McGeorge Bar Prep

What You Need to Succeed on the CA Bar Exam

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The MBE Is Not Your NME

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 25, 2016

Make no mistake:  The MBE is tough. I’ve never met anyone who (a) felt fully ready to tackle it by Game Day, or (b) left the exam room feeling fully confident.  As I took my own bar exam, I kept track of the questions I felt sure about…and let’s just say that chickens can count that high.  (Chickens are surprisingly intelligent and can indeed count — you can have fun with that Google diversion at your next study break — but still.)

If your MBE scores are not where you’d like them to be, consider a few things:

At this point, the name of the game is QUALITY, not quantity.  I would rather see someone answer 30 questions in a really focused, engaged, careful manner, with similarly meticulous answer review, than 100 questions just for the sake of knocking out 100 questions.  Yes, you should have completed a significant amount of practice prior to the bar exam (most studies suggest 1500-1800 questions); but it is less about the number than it is about what you LEARNED from that practice.  If you complete 1600 questions, great, but that means little unless you used those questions to gain a better understanding of the law.

Speaking of which, misunderstanding the law is one of the two most common reasons people miss MBE questions.  The other is reading too quickly.  In either case, at least for the next couple of weeks, slow down.  Try reading the “call of the question” (the line just before the answer options) first to see if it gives you an idea of the subject area; then read the fact pattern; then pause and try to think of the answer.  Once you have an idea, then read the answer options and see if one coincides with what you predetermined.  Read the answer explanations immediately after answering every question so you have a better opportunity to internalize the rationale before moving on.  (Do this even for the questions you get right, because you may get them right for the wrong reasons.)

If you got something wrong because you read it too quickly, practice slowing down a little and reading mindfully.  (Remember that post about how a mindfulness practice can help with bar prep?  This is one way how.)  If you got it wrong because you did not know the rule, don’t just nod, move on, and hope you get it next time; stop and make note of it, whether it’s on a flash card or in a separate notebook.  Keep those flashcards or notes somewhere easily accessible so you can skim through them whenever you have a spare moment — while brushing your teeth, waiting in line, just before bed, etc.

And don’t forget that one of the best ways to strengthen your grasp of the substantive law is through essay simulation.  Struggling with the rules over the course of 60 minutes in the context of a fact pattern is one of the best ways to really learn — not just memorize — the law.  (Memorization fades; learning stays.)  It doesn’t matter if it felt horrible, you didn’t know the rules, and the answer you wrote was embarrassingly bad; it is all about that moment when you review the model answers, compare them to your own, and think to yourself, “Ooh!  So THAT’S how I should have discussed it…”  If you experience that moment, it was worth it.  The essays may not cover every little substantive nuance the MBEs will test, but they certainly help.  Essay and MBE practice go hand-in-hand.

So yes, the MBE is difficult.  Acknowledge that, and the fact that you will not be — nor are you expected to be — an expert in all areas of all subjects.  That’s okay; you do not need a perfect score to pass the bar exam.  Most importantly, keep practicing with the main goal of learning, not just reaching a certain number.  The more you learn, the more the MBE will start to feel like your friend, not your enemy.


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