, flow and content that you will see on exam day. Written by the NCBE, the organization that writes the bar, only licensed questions provide a truly accurate prediction of how you will perform on the actual exam.

Break it down into sections.

Once you’ve answered the first few hundred questions (shoot for 50 in all 7 subjects) stop and analyze your performance. Dive into the 41 subtopics, examine the percentages and identify the 20 or so subtopics where you are the weakest. As a benchmark, you should shoot for an overall 70 percent accuracy for all subjects and subtopics. Any area that is below 70 percent can be considered a weak subtopic. Once these have been identified, spend one day per subject and use your condensed outlines to review the weak subtopics within each subject. Once you have completed this, resume answering questions.

After answering another 350 or so, review your performance in the subtopics again. Identify the 10 or 15 weak subtopics (you should have fewer than you did in the last stage) and use your long outlines to review them. Repeat this process until a majority of your weak subtopics become strengths. If you have time, go back through the questions you answered incorrectly and review them. Keep in mind, the primary purpose of the questions is to diagnose the areas where you need the most work.  Practice MBE questions are not your primary source of substantive review, the outlines are.

Be strategic with your time.

The bar exam is a behemoth, it is nearly impossible to study everything. Therefore, prioritizing your studying is key. Use your long outlines to study areas where you are weaker and the abridged outlines for the stronger areas. As a general rule, use all of the tools at your disposal – video lectures, tutors, practice exams and flashcards – to improve performance in your weakest areas.

Although the bar exam changes from year to year, there are several consistencies. For example, certain subtopics appear more than others. The Individual Rights subtopic makes up approximately 50 percent of all Constitutional Law questions and the Negligence subtopic is approximately 50 percent of all Torts questions. If you find yourself pressed for time, concentrate on the areas that will have the largest impact on your overall exam score. If Negligence is one of your weaker subtopics, consider spending an extra day or two reading your outlines and lecture notes.

Take a practice exam.

Once you have answered approximately thirteen hundred questions, attacking your weak subtopics, sit down for a practice exam. Choose an exam provided by your prep program and answer 100 questions, spanning all seven subjects, in three hours. On test day, you have an average of approximately 1.8 minutes per question. A full-length practice exam will allow you to assess your timing performance and adjust accordingly.  Getting used to sitting down for three hours straight and answering MBE questions is important, especially for first-time takers. By going through 100 questions in a timed environment with no distractions, you can simulate test-day conditions and better prepare yourself for the stress of the exam.

Ultimately, it is crucial to approach bar preparation in a measured, sensible way. The bar exam can be overwhelmingly intimidating, but you can defeat it if you follow the preparation method detailed above. Best of luck in your studies and stay positive. You’ve got this. 


Tarek Fadel is the Founder and CEO of AdaptiBar.