Biggest Areas of the MBE to Focus On (Highly Tested Topics)

The MBE isn’t just a mixed bag of questions. It’s actually not even an evenly distributed bag of questions.

There are some topics that are tested disproportionately and more frequently on the MBE! Not all questions are equally important.

💡 There are just THREE highest-priority topics…

💡 These top 3 tested topics EACH account for over a whopping 7% of your score (over 21% total)!

💡 What can you do with the lower-priority topics?

But these takeaways are not that obvious if you simply skim through the NCBE’s subject matter outline. The language isn’t as clear or intuitive. Let’s break this down into charts so we can visualize it better.

Let’s take Torts as an example.

The NCBE says in the subject matter outline: “Approximately half of the Torts questions on the MBE will be based on category II, and approximately half will be based on the remaining categories—I, III, and IV.”

“175 scored questions on the MBE are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each of the seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.” https://www.ncbex.org/exams/mbe/preparing/

In other words, about 50% of the 25 Torts questions tested are based on category II, which is all about negligence.

Based on this information, for each category or topic, we can summarize the number of questions that will count toward your score the percentage occupied within a given subject, and the percentage occupied out of the 175 scored questions:

Torts subtopic breakdown

We can immediately see that negligence takes up the biggest slice (“approximately half”) of the Torts questions. Further, there will be 12-13 questions on negligence—7.14% of the tested questions on the whole exam—while intentional torts will show up 4 or maybe 5 times in the exam.

Read that again: A whopping 7% of the MBE will test solely on negligence and count toward your score. There may be extra experimental questions on negligence, though.

Hmm, interesting! If you’re short on time, perhaps you’d want to make sure you’ve nailed at least this area down cold.

Are there other “leveraged” top tested MBE topics I can prioritize?

Yes! Take a look below:

High-priority MBE topics
High-priority MBE topics

Note that “constitutional protection of accused persons” is just Crim Pro, including 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments. So Crim Law and Crim Pro are evenly divided.

But we can still see that if you aren’t great at distinguishing first-degree and second-degree murder no matter how much you look at them, there’s no need to agonize too long. You can instead move on to searches and seizures.

Medium-priority MBE topics
Medium-priority MBE topics

The yellow highlights indicate some other MBE highly tested topics. These won’t show up as much as negligence, but still, a significant number of questions will hit these areas.

These include relevancy, hearsay, formation of contracts, and others shown above. Incidentally, and unfortunately, Real Property includes topics that are evenly tested. It’s a subject you won’t want to avoid.

You can find a spreadsheet with the whole list of topics sorted by number of questions in Passer’s Playbook.

Now in pie chart format:

  • Highly tested topics in Torts
  • Highly tested topics in Con Law
  • Highly tested topics in Crim Law and Crim Pro
  • Highly tested topics in Evidence
  • Highly tested topics in Contracts
  • Highly tested topics in Civ Pro
  • Highly tested topics in Real Property

So which are the biggest areas of the MBE to focus on?

These are the top three tested topics (highlighted red above):

  • Torts – Negligence
  • Con Law – Individual rights (1st Amendment, 5th Amendment, 14th Amendment)
  • Crim Pro – Constitutional protection of accused persons (basically the whole subject of Crim Pro)

Each of these high-priority topics accounts for 7.14% of your score. That’s a total of 21.43% in just these three topics.

This next set of topics (highlighted yellow above) appear will appear on the MBE in at least 5-8 questions each:

  • Relevancy and reasons for excluding relevant evidence
  • Presentation of evidence
  • Hearsay and circumstances of its admissibility
  • Formation of contracts
  • Performance, breach, and discharge
  • Jurisdiction and venue
  • Pretrial procedures
  • Motions
  • Ownership of real property
  • Rights in real property
  • Real estate contracts
  • Mortgages and security devices
  • Titles

These are medium-priority topics that each range between 2.86% and 4.76% of your score. These make up 42.86% in total.

The rest of the topics account for 35.71% of your score. These topics only appear 2-4 times out of the 175 scored questions.

Does this mean I should ignore the MBE topics with 2-4 questions and solely focus on the biggest areas?

What? I mean, it’s your life.

If I were you, I’d study everything but make concessions in one of two situations:

1. You’re stuck on a question from a lower-priority topic and can’t make sense out of it conceptually.

Yes, these topics are LOWER (but not LOW) priority and shouldn’t be completely neglected.

If you notice that you’re spending a lot of time struggling with a question that isn’t a high-priority or medium-priority topic, make a note of it, and move on.

Otherwise, you’re spending too much time on something that may not benefit you as much as the amount of attention you’re giving it. Come back to it when you have some breathing space.

2. You’re out of time to study.

If you’ve planned out and paced your studies, hopefully this won’t happen. But say you have a week left until the exam and you’re overwhelmed and falling behind.

It’s now time to triage and focus most of your efforts on the high-priority and medium-priority areas.

That way, you may be able to nail at least these frequently tested topics on the exam while hoping that you catch a glimpse of the rules for the other topics in your visions as life flashes before your eyes.

Hey, it’s a Hail Mary, not an ideal plan. But a reasoned plan is better than no plan.

If you want rules to flash before your eyes if you’re ever in a pinch, look no further than Magicsheets. These condensed outlines organize what you need to know for the MBE in a few pages per subject.
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