There are so many pearls of wisdom about the different ways that people prepare for success on the Multistate Bar Exam. I thought it might be appropriate to discuss some of them. As I always state, people learn differently and a method that works for you might not be appropriate for someone else. Let's examine the different ways, shall we?
How To Read The Question
Although I cannot remember how the big commercial bar review courses suggest that you read each question, I've had countless discussions with lawyers about the most appropriate method. I'll discuss a few of them here.
The most obvious way to handle MBE questions is by reading the fact pattern and then choosing from the answers. For many people, this method will work just fine. However, there are some reasons for using another method - you may read slowly, carelessly, etc.. In those cases, you might consider reading the answer choices first.
Reading the answer choices first has several advantages. Most importantly, reading through the answer choices will give you invaluable insight as to the subject of the question. I cannot tell you how many times I started reading a lengthy MBE fact pattern and inferred from the first few sentences that the question was a criminal law or real property question and then the call of the question asked me about constitutional law. Had I known what subject I needed to filter the fact pattern through, I might not have wasted time by re-reading a fact pattern.
Another advantage to reading the call of the question and answer choices first is that you can cherry pick pertinent language in the fact pattern to focus on. For example, if you know that a question is about evidentiary privileges, you can read the fact pattern and determine which spousal privilege applies (the communications privilege or the testimonial privilege) and select the appropriate answer. Often times, the MBE will test your knowledge of distinctions and there will be two questions on that distinction on either the AM or PM session so that if you make the wrong choice on one, you've actually gotten two incorrect questions. If you have a tendency to do this, you might consider not only fortifying your knowledge of black letter law but also reading questions differently.
Some examinees read the fact pattern, then read the call of the question, then read the fact pattern again. If you are a fast reader and feel that a second read is necessary, this strategy might be for you. Other people read the call of the question, then the fact pattern, and then the call and answer choices. There is merit to this method as well because you really get a sense of what the NCBE is looking for in this question.
Whatever your reading method is, decide early enough in your studies so that it sticks with you in July. You do not want to experiment with how you read an MBE question in the middle of July. Find what works for you now and refine the technique.
To Mark Up A Fact Pattern Or Not?
Some people swear that underlying pertinent words in a fact pattern helps them to make answer choices. There is some merit to this technique, especially if you find yourself constantly getting tricked on MBE questions or you simply do not read as carefully as you should.
Underlining allows your mind to slow down for a few seconds to process what the fact pattern is implying you to solve. Ask yourself, "Why is this word or set of words in this fact pattern?" There might be a word that clarifies whether a person is a licensee or invitee in a torts question. The NCBE is not in the business of creating MBE questions with multiple correct answers. Therefore, it is your job to determine what is the best answer. If this means you need to underline specific words or sentences to make the correct choice, then by all means do so.
The Bubble Problem
If you've taken multiple choice tests long enough, you probably know someone who mis-bubbled their answers on a Scantron causing them to fail the exam. This happens on the MBE more than most people would like to admit. When you are in a pressure-filled situation in a room with hundreds of stressed, nervous people, you can make this kind of mistake.
It has been advocated that to avoid the bubble problem, you should circle your answers in the booklet and then transfer them at the end of the exam. However, there are some obvious pitfalls to this strategy which deserve mentioning.
For starters, if you are slow on the MBE and you find yourself running out of time, you will not have time to bubble in your answers on the answer sheet. This would be a mistake that would almost certainly seal your failure on the bar exam. A potential work-around to this problem would be to bubble in your answers every 20-50 questions. I personally decided early on to read and answer 50 questions each sessions, circling the answers in my booklet. Then, after approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, I would stop and carefully transfer my answers to the answer sheet. Although my process is not for everyone, it worked for me. I never mis-bubbled an answer sheet.
Gauging The Questions
It is difficult to gauge your performance in the moment during one of the most stressful exams of your life. However, I did develop a system of annotation in my test booklets based on advice from bar tutors that allowed me to identify, revisit, and revise MBE questions before committing to bubbling the answers on the answer sheet.
When I circled answers in my test booklets before transferring them, I marked questions in my booklet with a "?" where I was not certain of the correct answer. Additionally, I circled two answers in my booklet where I was uncertain of the correct choice but whittled down the correct answer to one of two choices. Then, during my review before transferring, I would make a final decision on what I thought was the correct answer. Doing this provided with me data and perspective as to how I performed on the MBE.
As a general rule for me, I view MBE questions as belonging to one of four categories. Out of 200 questions, 10 are experimental questions. The remaining 190 questions are roughly distributed in 3 categories: 33% are gimme questions, 33% are 50-50 questions, and 33% are wtf questions.
A gimme question is an MBE question that your average examinee should know the correct answer to without much deliberation. It is difficult for me to describe a gimme question other than by saying that you'll know it when you see it.
The 50-50 questions are those MBE questions where two answers look really good to you. This may be because you don't know a legal distinction as well as you should or the question is really asking you to select the best answer and two answers look good. There are a myriad of reasons as to why someone might focus on two answers and I will address them in another post. However, for now, you need to be aware of the 50-50 question.
Lastly, the wtf question is an MBE question that makes your head spin. It might test some obscure part of the Fair Housing Act in a constitutional law fact pattern. It might be some real property issue your bar outlines completely omitted. Whatever the case, you see this question and no answers stand out to you.
Your percentage of correct answers on gimme questions, 50-50s, and wtfs will depend on your knowledge of the law, your multiple choice test skills, and various other factors. Whatever your situation, you should be able to recognize an obviously easy gimme question versus one that you have whittled the answer down to two options.
How To Treat Practice MBE Questions
All of the big commercial bar review courses have their own MBE practice questions. And each of these companies' questions have their strengths and weaknesses. Whatever questions you use to study, how do you use them in your studies?
If you're like me, you do 50-100 practice questions, then review the answers, paying particular attention to the ones you missed. However, there is a competing theory that rather than devoting an inordinate amount of time on the questions you missed, you should focus on WHY you got a question correct.
The ideal review of practice MBE questions would focus on all of the questions, wrong and right. However, with study time at a premium, often this is not possible. Understanding why you got a question wrong is important because it will inform you what areas of law you are weak in. Reviewing your correct answers can eliminate the need to do more practice questions in a given area, thereby saving you some study time.
Whatever your study habits and skill set, you have to figure out the techniques that work for you. The goal is to pass the bar exam so you need to determine what MBE score will permit you do achieve this. Every reputable bar review course will provide you with this information so that you can set numerical goals during your studies.
There are so many different ways to approach the MBE. Some people are confident, bordering cocky in their studies. For them, a 160 or 170 scaled is a mere formality. For most people, a combination of doing 50 to 7o practice questions daily on top of rigorous study of the law is necessary. This blog post is merely a conversation starter to get you thinking about what is the best way for you to succeed in July. I sincerely wish you the best in your MBE studies!