The questions on everyone’s minds when they get their scores back from the bar examiners:
- What are my weaknesses? What can I do better?
- How should I attack my studies next time?
- How many MBE questions did I even get right?
In other words, “Wait, what the hell did I do wrong?! 😭” Just like when your girlfriend gets upset with you and now you must investigate the reason.
I hope the following gives you an idea of how to plan your rematch with the bar exam.
- General guidelines for bar exam score report analysis
- Analyses of example score reports from the California Bar Exam
- How many MBE questions did I get right?
- How many MBE questions do I need to get right?
- What does ‘MBE Below Percent’ mean?
- Do the percentiles really tell me anything?
- If you want to increase your scores and not end up here…
General guidelines for bar exam score report analysis
First, check the following table.
|Are your essay scores consistently low? (All or almost all within a narrow range, within 5-10 raw points)
Do your essay scores vary? (Difference of at least 15% of max score between your best and worst essays) Examples: Out of a possible 100 points (e.g., CBX), your essay scores are spread by 15 points or more. Out of a possible 7 points (e.g., UBE), your essay scores are spread by 2 points or more.
|Know the rules and their nuances and exceptions cold
→ Focus on MBE practice
|You likely know the rules well but need to improve (1) IRACing/presentation and (2) identifying and presenting the relevant issues
|Still didn’t pass? Likely, you were close to passing and would have passed if not for the cold winds of variance
→ Did you have low PT scores? Don’t neglect this. Practice at least 1-2 a week
“Blah” across the board where everything is just OK?
→ Improving the MBE will likely lift all scores since MBE subjects are tested in essays also
→ Alternatively, or in addition, focus on your relatively weaker areas using the table above
This is the exact guideline I developed to analyze score reports. It’s also included in my self-study guide, Passer’s Playbook 2.0.
Notes if you’re analyzing for the California Bar Exam:
- Each 5-point increment gets you MUCH closer to passing the exam. What this means is that the other way is true also. Each 5-point downtick is a significant loss.
- A “passing score” for an essay or PT is a raw score of approximately 60-63.
- Consider a “weak” essay or MBE score to be under 1340 scaled (50 points under passing) and a “strong” score to be over 1440 (50 points over passing).
Analyses of example score reports from the California Bar Exam
I’ve sorted these score analyses in decreasing order (high to low). Pre-2017 score reports are not included because the scoring mechanic changed in CA. Find your total score and click on examples that most closely match yours. These analyses are based on actual answers I’ve given, edited for clarity (e.g., to remove back-and-forth conversation or to add more details).
Every administration of the exam is different, so a given raw score may translate to a 1390 scaled score on one exam but higher or lower in another. As alluded to above, an average written score of 60-63 will put you on track to pass. So aim to hit at least 60 or 65 on the essays and PT. The number of MBE questions to get right is more of a mystery, but see below for possible MBE scores based on percentiles.
What are your initial impressions?
“I think I did well on the MBE. Not sure what happened in Contracts. In prep, K was my strongest. Deff going to give time to the PT and work on my essays the most”
I agree with those thoughts. The bad news is that you were really close to passing, and knocking out the PT could have been the difference. The good news is that you are really close to passing. My main suggestion:
Based on the wide range of raw written scores (50-70) and the fact that you did very well on the MBE (you know the law), my guess is that your writing structure and format may need some work. When you focus on essays, I would focus on clean IRAC, clear headings, organization, etc.
Just talked to someone who was doing 70% on AdaptiBar and found the real MBE so different that she got a bad score on it. Embrace this blessing, and keep up the great work on MBE! Maybe revisit S&T, particularly the section on K.
Great job on the MBE. Whatever you were doing before, keep doing that.
- Do a lot more PTs (say, one a week at least). You can find plenty of very similar MPTs to practice in the PT guide. This is one area where I think quantity > quality. You have to work through different assignments and see how the model/sample answers are put together.
- Check your IRAC, organization, and presentation of essay answers to see if they could be improved. I say this based on three things: Your knowledge of the law is strong (MBE), so it’s likely a matter of showing your work. The PT is mostly an exercise in pulling out rules and applying them, yet it isn’t at the level you want to be (shoot for 60, 65 to be safe). The range of scores is relatively consistent (w/in 10 pts), meaning it may be an issue that afflicts all your writing.
Don’t waste your time with Barbri lectures unless you really need a review of a specific subject or they are review videos of a practice exam or something. They will drain your time and energy, and you will forget 99% of it anyway.
I don’t recommend blindly following any one set schedule. Barbri gives you one schedule to everyone, including to people with infinite time and no other responsibility whatsoever, to people who have full-time jobs, to people who have to take care of kids and family. Personally, this doesn’t make sense.
