Bar Exam, MBE, Pass the Bar Exam.

The True “Secret” to MBE Success: Ten Tips on How to Study for the MBE:

I am, frankly, a little tired of hearing so-called bar exam “experts” telling students that success on the MBE depends on “tricks,” “shortcuts” and “secrets.”  No!  The big “secret” –shssshhhhh, get ready…  learn the law!

Success on the MBE depends on two things: knowing the law in great detail on seven subjects and reading critically.

Understand the ins and outs of criminal law and criminal procedure, torts, contracts, real property, evidence, constitutional law, and civil procedure, and you put yourself on the path to MBE success.  Train critical reading under timed conditions and you move forward on that path to MBE success.

To do this you will need to review all the MBE tested subjects and complete daily (or very regular) sets of practice MBE questions.  Then study explanatory answer.  And here I mean study.   Don’t just casually skim through answers.  Read every word and make sure you understand why every correct answer is correct and why every wrong answer is wrong.

One of my colleagues, when describing just how depending MBE success is on understanding the law, said, “If there are “tricks,” you can’t even see them until you know the law well enough to understand how the examiners may be leading you down the correct or incorrect path with a particular answer choice.”

So, here you are, just over two months before the bar exam, can you do it?  Can you learn all that law?  Yes!  It is not easy.  You must cram a ton of information in your head.  But it is do-able.  First, though, stop looking for shortcuts and get into a serious work groove.

Think about it this way, if you needed to go hire a lawyer to help you, would you want the one who found the tricks to get by, or the one who slid just barely in without really knowing what he or she was talking about?  Or, would you want to hire the person who worked his or herself to the point of true understanding, someone who really gets it. Be the lawyer you would want to hire.

Ten Tips on How to Study for the MBE:

  1. Take a  reliable bar review course that gives you detailed materials with which to learn now only main rules but exceptions (and exceptions to exceptions), such as #PMBR.
  2. Practice sets of MBE questions every day.  Do MBEs as a “habit” or “ritual,” at the same time each day.  For example, complete your daily set of MBEs with coffee when you wake in the morning, or at the end of the day before your pre-sleep routine, or both.
  3. Approach each question with a strategy, reading the call of the question, then the fact pattern, then the call, and then considering each answer choice. More on this in Chapter 8 of Pass the Bar Exam.
  4. Work on timing and stamina.  Start with a small number of MBE questions in each sitting each day now, then build up the quantity (while keeping the timing), just as you would build muscle when starting a weight lifting routine.You need to be able to comfortably complete 100 questions in a three-hour period.  Start now with 5 questions in 10 minutes or so.  (If you need more time initially, that’s ok, but increase your speed incrementally each week.)  Build up to doing 17 questions in 30 minutes, 33 in an hour, 66 in two hours, and by mid-July you should practice at least several sets of 100 in three hours.
  5. Train deep understanding.  Now, which it is still a long time before your bar exam, take as long as you need to study the answers to your daily sets of 5 MBEs, so that you clearly see why the wrong choices are wrong and why the correct answer choice is the “best” one.   Note: the best answer may not be perfect, but there is a reason why it is deemed the best of the four.  Don’t fight the question or answer and get angry that it is not the perfect answer as you may have learned it in law school.  Just understand why it is considered the best of the four choices and understand that reason so clearly that you could easily explain it to a 1L if you were tutoring someone.
  6. Read carefully.  Practice reading with sight, hearing, and touch.  Read each word aloud (mumbling under your breath) while touching each word on the screen with your finger.  So many students tell me that just switching to reading questions and explanatory answers aloud was the step that improved their MBE scores more than any other single strategy.
  7.  Practice on paper.  Practice some MBEs regularly on paper.  At the very least, complete your 5 morning and/or evening sets on paper and the others in bar review on line. (On line tracking is helpful to see where your strengths and weaknesses are, so you know which subjects and which kinds of questions you need to study in greater details.) When completing paper MBEs , touch each word as you read aloud (mumbling under your breath), with your pencil, circling,or underlining key words.
  8. Don’t get discouraged.  Remember, every question you get wrong now is the opportunity to get it right on the exam.  It’s good to miss questions in practice so you see how to improve, fill in knowledge gaps, and correct any misunderstanding of rules of law and applying them to fact patterns.
  9.  Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. All of that will help you come to each practice question sharp, alert, and with a mindset that is ripe for learning and training your skills and packing knowledge into your brain. It is hard to learn when you are too exhausted or stressed out to absorb information.
  10. Train other parts of your bar exam as well as MBEs, so that you are completely ready for everything you will be tested on.  Remember that MBE fact patters resemble mini-essays.  Know the difference: with MBEs you know the rules and analyze how the facts apply to those rules in your head and simply bubble in the best choice.  With Essays, you must write rules from memory and then articulate explicitly how the facts prove or disprove each element of each rule.  The process is similar but not identical.  Resist temptations to practice only MBEs.  Practice MBEs, Essays, and Performance Tests (if they will be on your bar exam).

Avoid fear-mongers or scammers who tell you there are tricks or shortcuts.  Solid hard work, strategically implemented, is the path to success on the MBE.  Spend extra time you might have studying and training with practice exams rather than seeking “magic bullets.”   And, if you need reliable information about the MBE, go to the source:

About Sara Berman

Sara Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a pioneer in online legal education. Berman has been a law professor since 1998 and currently serves as the Director of Critical Skills and Academic Support Programs at Nova Southeastern School of Law. Berman has lectured for bar reviews for more than two decades, preparing students for the substantive and skills portions of bar exams nationwide. Berman authored the ABA’s "Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic and Professional Goals" as well as its companion teacher’s manual, and she has recently completed a second ABA title on the use of performance testing in law schools. With UCLA Law Professor Paul Bergman, Berman co-authored "The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System," and "Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case." These primers on the civil and criminal justice systems, written initially for lay people, help law students develop practical skills necessary for employment readiness and for success on the performance test portion of the bar exam.

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