Ah yes, the MBE, everyone’s favorite multiple-guess section…
- 1.8 minutes per question for 6 hours
- Paranoia from seeing 7 of the same letter in a row
- 50/50 choices that make you go, “Damn, what’s with this ultimate decision?”
Up to half of your score hangs on a series of letters. I don’t mean essays, which are also a series of letters.
Wow! That sounds important. So how do you practice and prepare to improve your MBE score?
That’s actually the good thing about the MBE. It’s relatively objective and quantitative. This means that, while the MBE is formidable, improving on the MBE is a very improvable and figure-out-able portion of the bar.
Keep these rules in mind to go from “multiple guess” to “multiple choice”:
1. Quality over quantity
You have no right to say “oh I get it now” unless you can actually apply the rule to a question correctly.
Each question can be a LESSON or a VALIDATION.
It’s critical to thoroughly review and understand the answer explanations in their entirety, for each choice for each question you get wrong and right…
If you (happen to) get a question right, you feel like a goddamn genius. You don’t want to kill the buzz and relief by reading the explanation. You got it right in the end, so what’s the point? You’re too busy. You have other questions to do.
Well, just because you’re correct doesn’t mean you’re right. You want to know that you got it right for the right reason. Each question is an opportunity to validate your understanding (if you chose the credited answer) or to learn the legal principle and how to apply it (if you were wrong).
The learning happens when you review the answer explanation and fully understand the concept, not when you do the questions. Further learning may happen after you redo the question sometime later.
That said, you could separately note the principle behind the questions you got wrong, and save them for later review. This is another example of prioritizing your weakness.
In other words, it’s more about the QUALITY of learning than the QUANTITY of questions you do. If you can get both, great.
Yes, you should do enough questions to cover a broad range of issues, but who do you think is going to do better?
- The person who did 2,500 questions and learned nothing (maybe didn’t even read the explanations)
- The person who did 500 questions, struggled to learn 500 times, and can get most of those right if done again a few weeks later
If you can do thousands of questions and keep up the quality of analyzing them, all the better!
One way to accomplish this might be: (1) In the beginning, spend more time reviewing answer explanations and analyzing what went wrong and right. (2) Later on in your schedule, speed up through more questions and explanations, especially the ones you redo.
However, if you do thousands of questions without figuring out the rationale behind the correct answer, you might as well have not done them at all. Don’t let your neighbors (who have apparently done thousands of questions already) spook you into keeping up with the Joneses.
I’d estimate that I studied about 700-800 real questions for my second attempt and ended up doing 130+ out of 200 on a mock MBE three weeks before the bar (the 700-800 include the 200 from the mock exam).
It’s the difference between this “Super Lean Man” (watch how he performs each rep): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2ulMqORR0o
And THIS GUY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT2hRJkBJxY
Who do you want to be?
Of course, feel free to do as many as you want. This is your bar exam.
2. Practice with authentic MBE questions
Why? Same reason you don’t use essays from law school to prep for essays on the bar.
- Questions written by people other than those who write the actual MBE questions are not reflective of the style you see on the actual MBE. You’ll end up confused and second-guessing on the MBE.
- “Fake” questions can be excessively complicated or easy. If you want to stress test, set a lower time limit to solve the real questions (say, 1.5 minutes instead of 1.8).
- People say using real questions over “expert”-written questions helps them. It’s also helped me a lot.
A few options for finding real MBE questions based on your budget
1. As a starting point, I highly recommend Emanuel’s Strategies and Tactics for the MBE Volume 1 (8th Edition), which includes a full practice exam and now includes 30 Civ Pro questions that were on past exams.
This is a must if you want to get started on your MBE studies on a budget. It’s relatively affordable with 635 real, licensed questions. 670+ questions total. The value comes from the breadth of coverage, the clear and helpful explanations, tips and primers for each subject, and being on paper (some students prefer this experience to doing questions on screen).
Get it in very good condition at least so that you don’t see the previous owners’ markings.
How to use: Read the primer for each subject, answer every question on a separate sheet, and analyze their explanation in their entirety, including (A) through (D) for each question, including questions you get correctly.
So essentially, read the book cover to cover (which is what I did). It’s worth it. Hey, I never said you wouldn’t have to put in the work.
