AdaptiBar. You keep hearing this name. What is it, some kind of protein snack?
AdaptiBar is an online study supplement for the MBE (Multistate Bar Examination, AKA the multiple-choice section of the bar exam).
The MBE has gotten a ton of criticism lately. For one, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) thinks newer MBE takers are “less able.”
Sure, buddy. Outside of la-la land, more and more students are reporting how hard these questions are getting.
If you like to take information on the Internet at face value, here’s a graph showing that the national mean MBE score continues to hit all-time lows.
Multiple choice? More like multiple guess.
Moreover, the MBE can account for up to half of your score on the bar.
California bar takers… tread carefully because the new two-day format in 2017 July means the MBE is now worth 50% of your score instead of 35%. This is good news only if you’re confident in your multiple-guessing skills.
Half of your fate hangs on a series of alphabets. I’m not talking about your essays here (which are also a series of alphabets). Essays are important, too, but that’s outside the scope of this review. You can find extensive discussion of essays elsewhere on my blog.
So what? You need to prepare. I’m not messing around, dude. You can’t bullshit your way through the MBE because expert assassins are employed by the NCBE, the organization making these questions.
“How hard can it be? The answer is right there!” They are simply better than you, so don’t count on being able to say “eh, I’ll manage” and hoping to outmaneuver them later.
So yeah, things aren’t looking too good so far. Unless you know what you’re doing, you’ll be filled with doubt on the MBE and suffer a death of a thousand cuts. 200 cuts to be exact.
But before you scream in despair, there are resources out there that can help you improve your MBE performance.
AdaptiBar is one of them. Let’s get an inside look at its features, go through how to use them, and lay down some pros and cons.
I’m not going to try to convince you to get it one way or another. If it’s not right for you, don’t force yourself to get it! People have passed with or without AdaptiBar.
Let’s actually examine and consider whether this is right for you or not. There is a small incentive at the end if you end up deciding to get it.
Is AdaptiBar worth the cost?
“Why do I need to shell out 400 U.S. dollars for this? Can’t I just use Barbri questions that I paid 4,000 dollars for?”
I mean, you can. Don’t let me or anyone else stop you from doing your thing.
Decide whether it’s worth it… after you see what AdaptiBar can do for you. I’ll also tell you how you can get $30 off if you decide you want to use it for your MBE prep.
Right off the bat, the thing I like about AdaptiBar is its utilization of real questions.
AdaptiBar uses 1,955 questions—including questions from the four 100-question Online Practice Exams (OPEs) that you can normally buy separately from the NCBE for $50 a pop.
That includes the entire universe of real questions that were tested in actual exams. PLUS questions from NCBE’s Study Aid newly released in 2017 December (including 30 actual Civ Pro questions).
Specifically, 1,530 of them make up every licensed question that was previously available through the NCBE. There are 200 Civ Pro and 15 Real Property questions that they wrote. There are 210 additional questions from the new Study Aid (including Civ Pro), along with answer explanations written by the AdaptiBar legal team.
Very good. You want to study with real questions. I recommend that your MBE prep involve real questions, whether you use AdaptiBar or not.
Before we proceed, I need to get on another soapbox on top of this existing one because this common concern really rustles my jimmies…
I get concerned and nervous about people who rely solely on company-written questions. Why take the risk when real questions exist? The NCBE licenses its questions for preparation purposes. They themselves even sell study materials containing real questions. Take the hint!
Companies that write their own questions say that you should use their questions, even if they may have a different style and feel. The logic is that the questions you’ll see on the actual MBE will be easier in comparison.
I don’t believe focusing on manufactured or artificially difficult questions is the right kind of “stress testing.”
Would you study with multi-page final exams from law school to prepare for essays on the bar? It’s the same thing but a lot more convoluted, right?
No, you wouldn’t do that, or at least I hope not. You practice with something closest to what you’ll actually see on the real thing.
That said, manufactured questions from prep companies are all right for drilling particularly weak areas, warming up, or mixing it up with real questions (to train yourself for uncertainty, not “difficulty”). Just be wary of inaccuracies.
Note again that, in AdaptiBar, (1) you may see questions from an OPE in the practice questions (which is fine), and (2) AdaptiBar includes about 200 simulated Civil Procedure questions in practice mode since the NCBE does not yet license them. Minor points but notable nonetheless.
AdaptiBar is web based, which may be convenient but tiring.
