Schedule. The first day you tackle the writing. Normally, six 30-minute essays in the morning, two 90-minute performance tests in the afternoon. But some states flip-flop it and slate the essays for after lunch, so double-check your first-day schedule. The second day, you get back-to-back, three-hour sessions of 100 multiple-choice questions.
Priorities. Most of your prep time should focus on the multiple choice. Some theories are floating around that graders are more lenient on the MEE and MPT when someone has a solid MBE score. Theories like that may or may not be complete bunk. Regardless, we do know three things that should make you focus on the MBE: the multiple choice is 50% of your total score, you’re guaranteed 25 graded questions on each MBE subject, and the topics tested can pop up on the essays. That means every MBE subject you crush, you’re guaranteed MBE points and maybe even some MEE points.
The MEE or essays are your next priority. They’re worth 30% of your score, but you have no guarantee which topics will pop up. Some test-takers will waste a ton of time analyzing which subjects were tested at different times in the past and speculating about what seems likely in the future. At the end of the day, all people can do is guess. The reality is twelve subjects are fair game and almost any combo is possible on the six essays. Prepare to conquer all the topics tested on the MEE.
You should normally spend the least amount of time prepping for the performance tests because they only count for 20% of your score and you don’t have to memorize any substantive law for them. We say normally because if the MPT is a major pain point for you—you struggle processing a lot of information and synthesizing and applying that information within tight time constraints—you may need to do a bunch of practice performance test questions to perform well. But remember, at the end of the day, the MPT is still only 20% of your score and, thankfully, you don’t have to memorize any laws to ace it.
Start early and pace yourself. Two foundational principles before we dive into the nitty-gritty: Start early and pace yourself. If you’re studying full-time or close to it, you should start about two months before the exam. If studying only part-time, you’ll need to start earlier. Regardless, take regular breaks and avoid studying more than 40 hours a week. The law of diminishing returns applies in studying as much as it does in economics. Be diligent but not manic.
Tips to Crush the MBE
Now, let’s dig into the MBE, specifically.
Tip #1 – Competence before practice.
- There’s nothing that will stress you out more than doing practice questions prematurely and getting demoralizing score after demoralizing score.
Tip #2 – Study the right subjects.
- What are the right MBE subjects?
- Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts—and each matters equally.
Tip #3 – Study the right content within each subject.
- What is the right content? The NCBE—the company the makes the UBE—actually tells you. No, the NCBE does not spell out the actual laws tested but it does give you the sub-topics within each subject that could come up. And the NCBE gives you the rough exam emphasis of each MBE sub-topic.
- Hopefully, you find a bar prep course that addresses the NCBE-specified sub-topics and gives the appropriate emphasis. If you’re using Crushendo, you can take confidence in knowing that Crushendo’s outlines are structured to closely mirror the NCBE’s outline structure. Though Crushendo starts each MBE outline with the most emphasized subject and then works through the others from there and sometimes adjusts organization in other ways for pedagogical purposes, while still covering the bases.
Tip #4 – Use accurate prep materials. You’re asked to know the current, generally applicable law. Though free outlines abound online, make sure you’re using something from a credible source that maintains its material.
Tip #5 – Use mnemonics. Mnemonic is just a fancy word for memory hook.
- The MBE is like walking into seven closed-book multiple-choice finals, back-to-back-to-back. Unless you have a near photographic memory, you’re going to need a way to string everything together. This is why Crushendo uses hundreds of memory hooks. If you don’t use Crushendo, try to make your own mnemonics.
Tip #6 – Use flashcards or have a friend quiz you or both. Before you test your application of knowledge by taking actual practice questions, you need to test your knowledge through flashcards or something similar to help things gel. This is why Crushendo provides not just online visual flashcards, but audio flashcards, affectionately called CrammerTime.