I don’t recommend the 6th edition given the picky, nuanced Civ Pro MBE questions that have appeared lately on the MBE.
Curious about what it looks like inside?
Link: 8th edition (2023)
2. If you liked Volume 1, also consider Emanuel’s Strategies and Tactics for the MBE Volume 2, which is formatted differently but is good if you know or want to improve on specific issues.
How to use: Get it as an optional add-on to Volume 1. Don’t get it without Volume 1. Use as a supplement for specific issues.
Comes with 445 more NCBE questions not found in Volume 1.
Link: 4th edition (2023)
AdaptiBar: $355 (with coupon) / $245 for repeaters
UWorld MBE QBank: $399
How to use: Create question sets pulled from the questions licensed from the NCBE and simulated questions. Review the explanations.
AdaptiBar will adapt to your strengths and weaknesses (hence the name) and generate an appropriate mix of questions. Analyze your timing, create printable reports of questions and answers you got wrong, and generate practice exams. In addition to robust analytics, many students find the optional add-on lectures by Jon Grossman helpful.
UWorld will have visual explanations that are great especially for visual learners. Remember from above where the learning happens.
Are there any reasons to NOT use real questions?
It can feel like a “waste” if you use up all the limited past exam questions from the NCBE. While this is fine if you keep redoing them (which you should), here are situations and reasons you may want to use simulated questions instead:
- Subjects you’re so terrible at that real questions would feel “wasted” until you have a better foundation
- To drill a particular subject or issue
- To mix up the style a bit (for example, 25% simulated questions and 75% past questions)
- You’re on a tight budget and want to stick to your course materials rather than add supplements
3. Keep track of separate “win rates,” and target your weak areas
It seems like everyone merely tracks their overall MBE percentage score, which is fine in itself. But it’s entirely possible that you’re awesome in one subject yet not so much in another, and your overall percentage doesn’t reveal this!
Subtle distinction—but this is easy to check for. Your goal is to constantly focus on your weakest subjects (without slacking on the others) until they’re no longer your weakest.
This will raise your overall correct “win rate” anyway. Here’s one way to make that happen…
Every time you finish a set of questions, tally up how many you got right and wrong for each subject and any subtopics you want to track (see below image for examples). If you’re doing a full, 200-question practice exam, track that separately.
Say you did a full practice MBE. Results might look something like this:
Here, I also noted major subtopics, such as negligence, crimes, hearsay, etc. Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics Volume 1 made this easy for me with its subject-matter breakdown (located on the page between the 200 questions and the answer key).
For each subject and major subtopic, I calculated a “win rate” by dividing the number of correct answers by the total number of questions I’ve done. Excel or other spreadsheet software makes this convenient.
Then, I arranged each subject in order of strength so I know where to study more. For me, Property, Torts, and Contracts tended to be worse.
When parsed out like above, I could pinpoint the exact cracks in the pipe, the areas I needed to study more carefully. Although I had a generally good score of 73% in Crim Law generally, I was able to see that Crim Pro (40%) was bringing it down. So I drilled Crim Pro questions from Barbri. This would have been harder to detect had I relied on my score on the “Criminal Law and Procedure” MBE subject (or overall score combining all subjects).
This kind of analytics creates useful data to surgically treat your weaknesses: Keep track of your worst three subjects. Do more questions for those subjects. When your “worst three” ranking changes, do more questions from those subjects.
The best thing I can tell you about improving your MBE score, which I realized after doing 50 practice Civ Pro questions to test and tweak my Magicsheets condensed outlines, is to make every question a learning experience.
I’d rather you do 10 productive and effective practice questions than 50 “efficient” questions. Whether you get a problem right or wrong:
- Read and understand the answer explanations—all of them, for each answer choice. This helps you internalize the rule or a nuance of the rule.
- See which fact(s) were key to arriving at the answer. This helps you look out for that type of fact next time you see a similar issue.
- Be open to circling back and redoing it. If you really “got it,” you should be able to answer correctly. If not, redoing will help you get to that point.
If an explanation doesn’t make sense to you, don’t just ignore it and move on. Question it and dive into research on your own to make sure whether your rule or your interpretation of it is correct. You’ll thank yourself when you see a similar question.