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
guess choice section of the bar exam).
The MBE has gotten a ton of criticism. For one, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) thinks newer MBE takers are “less able.” And with the virus that shall not be named, each question is that much more critical because there are only 100 questions yet the MBE is weighted the same.
To top it all off, more and more students are reporting how hard these questions are getting. What are you to do when your future depends on a series of letters?
Let’s review AdaptiBar and give you the rundown so you can make an informed decision. I’ll also discuss viable alternatives to AdaptiBar, and how you can get $30 off AdaptiBar if you choose to go with them.
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.
Moreover, the MBE can account for up to half of your score on your bar exam.
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. California bar takers, consider BarEssays as your supplement for the essays (my review here).
So what now? 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!” Says the person who refuses to read between the lines when they send you a breadcrumb text back 36 hours later 🤡
The NCBE is simply better than you. Or rather, you’re playing with their home court advantage in effect. 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 it’s OK! Let’s take one step at a time. Before you scream in despair, there are resources out there that can help you improve your MBE performance. An overwhelming amount, in fact. Let us simplify.
AdaptiBar is one of those resources. Let’s get an inside look at its features, go through how to use them, and lay down some pros and cons so you can decide whether to pull the trigger.
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. Or you can jump to the summary. There is a small incentive at the end if you end up deciding to get it.
Table of contents
- Is AdaptiBar worth the cost? What justifies the cost?
- Summary of pros and cons
- Final verdict (and how to get $30 off)
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.
AdaptiBar comes with 1,958 questions—including almost all the available genuine questions from past exams (1,743 licensed questions).
AdaptiBar includes nearly the entire universe of real questions that were tested in actual exams. That includes questions from NCBE’s currently available study aids (including 40 actual Civ Pro questions) and excludes just a few outdated questions that don’t look like the actual MBE.
Note: What were previously known as “OPEs” and the “Study Aid” are no longer available for separate purchase as of March 25, 2019. They’ve been replaced with a different set of study aids that have a mobile online component. However, AdaptiBar lets you take practice exams based on these unavailable study aids, as mentioned below.
Specifically, 1,743 of them make up every licensed question that was previously available through the NCBE. There are 200 Civ Pro and 15 Real Property questions simulated by AdaptiBar’s legal team.
Very good. You want to study with real questions. I keep hearing about how they’re so much better than the ones bar courses provide. I recommend that a great bulk of your MBE prep involve real questions, whether you use AdaptiBar or not.
Now, if you’ve taken the bar exam before, you may be thinking, “Hold up, fam. I found the real MBE questions much harder. I got killed!”
But then I’ve also talked to people who did very well on the MBE thanks to real questions: “I thought they were a lot like the MBE. I even think I saw some verbatim in there lol”
The great paradox and mystery that is the MBE. How do you resolve this contradiction?
In other words, what was the difference between the two? How did the second person do so much better? Here’s one strategy that focused on highly tested areas:
“I printed the highly tested subjects and reviewed them over and over again. AdaptiBar allows you to print out the questions with the answers in PDF, so I printed out those questions. For example, I printed out all the negligence questions for Torts since it’s half the points and did that for the rest of the subjects. And reviewed those daily until test day”
If you’re wondering whether to rely solely on questions written by bar prep courses, why take the risk when these 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, simulated questions from prep companies are fine to include in your practice. The MBE is becoming trickier after all. You could use the manufactured questions for drilling particularly weak areas, warming up, or mixing it up with real questions (to train yourself for uncertainty, not “difficulty”). You can use them, say, 25% of the time.
Not only that, rote memorization of rules will help too, since the MBE can test concepts that have never or rarely been tested in the past. Practice is important. Reviewing your work is important. Memorizing is also important.
AdaptiBar is web-based and mobile.
Everything you get—the questions, software, analysis—is accessible on any Internet-enabled device, like your computer or mobile device.
You log in. You see a quick onboarding sequence to orient you. Then you’re off to the races.
This is especially useful for those who are often on the go, or working and studying at the same time, 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, some 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 instead of working with simple paper and pencil.
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.
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. You can also “bubble in” the questions in Scantron View in exam modes to make the simulation we’re living in that much more convincing. Users have reported liking this visual feature:
You can also highlight the text and eliminate answer choices, like you might with a real test booklet:
There are detailed explanations for each question.
Note that there are Extended Explanations for some questions (this is a new feature!). These are treatise-like explanations that go much more in depth.
Feedback is critical to improvement. The explanations explain why you got an answer right or wrong. If practice is weighing yourself, self-critique is the thing you do between weigh-ins.