Tip #7 – Listen, listen, listen. Listen to your outlines over and over while doing what you enjoy. You cannot sit at a screen all day. Especially during a beautiful summer day or if you’re taking the winter bar, when you could be on the ski slopes. It will crush your soul. If your bar prep course does not have audio outlines, buy Crushendo’s or record your own. Audio outlines are that valuable.
Tip #8 – Chunk it up. Start by studying one subject at a time, one sub-topic at a time.
- Think of studying for the bar like building with Lego bricks. You don’t half assemble a dude and then half-build a wall and then half-build a car. You build in chunks or everything becomes a heap of chaos. Memory is like that, too. Crushendo’s audio outlines are broken into roughly 5-minute tracks, that you can listen to on repeat, before trying to memorize the next track. If you record your own outlines, make sure to break your recordings into digestible, repeatable chunks.
Tip #9 – Once you’ve memorized an outline for a subject, take some subject-specific practice questions. This will help you confirm competence before moving to another subject and further aid in chunking—putting information in the right buckets in your brain.
Tip #10 – Regularly review memorized material. Regularly means at least weekly.
Tip #11 – Use reliable practice questions. The NCBE—again, the company that makes the UBE—also sells practice questions. They‘re invaluable. Crushendo has a licensing agreement with the NCBE to use all its practice questions. You can buy directly from the NCBE or from a place like Crushendo.
Tip #12 – Leave no question behind. Wrong answers hurt as bad as blanks.
Tip #13 – One for one. Choose only one answer per question. If you select multiple, you get no points. Period.
Tip #14 – Choose the best answer—don’t hunt for the perfect one. You only need the best answer.
Tip #15 – Nail your timing. 102 seconds. That’s how much time you realistically have per MBE question. Technically, you have 108 seconds, but shaving off six seconds will give you ten minutes of flex time during each three-hour session. Your bladder won’t have to explode, diarrhea won’t destroy you, and you may even be able to double-check some answers.
- Crushendo’s timed practice quizzes train you to keep the 102-second pace.
- On exam day, flag questions 35 and 70. Get through 35 in the first hour and you’ll be right on track. Then try to get through 70 in the second hour. If you take a break during the second hour, just make sure you finish 70 by two hours and ten minutes into the exam.
Tip #16 – Passing, not perfection. Your target should be around 70% correct on practice MBE questions. Obviously, higher scores won’t hurt, but you should feel pretty confident if you’re sitting in the 70s.
Tip #17 – Avoid absolutes. The law rarely “always” or “nevers.” Answers suggesting a black and white world are usually red flags.
Tip #18 – Evade the unfamiliar. Test writers like to make up new Latin terms, rules, and exceptions. If you’re reasonably competent in an area, odds are that anything that sounds completely unfamiliar is an evil trick.
Tip #19 – If a question is tough, rule out the easy non-answers. If you narrow it down to two possible right answers, just pick the first one and move on. If you’re too much of a perfectionist on tough questions, you can burn time and sabotage odds on the easier ones.
Tip #20 – Just because an answer seems obvious does not mean it’s wrong. Sometimes a question can mess with your mind by being a little too easy.
Tip #21 – Remember, right answers don’t contradict the facts.
Tip #22 – The devil is in the details. Read fast but carefully. Normally, every word matters. If two answers feel correct, odds are you misread part of the question.
Tip #23 – Issue before facts. Read the actual question before the facts. This will help you read the facts with an eye for what actually matters.
Tip #24 – Dissect your mistakes. When you miss a question, figure out why.
Tip #25 – Stay centered. If you feel like the floor is falling out, take a deep breath and clear your mind before pressing on.
Tip #26 – Use common sense. Part of common sense is not overthinking it.
One last general word of advice that applies to all three parts of the bar exam. Make time for family, friends, and even service. Don’t obsess about the bar or yourself. If you keep your life in balance, yes, it’s possible that you’ll fail the bar. But at least you won’t fail at life. And frankly, you’re more likely to fail the bar if you’re failing at life, so keep a healthy and happy balance.