Flipping Out About the Bar Exam? An MBE Expert is Here to Help

MBEI remember well the unpleasantness of preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination. Even after weeks of preparation, I was still completely convinced I’d failed afterwards! Not a fun test.

That’s why I’m very excited to have Sean Silverman here to talk about how to prepare for the MBE. Sean is an attorney and bar exam instructor, and he’s got great advice — whether you’re preparing for the bar exam now, or still have some time before you have to worry about it. Take it away!

I’m studying for the bar exam now, and it’s not going well. I’m particularly struggling with the MBE, because it seems so tricky! Do you have any tips for improving my MBE confidence (and scores) in the next month?

First, I’ll say that it’s really important to keep in mind that it’s a very common reaction to think that bar exam studying is not going well.

Provided you are putting in the required work each day, you should remain confident, as this will greatly benefit you.

There are two components to preparing for the MBE, neither of which is more important than the other:

  • One is to learn the substantive law tested.
  • The other is to practice applying that law to questions similar to those you’ll see when you take the MBE.

You’ll want to determine which of these two components is causing you more difficulty, as this will allow you to focus your studies.

Figure Out What You Don’t Know

Let’s assume for the moment that you’re having difficulty retaining the amount of law you need to know for this test.

You need to hone in on exactly what you do not yet know, and the best way to do that is to download the MBE subject-matter outline provided on the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (“NCBE”) website.

This outline will provide for you a basis for everything you need to know for the test.

I’d recommend checking off the areas on that outline with which you feel comfortable. The unchecked areas will then be your focus, and rather than just re-reading those areas in your bar review outlines, you should consider a more active approach to studying, such as creating flashcards, re-writing the rules of law in your own words, creating your own mini-outlines on specific topics, etc.

The ultimate goal is to check off as many areas as possible on the NCBE outline, because this foundation is necessary for success on the exam.

Practice Applying Your Knowledge

Once you feel confident in your knowledge of the subject matter, spend some time working through questions in individual topics. For example, work through Property questions, followed by Contracts questions, etc.

It’s very important to first approach the questions in this manner, as doing questions in each area will further reinforce your subject matter knowledge.

I do recommend switching over to mixed questions after you’ve been through about 200 questions within the individual topics. The questions on the MBE will be mixed, so it’s important to practice in that context.

About a week or two weeks before the exam, be sure to take a couple of full-length mixed question exams, to help build up your endurance.

Take these exams under timed conditions, and continue to review your outlines if you’re finding that you are consistently answering questions incorrectly in a given subject, or specific topic within a subject.

I’m a rising 3L and I’m already getting worried about the bar exam. What three things can I do this year, before I graduate, to ensure I’m as prepared as possible?

There are many approaches you can take to make bar exam studying more manageable.

  • First, be sure to find out which subjects are tested on your state’s bar exam, and take classes in as many of those subjects as possible. Bar review is much less difficult when it truly is a review, rather than an attempt to learn new subjects.
  • Next, spend a little time practicing MBE questions. The MBE subjects are all mainly first-year subjects, and so much of the information tested may have been forgotten to an extent. By working through questions, you’ll be able to refresh your memory on subjects you haven’t encountered for a while. In addition, multiple-choice questions are generally not the method of assessment used by law professors in law school, and so it’s important to work through these types of questions and begin to get comfortable with the format, as well as the strategies (such as process of elimination), necessary to improve your score.
  • Finally, if your state has released model essay answers (and most have), take some time to read through them. Your focus when reading these essays shouldn’t be to learn the substantive law, but rather to get an idea as to how the graders want the answers to be written. A side benefit is that you may begin to notice patterns as to issues tested in the past, and this will allow you to focus later on the areas within your outlines that are most likely to be tested on your exam.
Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work, and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you went to law school? 

When beginning law school, I certainly expected I’d end up in a more traditional role, such as working in a law firm, upon graduation. I quickly took to teaching in the area of test preparation, however, and along with the bar exam, I also prepare students for a variety of other exams, such as the LSAT, and the SAT.

Much of my work, though, these days, is centered around preparing students for the bar exam. Along with the private tutorial sessions, I’m often preparing for those lessons, as well as reading and revising essays that students have written. I truly enjoy working with students for the bar exam.

And there is little more rewarding then those phone calls and text messages from students with the words “I PASSED!”

— – —
Thanks, Sean! How could I not have known about the MBE outline from NCBE before? So handy.

Sean Silverman is an attorney and instructor for a New York based bar review company. He has prepared numerous students for the MBE, and state portion of the New York and Florida Bar Exam, both in person in New York, as well as over Skype for those located outside of New York. In addition, his blog provides readers strategic advice for effectively preparing for the MBE, as well as providing an opportunity for readers to ask questions regarding any of the content tested on the MBE. Visit his blog @ http://www.mbetutorial.blogspot.com or check out his Facebook page (BarExamInstruction). You can also contact Sean directly @ ssilver0210@hotmail.com

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Good luck on the bar exam!

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