Instead, I recommend creating your own flexible schedule that caters to your weaknesses and strengths (you can still take inspiration from existing schedules). Don’t shy away from this. Spent an hour up front so that you know what to do every day. Clarity = productivity. Remember that Abe Lincoln ax quote?
You did pretty well on the MBE, so keep doing whatever you were doing. I highly recommend that you work through your copy of Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics cover to cover (yes, including questions you got right and explanations to all answer choices—lots of great insights you can learn from). Keep working through your Barbri questions too. I think you had a great mix of real and fake questions. If you decide to re-enroll in AdaptiBar, they give you a substantial discount for re-enrolling ($245). No strong rec one way or another about this.
Do more! I’d say at least one per week. I like Tuesdays just because the written portion of the bar is also on Tuesday. Look at more model answers. This is one aspect of the bar where quantity > quality. You want to see how these assignments are put together. You can find plenty of practice MPTs (similar 90-min assignments) from links in the PT guide.
Sure, the PT is not a big part of your score, but don’t let it be a submarine torpedo. Very common to ignore the PT until it bites you in the ass. There’s plenty of room to improve from a 55.
Yours is a unique case where your scores vary very widely (20-pt range) while your MBE scores indicate a decent mastery over the law. You clearly know how to put together an essay, IRAC it clearly, etc. because you were able to score a 75. I think further firming up your understanding of the law for the MBE will help since there’s a lot of overlap between MBE and essay subjects. You’ll probably see three essay questions on MBE subjects. Working through the S&T will likely help. Probably continue using BarEssays too [$25 coupon available].
This student’s questions:
- Do you think that I should keep at it with the CBX or should I instead focus my efforts on UBE states?
- I just got a new job and was planning to wait until Feb 2020 to take the exam (be it CBX or a UBE state exam). Do you think this is prudent or would it be taking too long of a break?
Great job with the essays!
Wherever you go, the MBE is still going to be a significant part of your scores. As a preliminary answer, I would go after the CBX again as soon as you feel ready (can be this time or next time but not after that… it is too long as you suspect).
To give you a better answer about that, I want to ask two questions:
- How have you been preparing for the MBE so far? [Answer: “I’ve purchased Adaptibar and used it sporadically though not as much as I should. This past time I mainly reviewed critical pass cards and did some Adaptibar Qs but mainly stayed away from computer related tasks…”]
- Does your new job require bar passage? Why 2020?
If you prefer to stay away from the computer, Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics Vol. 1 (and/or Vol. 2) is a great choice. You can learn a lot from the explanations. The MBE Study Aid can also be purchased from the NCBE in paperback form also (although you won’t get any explanations there).
As for your job situation, I agree it’s not the best look to take time off so soon after you started. What I would do in your shoes is to study during your free time and aim for either exam in 2019. You will have to sacrifice your free time, yes. The good part is that you’re already good at essays. My plan would literally be to do & review the Emanuel questions and other questions I find over and over and over again whenever there is free time, even 1 hour a day.
I interviewed two recent CA passers who were both working and only had a few hours a day at most to study. However, the time constraint on forced them to get creative and spend the most time on where it mattered. They did not do as well when they had MORE time.
If you’re willing to do double duty, you might consider retaking in Feb or July. If that is not appealing, 2020 it is.
Question: “Can I ask why you would push strongly for 2019 instead of 2020 (aside from the info being fresh in my mind)?”
Answer: I prefer 2019 to get it done ASAP to (1) keep it fresh and (2) because dragging it out will make “being a repeater” more ingrained in my identity. Putting it off makes it harder to pull yourself back up. Your identity settles at “perpetual repeater.” Your determination becomes diluted.
Your PT score was good, so it seems to me you know how to IRAC, present, and organize. Overall, though, both written and MBE were just lukewarm—not terrible, not great.
In your case, focusing on getting a better grasp of the law (particularly for MBE subjects) would benefit you on both ends, since those subjects will overlap with at least three of your essays. Civ Pro & Evidence, which were your MBE weaknesses, also appeared on the essays.
Hence, working on the MBE, beginning with your trouble topics, seems to be the way to go at this point. Strengthening Civ Pro & Evidence will put you closer to passing.
First off, you kinda got screwed by the second graders. Second reads were either same or lower than the original scores. If they’d given you more points you might have passed. Sorry, luck of the draw / graders stopped giving a shit after reading thousands of papers.
