Should you forget about essays and just focus on the MBE (“auto-pass” with the MBE)?

No, this approach has a few potential inaccuracies and dangers.

Below are four of the dangers and a better approach to take instead if you want to prioritize a few areas.

1) Let’s clarify the boundaries on balancing MBE and essay preparation, and why we shouldn’t abandon essays.

Do you want to spend less time obsessing over essays to the detriment of other portions of the exam? Fair.

Do you want to spend zero time preparing for essays? Not a good strategy.

Why? This makes you a glass cannon. Say you focused entirely on the MBE. And then you take the actual exam and find that it was more difficult than you anticipated. The NCBE likely designs around the questions they release because if everyone’s studying with them, how are they going to separate test takers and create a curve? Now you have a low MBE score and a low written score.

Many people have failed because of essays, myself included on my first attempt. In fact, every fellow repeater I talked to failed at least because of essays.

2) What about performance tests?

If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, the PT is worth 2x an essay given 1.5x the time. It’s a concentrated source of points. If you’re taking the Uniform Bar Exam, each MPT is worth 2x as much as an essay, although it’s 3x as long (90 vs. 30 minutes).

However, PTs are the easiest portion of the bar exam to improve because they are skill-based. This is a good source of points and an important third portion of the exam not to neglect while you agonize over MBE and essays.

3) Even a perfect score on the MBE doesn’t guarantee passing.

There is no “auto-pass” score. A high enough score on the MBE in combination with a high enough written score lets you pass.

4) Essay grading isn’t as random as some may make it seem.

They’re right that there are inconsistencies between graders and even from a single grader. But hit the correct issues, and you’ll do better. There will be variations between exemplary answers, but generally, they nail the main issues and sub-issues that the essay questions test.

Sure, if you’re out of time, do what you can do to triage… But realize that abandoning everything but the MBE is a risky approach that you’ll likely regret unless you’re extremely skilled at the MBE and decent at essays and PTs.

A better approach:

  1. Yes, focus on MBE subjects because the MBE and most of the essays will hit MBE topics. If you see a couple of non-MBE essays, do your best through them for a good enough score. Your MBE areas will likely be stronger and make up for any poor essay scores.
  2. If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, prepare for the Professional Responsibility essays to the point you’re able to nail them down cold. Make sure you’ve mastered several past essays, particularly those that test conflicts of interest. My review of CA essays going back years shows that COI is a heavily tested topic. (I plan to release a big resource in the coming months that pilot testers have found extremely helpful in the past couple months.)
  3. Lastly, don’t forget about the PT. Many people will ignore this until it’s too late and it hits them out of nowhere. Commit to practicing and reviewing at least one PT every week.

This is the summary of the Tripod Approach.

Incidentally, this is how you might prioritize instead of looking at predictions that try to guess 10-11 subjects (might as well guess randomly).

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