MBE misconceptions

Four Common MBE Misconceptions

The President and CEO of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) recently authored an article outlining some of the misconceptions about the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).  In this post, we discuss some of the MBE misconceptions!

Four Common MBE Misconceptions

Misconception #1: The MBE is harder due to the NCBE “pretesting” questions and removing the easy ones.

One misconception that many students have is that “pretesting” questions makes the exam harder.  The NCBE says that this is not true.  Pretesting questions reveals those questions that are not too hard and not too easy, thereby making it a good question.  Although it may seem unfair that the NCBE throws out the questions that are “too easy,” the super-easy questions don’t actually help students’ scores. Why? Well, if everyone gets the question correct, the NCBE would work this into its scaling anyway.

Misconception #2: Reducing the number of scored questions from 190 to 175 made the test harder.

Another misconception is that because the NCBE increased the number of “test” questions from 10 to 25, each question is worth a larger percentage of the score and thus made the exam harder.  While it is true that there are now 175 scored questions on the MBE as of February 2017 (prior to February 2017 190 scored questions appeared on the MBE), the NCBE “scales” the exam to equate the difficulty of the 175-question exam with the difficulty of the 190-question exam.  The scaling process is much more complicated than multiplying each of the 175 questions by 1.142 to equate the exam to a 200-point scale.  The NCBE considers the fact that there are fewer scored questions when scaling modern exams. This helps to make the difficulty level equal to those exams administered prior to February 2017.

Note: in our opinion, while the test may not be harder, it does seem harder to examinees as examinees will surely get questions that are tricky or that will not end up becoming scored questions. The level of anxiety that this adds arguably makes the exam more difficult.

Misconception #3: The NCBE grades the MBE on a curve.

The third misconception that the NCBE addressed is that the MBE is graded on a curve.  While the exam is scaled to ensure that exams of varying difficulty are given due accord, the exam is not curved.  In other words, there are not a predetermined number of students who will pass or fail.  Each jurisdiction is free to set its own passing score, and, according to the NCBE, “if everyone who sits in a given jurisdiction meets that jurisdiction’s passing standard, then there can be a 100% pass rate.”

Misconception #4: The MBE only tests memorization.

The final misconception the NCBE addresses is that the MBE too heavily tests the skill of memorization.  It might seem like you spend all your bar prep memorizing rules. However, MBE questions are actually much more complex. The NCBE designs them to test skills other than rote memorization.  For instance, almost every MBE question incorporates some element of application, and many also incorporate other critical thinking skills.

What does this mean for you?

The MBE is a difficult test because it is simply hard.  The NCBE has not set out to make it any more difficult by skewing the results statistically or adjusting the format and/or grading of the exam.  While these de-bunked misconceptions won’t necessarily impact the way you study for the exam, you may find it helpful to understand a little more into the way the NCBE scales the MBE!

You can read the entire article here. 

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