Improve Your MBE Score: 3 Rules for Effective MBE Preparation

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?

  1. The person who did 2,500 questions and learned nothing (maybe didn’t even read the explanations)
  2. 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.
Emanuel MBE: "The qs are exactly what I recall on the bar."
Why use real MBE questions

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 (7th Edition), which includes a full practice exam and now includes 30 Civ Pro questions that were on past exams.

Cost: $70-100

This is a must if you want to get started on your MBE studies on a budget. It’s relatively affordable with 750+ real, licensed questions. 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 5th or 6th editions given the picky, nuanced Civ Pro MBE questions that have appeared lately on the MBE.

Curious about what it looks like inside?

Subject overview
Questions
Explanations

Link: 7th edition (2019)

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.

Cost: $30-70

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.

Question (1)
Question (2)
Table of contents (index)

Link: 3rd edition (2020) (comes with 375+ more questions not found in the 7th edition of Volume 1)

Also, I’m not affiliated with the author in any way. I liked the books and am comfortable recommending them.

3.    Get AdaptiBar or UWorld for a comprehensive online database and tracking of licensed (real) questions.

Cost:
AdaptiBar: $365 (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.

If you’re interested in either, I go into detail and lay out pros, neutrals, and cons in my ultimate AdaptiBar review and ultimate UWorld review (including a comparison with AdaptiBar).

Why use AdaptiBar

What about Civ Pro questions?

The NCBE has released 30 Civ Pro questions. This means there’s unfortunately a lack of past exam questions to practice on for Civ Pro. Here are some other ways to practice:

  • Simulated questions included with your bar course if you’ve enrolled in one
  • BarPrepHero has a free practice exam with 5 Civ Pro questions here. The NCBE has 10 sample questions with annotations here.
  • 100 simulated Civ Pro questions from Fleming’s Fundamentals of Law

Are there any reasons to NOT use real questions?

  • 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:

Improve your MBE score with math

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.

This might raise the question: Why not double down on your strengths?

I prefer to address weaker areas because I feel that there is a diminishing return on how much better you can get on your strong subjects. There are always going to be really tricky questions that require niche knowledge.

Moreover, your knowledge of the MBE will carry over to your essays. If you get hit with an essay that you didn’t really prepare for on the MBE, then it would have a doubly negative effect. All your subjects should naturally improve over time anyway as you keep practicing.

It’s like admitting that you have a favorite child even though you love them equally. Show some tough love to the other kid who needs it.

In sum

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Now your turn: What was your biggest takeaway from this? What would you tell your friend if you wanted to advise them on improving the MBE? Comment below with some ideas.
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27 Replies to “Improve Your MBE Score: 3 Rules for Effective MBE Preparation”

    1. Hello user “facebook”, could you tell me specifically what you tried and how it turned out?

      For example (and you can tell me more), what did you do that wasn’t effective, what kind of questions did you use, how did you study the questions you practiced, how long have you tracked your scores, and what were your results before and after that period of time?

      If you think there’s a way to make this more effective for you, please let me know.

  1. Hi . I found your website and facebook group really helpful. Im a foreign attorney who will sit in the July 2016 Bar CA exams. Its a struggle for me come think of it because I didnt attend law school here in the US and we practice Civil Law where I come from. I did an early review because I need to learn a lot. In the course, I enrolled with Barbri (because its the bar prep I was introduced at). However, when I tried practicing a few of their MBE questions, I was failing. My confidence level is dropping down. I tried Emanuel book and I progressed in Crim Law (although still needs to work on other subjects). My friend who took and passed the NY bar (also a foreign attorney) recommended Adpatibar. But it is going to be another burden for me to enroll. Should I take it and ditch barbri mbe if its not working for me? Thanks!

    1. Hi Marianne, glad to be of help. It’s a good idea to get ahead on studying, but be careful not to burn yourself out (and possibly making it harder to memorize) by doing so over too many months (5-6 months may be stretching it a bit).

      Although I have not used AdaptiBar myself, I have heard great things. After doing some research, it may actually be one of the best, if not the best, single supplement for the MBE.

      I say that because it has a large depository of real questions, and it will adapt (hence the name) to your strengths and weaknesses, which is what I discuss in the above article. One of the reasons you’ve progressed in Crim Law is likely because of the real questions contained in Emanuel.

      Since AdaptiBar has over 1,500 questions, it is plenty. If you run out, redo them (if you really get it, you should get 100%). If you get AdaptiBar, I would ditch Barbri MBE entirely. The downside is the cost, at $395 ($60 off if you use my code, “MTYLT”).

      If you decide NOT to get AdaptiBar, I would use Barbri MBE for drilling particularly problematic areas, while using Emanuel questions as the real indicator for progress. The downside to Emanuel is the limited quantity (about 500-600 questions in the first book?), which is why I would use (and have used this way) Barbri for drilling.

      So either way, you are fairly well equipped to study the MBE at the moment. You can always enroll later.

      Hope this helps, Marianne!

      1. Thank you so much! Well at least Adaptibar is not as expensive as Barbri. Had I known these before I chose barbri, I wouldve searched for cheaper yet effective options (I dont want to lose my faith with barbri though because bar prep hasnt started yet) Ill try to adjust my expenses in case. I needed to study early because Im working 8-5. I only have 3-4 hours of study during weekdays and catch up during the weekends. Besides, Im a foreign attorney with 0 knowledge on how US laws are working. There may be slight similarities with where I came from, but I must admit, this is a different ballgame =)

  2. Hey,

    Hope you are well and I would like to thank you for this wonderful resource.