That said, those written scores are all over the place. You have some essays scoring 55 even though your MBE is decent. This suggests to me that it was perhaps less so about your knowledge of the law but more about how you presented and logically analyzed them (IRAC, heading, organization). Presentation matters because you never know if your paper is going to be read by some guy who wants to drive off a cliff after reading 1,000 other essays. (Grading essays is really boring. Having to be consistent across all the essays you grade is going to be pretty hard.) Since we’re dealing with real humans, it will benefit you to be very clear about what you’re discussing and show them you got the issues and rules and a reasonable understanding of how to come to a conclusion. Take advantage of the subjectivity.
MBE was pretty good. Could have been better in some places. Overall, you were close enough to get a re-read but got screwed on the second read. They took away 35 raw points!
Question: I used the one-timers.com score calculator to try to see what I needed to pass. I used the scores on the score report and guessed that my raw MBE score was 126; that gave me a scaled score of 1349. I increased the PT score to 60 and the MBE score to 129 and the final score was 1444. Am I really that close? Would a better score on the PT and just a few more questions on the MBE have been enough to get me over the threshold? I ask because I figure you’ve seen a lot of score reports and have a better sense of what’s possible, normal, and probable.
Answer: The PT (Essay 6) is actually quite a leveraged piece of the pie. Let’s say you got a respectable 65 on the PT. That’s actually equivalent to 40 whopping extra points across the essays. You can imagine four of your essays getting 10 points extra. That’s because the PT is worth double. It’s allocated 200 points out of 700 total for the written portion. So that’s probably where you left most points on the table. If you want some pointers or ideas for the PT, check out my PT guide.
Your MBE looks decent! Whatever you were doing, keep doing it.
Most of your essays hovered around 60. You probably have a decent grasp of the rules, but perhaps your organization and issue identification could use improvement. The good news is that improving your writing will carry over to all your essays. It’s a “5-point insight” that brings disproportionate results. Adding just 5 points to each of your essays is a lot of points. The other good news is that it’s totally possible to improve 100 points in one go, especially since the biggest issue here seems to be the PT, which is very learnable. I’ve seen 150-point jumps.
Your Con Law essay was good (70), yet Con Law MBE performance was average (49th percentile). You also received a 65 on another essay. This might indicate that you can write a good essay, as long as you’re proficient in identifying the relevant issues and recalling the relevant rules for that subject.
Given the variation in essay scores (55-70) and the relatively lower MBE score, it would likely help to understand the rules better for each subject (particularly for Torts). Memorize, understand, and apply what you learn to questions, particularly MBE questions.
Also, I’d definitely practice more PTs. Quantity > quality in this case.
“I think my mistake was to cover 6 MBE subjects and practice and then just did essays in the end. Stopped practicing MBE last month before the exam. English is my second language. I think that contributes to the MBE being tougher for me. Takes longer to read.”
I agree with your assessment if you stopped doing MBE practice in the last month. It’s important to keep up each portion of the bar, especially near the end. If it takes you longer to read, all the more reason to practice more (and redo the same questions later) so that you get used to seeing the patterns and not just the words.
Whatever you did for Contracts and Torts MBE, do that for everything else on the MBE.
While learning the law better is going to help, merely memorizing it is just the beginning. Be able to identify the relevant issues and apply the law by doing plenty of practice essays, and present your answer with proper organization. This will help with PTs also.
Do a lot more PTs. IMO quantity is more important than quality here (make sure your answer still looks similar to model answers). One common trap with the PT is running out of time. Either set a strict time limit for outlining (I recommend 40-50% of your time max on outlining and get to writing no matter what so you can finish), or give yourself more time for the PT by shaving some time off your afternoon essays.
This was a tough exam for sure. You needed an average raw written score of 62.78 to get a 1390 written scaled score, according to the formula in this document breaking down the 2022 February exam: https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/admissions/Examinations/BX-Unsuccessful-Ltr.pdf. The average needed here is closer to the old standard (back when the passing score was 1440) than the new standard.
You have a good PT score and got a 65 on another essay, so you’re obviously capable of writing coherently in the way graders want to see.
That said, I see that most of your essays are in the 50-55 range. If you could figure out how to add 10 points to each, that would really help your score. I imagine it’s one of a few things, based on common mistakes I notice. These are some low-hanging fruits that could push your essay score up:
Commingling rules and analyses. Keep them separate paragraphs. First, the relevant rules you need to solve the issue. Then discuss the relevant facts. Don’t introduce new rules in the middle of your discussion.
Issues need to be super clear and broken down. Include sub-rules for sub-issues.
Show your work! Like solving an algebra problem, take it step by step. It helps to think “why” and use the word “because” to connect facts to law. Don’t be afraid to “plagiarize” facts from the hypo. You can also make reasonable common-sense logical steps.
Check your essays and see if you’re making any of these low-hanging fruit mistakes.