Meaning everything you get—the questions, software, analysis—is accessible on any Internet-enabled device (like PCs or mobile devices like your smartphone or tablet… god, do I have to explain everything?).
This is useful for those who are working and studying at the same time, for example, because you can prepare with AdaptiBar during lunch and breaks. No lugging books around or shuffling through flashcards while standing in line at Starbucks.
While this is convenient, many students find this mode unfaithful to the real MBE experience. That is, they say it’s tiring to stare at a screen and click on answers for hours instead of working with simple paper and pencil.
You can’t print the questions because the software takes your answers directly on screen and analyzes them later.
You can, however, print PDFs of answers and analyses to review them. Not sure if that’s any better for an authentic MBE experience… but maybe you can give yourself a break between doing sets by reviewing them on paper.
Some have reported that it’s better to use it on a tablet and have a notebook to go along with it for handwritten notes. Your mileage may vary.
There are detailed explanations for each question.
Like this (you can click on any picture in this review for a full version):
Feedback is critical to improvement. The explanations explain why you got an answer right or wrong.
These explanations aren’t the most thorough, but they’re helpful considering that there’s one for each question.
Even if you get a question right, I recommend that you thoroughly review answer explanations. Just because you were correct doesn’t necessarily mean you were right about it. Each question is an opportunity to validate your understanding (if you chose the credited answer) or to learn the legal principle (if you were wrong).
You may notice that the question identifies the issue for you. See that at the top in the first picture? “Contracts / Parol Evidence and Interpretation” shows up when you’re looking at the question.
This is a setting that can be turned on/off when going into practice questions mode so that you can, if you want to, see a question without any indication of what subject or subtopic it comes from.
You can use this identifier information in the beginning of your studies, but you may not find this helpful later on because sometimes you may misinterpret the identifier or be misled by it.
In any case, the actual MBE question won’t tell you the issue(s) it’s testing, so you’ll need to stop relying on it eventually (if ever).
Speaking of feedback…
Is the AdaptiBar program supposed to adapt itself to you, or allow you to adapt based on your performance? The name has to mean one of the two!
AdaptiBar automatically adjusts the presentation of questions based on your previous performance.
Turns out AdaptiBar adapts to your performance. Explains the name.
In other words, over time, it gives you more questions of the types that you suck at, and it gives you fewer questions of the types you don’t need more help with. It learns and caters to you so that you can get better practice—automatically.
This means the AdaptiBar software will help you target and shore up your weaknesses, without you having to figure them out yourself!
You can check the patent yourself for all the gory details. Yes, it is a patented technology, not like it necessarily means much. (My feelz as a patent attorney tell me so. Just because a Kickstarter campaign says it got so-and-so patent(s), or it’s “patent pending,” don’t assume it’s anything amazing.)
It will also give you a bar graph of your performance by subject and topic. Here, you can see how you’re doing in each subject and sub-topic…
Sometimes, it will suggest links to video lectures (see above). Here’s what AdaptiBar has to say about them:
Not the “same old”? “Captivating”? I disagree.
You can check out some trailers here.
I guess if you need serious remedial help, these lectures could be a good way to procrastinate for 45 minutes, thinking you’re going to remember everything and know how to apply it.
Note well that I haven’t actually watched any of the lectures in their entirety (just random parts), so I could be wrong here and unfairly downplaying the lectures (I hear Jonathan Grossman himself is pretty good as a tutor).
Whatever the case, I’d rather solve problems, which is what simply works if you want to improve your score. The lectures are a nice bonus but not the main value of AdaptiBar. So this is a toss-up for me.
Some other features you can get out of AdaptiBar
Practice mode and exam mode with selectable subjects (based on, e.g., what you find you need to improve on)
A timer to pressure you into answering in time (adjustments available for ADA-accommodated users)
Timing performance – tells you how fast you answered questions
There is a timing analysis page that covers the average time you take to answer a question, your projected completion time of the bar exam, and even a sweet spot for pacing yourself to answer the most questions at the highest accuracy rate.
Also, after you answer a question, you can see your time, the average time, and your optimal time if you’ve answered the question correctly before.
Back to the question at hand: Is AdaptiBar worth it?
I don’t know. AdaptiBar is merely a tool. It depends on what you find valuable and whether you’re willing to use it.
Remember how tough the MBE is nowadays, so do what’s best for you.