    I have just failed the bar in my second attempt. I got a score of 657 in July 15 and 624 in Feb 2016, both the times MBE has been my downfall with scores of 122 and 116 respectively.

    I exclusively did S&T ed 1 and 2 and a few BARBRI question totaling around 1200 MCQS for the feb bar and roughly 700 MCQs from BARBRI in the july bar.

    It is clear to me that MBE is where I should put my efforts on and the strategy that you have outlined makes sense. Do you think if I do adaptibar/S&T will that suffice? or do you think that I should go even further?

    Moreover, I am a foreign educated candidate and what do you think my ideal target number of MCQs should be.

    Thank you

    1. Hey there, so sorry to hear that you have to retake.

      I believe the NY bar weighs the MBE at half of your score, quite a significant portion. So I agree that the MBE is probably where you’ll see the most return on your time investment. I would guess that this is especially true for a foreign-educated candidate like you since you do not have to produce any writing like in essays.

      To answer your question: Yes, in terms of resources, AdaptiBar and S&T are more than sufficient. You won’t run out of real questions. You may see some overlap in questions, though. At the least, the primers on each subject within the S&T could be helpful.

      The real question is, how will you use those resources to see improvement? As discussed in this article, I’d like to encourage you to focus more on your worst subjects, and really understand your reasons for getting each question right or wrong. Improvement will come from that sort of constant feedback and learning every time. And don’t be afraid to redo problems.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. HI I have just one question on the mbe practice. Besides reviewing the why I got the answer wrong or right do you also recommend writing out the rule over a few times for the one you missed.? I hear so many different answers about that, do flash cards or write the full question and answer or just write the rule. So what have you found to be the most efficient and effective way to do deal with the wrong answer or are you simply recommending to review and understand why it was wrong and move on? Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Sophia,

      Some people do like to write out the rule. I would write out rules that you miss repeatedly (2-3 times) because I find that there isn’t really a need to do so if you are able to remember next time without much difficulty.

      I do not believe you should write out the question itself. What is needed while you practice is to patch up the holes in your body of knowledge. Thus, I would thoroughly review all the answers (right and wrong) for all questions (that you got right as well as wrong). Then when you see a concept that you didn’t know about, note it (or write it down–it’s up to you) for next time.

      So the most effective way I found was to really understand the concept and how to apply it (quality). It doesn’t help to just do questions and not learn anything (pure quantity). It would also help to redo the question or at least not be afraid of redoing it the next time you see it later on in your studies.

      Since I think they’re busy work to create, I’m not a flashcard person, but it works for some… If you used it with success in law school, by all means, use flashcards.

      Not sure why I wasn’t notified of your comment, just happened to notice this. Apologies for the late response!

  4. Between Emmanuel and Adaptibar, which one has better answer explanations and guidelines? Is it worth getting both? What about BarMax MBE bank?

    1. Bridget, I believe they are similarly helpful. Emanuel does explain each answer choice clearly, perhaps in great detail. AdaptiBar is good as well. Compare the explanations in Emanuel from this post with those in AdaptiBar in this review: https://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/adaptibar-review/

      If you have the budget, I think it’s worth getting both. Emanuel gives you the “realistic” paper experience across a broad range of issues, as well as strategies for each subject, while AdaptiBar has more questions to do, is a bit more up to date with the newer subject matter, and is more portable. The latter is about 5x as costly as the former.

      I’m not aware of BarMax’s MBE bank, but people generally favor AdaptiBar over BarMax.

  5. Hi, I found out I failed the Texas bar this week and i found your blog while I was going my grieving process. I brought the Emmanuel book because it has great reviews. In your blog you talk about doing a practice mbe would doing the one Barbri provides in the diagnostics part help me understand my weak areas in the topic or should I use the mbe score from my bar exam even though it doesn’t tell what sub topics I struggled with? You also talk about focusing on your weak areas did you redo the questions from the Emmanuel book for the questions you got wrong or did you use the questions from Barbri?

    1. Yep, you can use Barbri or anything. Maybe keep track of each source separately because they each have different styles or feel to them. Whatever you use, you’ll see a pattern. Does TX tell you your relative performance per subject? That’s a great place to start.

      I redid questions from Emanuel. I preferred doing real MBE questions. Barbri’s MBE book gave me plenty of questions, so I did those to supplement my weak areas.

  6. Hi
    I was trying to make a purchase of your magic cheet sheets for the CA Bar using my paypal account but the page was not opening. How do i go about this?

    1. Hi Edwin,

      Could you describe what you mean by the page not opening? It sounds like you got to the checkout screen but couldn’t get further. Was it the PayPal page that wouldn’t open?

      You can also email me at brian@makethisyourlasttime.com. Thanks Edwin.

  7. What outline do you recommend for the MBE, Barbri long or convisor, Critical pass flash cards, studicata, or something else you like better?

    1. They are all good and used by different people. Barbri’s Conviser is the gold standard. For shorter, condensed outlines (for efficient memorization and practice), you can consider moving to Magicsheets or Lean Sheets.

      At the end of the day, it’s not really about the tools but how you use them.

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