In addition, brush up on the law… This will be good for the MBE too. Prioritize your understanding of MBE subjects and PR since most essays will hit them. I suspect you really just need to go through a lot of the past exams. Get a BarEssays account to see what high/low scoring answers do (discount code MTYLT25).
As a retaker, you’ll have the fundamentals already. Now is the time to focus on practical application and review of sample answers. Presentation of your essays matters too. This is what I noticed as a second-time passer. You got this!
How many MBE questions did I get right?
To give you a VERY ROUGH idea of the conversion, here’s an old conversion table (on page 3) from when 190 questions were scored.
For the MBE, your raw score (how many Qs correct) is converted to a scaled score by the NCBE. For example, 120 correct on one exam could be equivalent to a 134.5 scaled. In California, this scaled score is multiplied by 10 to give you the scaled score out of 2000 (this is not mentioned in the above link). In this case, 1345 would be the scaled score on the MBE side.
There is a different formula for each administration, so it’s not as simple as moving the decimal. Some background reading on grading for the California Bar Exam.
It may be useful to you to see more example sets of percentiles and their associated scaled MBE scores (click to enlarge screenshots). For example, you want to try to hit 1390 on the MBE side to be on track to pass the California Bar Exam:
How many MBE questions do I need to get right?
This is a black-box question that can’t be answered simplistically, and you should focus on other things.
But I see that you’re being neurotic and want some semblance of certainty. Or you’re just looking to scrape by with the bare minimum—in which case, NO! Get back to prep because you want to aim higher than the target to hit the target.
If you’re that curious, let’s start by noting that your overall score based on written (essays and performance test) and MBE determines whether you pass.
So if you do well on the written portion, then you don’t need to get as many MBE questions correct. If you don’t do well on the written portion, then you need to get more MBE questions correct.
Check how much your jurisdiction weights the MBE. This is up to 50%, typically 50%.
Let’s say you’re taking the NY Bar Exam, which requires a cumulative score of 266 to pass. Since the MBE is weighted 50%, you want to aim for at least 133 on the MBE portion.
According to the old conversion table based on 190 questions correct, you can very roughly estimate that you want to get around 115 questions correct to be on track to get 133.0 scaled on the MBE (assuming you’re going to get a 133 on the MEE and MPT). That’s 57.5% (115/200).
But what gets you that target score varies every exam. And the MBE is different now. Think of these numbers as minimums. Try to get as many points as you can still.
Let’s say you’re taking the California Bar Exam, which requires an overall score of 1390 to pass. The MBE is weighted 50% and averaged with the written portion.
According to the old conversion table based on 190 questions correct, you can very roughly estimate that you want to get around 125 correct to be on track to get 1390 scaled on the MBE (assuming you’re going to get a 1390 on the essays and PT). That’s 62.5% (125/200).
I suggest doing what you can to nail down the parts that you KNOW are coming if you want to give yourself more breathing space in the other parts:
- The performance test, which is worth 2x an essay in 1.5x the time. This is a low-hanging fruit that is very learnable and often neglected.
- The Professional Responsibility essay. This is one where you want to focus on knowing the issues since it’ll be a racehorse question.
- Most of the essays, at least 3-4 of them, will come from MBE subjects. Since you’re already proficient at MBE topics, you should be in fairly good shape to begin with. Practice setting up good IRACs and issue flows.
Incidentally, this is the Tripod Approach.
What does ‘MBE Below Percent’ mean?
That’s another way to say “MBE percentile.”
In other words, the percentage of test takers who scored below you. You did better than that percentage of people. So higher is better.
Do the percentiles really tell me anything?
Not in the sense of how many questions you got right (but see above for a very rough estimate). It definitely doesn’t tell you the percentage of questions you got right.
The percentiles indicate how you did relative to others, which isn’t that interesting. Unless you have some ego problem.
But the percentiles could be a proxy for how well you did with each subject relative to other subjects. For example, a 60th percentile first subject is likely stronger than a 10th percentile second subject. You can allocate more of your attention to the second subject in this case.
But, well, the exam is just one data point, albeit a valuable one. Your ongoing (current and future) practice performance is another thing to watch to see what your weak subjects actually are.
If you want to increase your scores and not end up here…
Check out the Make This Your Last Time collection of study tools here, where you’ll discover…
- Magicsheets, condensed outlines that cover testable issues and rules
- Approsheets, essay approach checklists and flowcharts
- Passer’s Playbook 2.0, tools and techniques for effective bar prep. Includes guides, sample schedules, and blueprints that guide you on HOW to learn, not just WHAT to study
- Mental Engines, a course on mental and emotional organization so you can stop being overwhelmed or anxious, and optimistic and productive