I’m not going to pump a product you don’t really need just so I could entice you into using my $30 coupon code that would get me $15 in kickback. (Though if you’re going to sign up, why not use my code ;))
But I can help you weigh the pros and cons so you can decide whether it’s a worthy investment for you. This is your bar exam.
Btw the cons I identify below aren’t bullshit “cons” that other reviews have that are really weak strawmen that you might give in a job interview in response to “what are your weaknesses?”
Depending on your study style, these cons are actual concerns that might hinder your studies based on what I’ve heard from real users. If they dissuade you away from getting AdaptiBar, that’s fine. I only want you to get it if it appeals to you.
Pros – convenience and comprehensiveness
- Pulls from a database of 1,500+ real questions (more than you need) plus the 200+ from the Study Aid
- Adapts to your strengths and weaknesses (score weighting allows you to target your weaknesses without doing so manually)
- Designed to encourage you to practice and get feedback (exam mode, timer, and explanations), which is the process to improve your score as long as you learn from the process
- Offers detailed explanations so you can validate your understanding or learn from your mistakes
- Video lectures don’t detract from the question-and-feedback system, which is the meat of the program; you can ignore the videos if you dislike long lectures, but they’re there if you want help understanding a particular concept or like video lectures
- Better or alternative answer explanations may be available elsewhere (see below)
Cons – costly technology
- Questions are on screen, i.e., it may be tiring to stare at the screen, and it doesn’t give you a paper-and-pencil practice environment
- Pricey @ $395 w/ no refund policy that I know of (plus, some video lectures cost extra) (find out how to get a coupon below)
Now that you’ve seen the cons, I want to say that this is actually a great supplement that has helped a lot of people. Even with these cons, it’s one of the best MBE resources out there.
As an aside, here is an alternative (or complement) that compensates for the cons described above. It’s what I personally used when I retook the California bar:
Strategies & Tactics for the MBE Volume 1 by Steven Emanuel
I consider this the MBE bible, even if it has a couple of typos.
It’s great (and may be the only MBE supplement you need) because it comes with 500-600 representative MBE questions that are all genuine and were previously administered. The selected questions cover a broad range of issues. It also comes with a full 200Q practice exam. Each subject gets a brief review and strategies and tactics tailored to it.
One of the core benefits of this book is that the explanations are very helpful for learning. “To be honest, I found the explanations provided by Emanuel are way much better than Adaptibar.”—Mostafa S.
The latest 6th edition comes with some excellent author-written Civ Pro questions.
I went through this book back to back during my bar prep. There are a few typos, but no resource is 100% perfect. Overall, I would highly recommend this book.
Strategies & Tactics for the MBE Volume 2 by Steven Emanuel
This is the expansion pack to Volume 1, containing new questions. It’s in a different format, where the answer appears right beneath the question. If you’re doing a question for practice, you’ll have to carefully cover the answer as you do each question.
Similar to AdaptiBar’s questions, the book tells you the issue being tested right above the question.
Here’s what it looks like inside (latest 2012 edition).
I didn’t do all the questions in this book. I found Volume 2 to be more useful for getting extra practice with issues I wanted to improve on or already knew I was terrible at.
Note: I have no affiliation with Mr. Emanuel, author of the two books above. Also, the above links are Amazon affiliate links, and I’ll get like 4% of what you pay for at no cost to you.
Verdict (and how you can get $30 off AdaptiBar)
All that said, AdaptiBar (along with Emanuel’s S&T books) is one of the best resources I know for preparing for the MBE. [Click to Tweet]
Overall, if you prefer having a comprehensive solution with many questions to work with, get AdaptiBar. If you can’t handle studying on screen, don’t get AdaptiBar. If budget were no concern, I would get both AdaptiBar and Emanuel’s S&T.
People have passed the bar using either or both of these excellent supplements, even if neither is perfect. But you must do your due diligence and decide for yourself which, if any, you will use to study. I do recommend utilizing at least one of them.
If you’re still interested in using AdaptiBar for your MBE studies, you can get a $30 coupon code for joining my weekly email list (since I’m not allowed to post the code publicly). This will also help me out because, as noted above, I will get $15 as a referral (different from the 30/30 program).
So, with the code, AdaptiBar will come out to $365 for the full MBE option and $265 for the baby bar. I’ll try to ask for a better discount in the future.
Thanks for reading my review of AdaptiBar. I sincerely hope it was helpful!