These default (non-extended) explanations aren’t the most thorough (personally, Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics has better ones), but they’re helpful considering that there’s one for each question. Not all study aids on the NCBE store have explanations, so you’re at least getting some direction as to why you got a question right or wrong.
Thoroughly review the answer explanations even when you pick the credited answer. Just because you were correct doesn’t mean you were right. 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? “Civil Procedure / Pretrial Procedures (Simulated)” 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 or hint 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.
In any case, the actual MBE question won’t tell you the issue(s) it’s testing, so you should stop relying on it eventually.
Speaking of feedback…
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. (BTW, when you see a Kickstarter campaign that says it has so-and-so patents, or it’s “patent pending,” don’t assume it’s anything amazing. I have a full-time side gig as a patent attorney.)
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…
Some other features you can get out of AdaptiBar…
Upgrades to video lectures
I guess if you need serious remedial help, these lectures could be a good way to reinforce the concepts.
Whatever the case, AdaptiBar is designed to have you solve problems, which is what moves the needle if you want to improve your MBE score. The lectures are a nice bonus but not the main value of AdaptiBar. So this is a toss-up for me.
Exam mode with selectable subjects (based on, e.g., what you find you need to improve on) or collections based on past NCBE study aids
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.
Back to the question at hand: Is AdaptiBar worth it? A summary.
I don’t know. AdaptiBar is merely a tool. It depends on what you find valuable and how you’re willing to use it.
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 a $15 kickback. That’s not what I’m here for. (Though if you’re going to sign up anyway, 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.
Depending on your study style and budget, 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. You can always decide to get it down the line.
Pros – convenience and comprehensiveness
- No real questions left behind. Pulls from a database of 1,700+ real questions (more than you need) plus has collections from past study aids that are no longer available from the NCBE
- Intelligent adaptation. Adapts to your strengths and weaknesses automatically (score weighting allows you to pinpoint your weak areas without doing so manually)
- Simulation options. 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
- Explanations for all questions. Offers detailed explanations so you can validate your understanding or learn from your mistakes (extended explanations available for some questions)
- Portable. Take questions with you wherever you have Internet
- Extra flavor features. Bubble sheet, highlighting
- You may also qualify for their 105% guarantee if you don’t pass (yes, 105%)
- 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
- Mostly digital. 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. This may be a good simulation for a remote/online bar exam, though!
- Cost. $395 (plus extra for any video lectures you add on). $245 if you’re re-enrolling. But there is a financing option.
As an aside, here are alternatives (or complements) that compensate for at least one of the cons described above.
This is a new player on the block that’s gotten attention from bar takers, launched in 2020.
UWorld’s MBE Qbank is a platform to help prepare for the MBE using 1,375+ real questions (as of this writing) and 1,750+ total questions including those written by attorneys and law professors.
The main draw is the helpfulness of their visual explanations, which I’m also drawn to because feedback and self-critique are key to improvement. However, it won’t have AdaptiBar’s adaptive technology.
UWorld offers a 7-day trial with 50 questions to help you decide. Compare by test driving AdaptiBar to see which you prefer.
👉🏻 Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (7th edition) by Steven Emanuel ($70-90)
I consider this the MBE bible, even if it has a couple of typos. It’s what I personally used when I retook the California Bar Exam.
It’s great (and may be the only MBE supplement you need) because it comes with 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.
If you don’t have a copy, get the 7th edition for 30 authentic Civ Pro questions and additional questions for the other subjects.
If you already have the 6th edition, it still 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.
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]
If there’s any takeaway here, it’s that the MBE isn’t impossible… and not enough people are talking about the possibility of success! We’d rather talk about how hard it is because the default state is fear.
A common concern I get from foreign-trained lawyers is that they’re not familiar with the multiple-choice style of testing. But look at the screenshot above. This shows that it is most definitely doable if you are consistently learning and know how to approach the test itself. Approach the bar exam from a clean slate. Your preconceptions don’t matter in Hell.
Overall, if you prefer having a comprehensive solution with many questions to work with, get AdaptiBar. If you can’t handle the cost or 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.
So, with the code, AdaptiBar will come out to $365 for the full MBE option and $265 for the baby bar. If you’re re-enrolling, you don’t need the code, as you get an automatic discount at $245. I’ll try to ask for a better discount in the future.
Thanks for reading my review of AdaptiBar. I hope it was helpful!
If you’re interested in learning more about UWorld MBE QBank (alternative to AdaptiBar), check out the review here.