We have helped hundreds of students improve their MBE scores. And many of our students improve their MBE scores significantly — not just by 5 or 10 points but by 20, 30 or more points. Here, we tell you how to improve your MBE score 20 or more points in five steps.
How to Improve Your MBE Score 20 or More Points
In an effort to improve their MBE scores, many students dive into practicing thousands of MBE questions. They practice something like 50 or 100 questions a day (which is too many!). They never see their score improve because in their zealous effort to complete practice questions, they never actually get to the root of the problem.
Pretend your MBE score is a sky scraper, and you want to build that sky scraper as high as you can. If the foundation that you are working on is crumbling and sinking into the ground, it doesn’t matter how hard you try to build that sky scraper. You will not succeed if you have a bad foundation. And it is the same with your MBE score. If you want to improve your MBE score significantly, you can’t just answer a million MBE questions. That is skimming the surface. You have to dive much deeper than that. You have to build the foundation properly. After you build the foundation properly, it will be infinitely easier to improve your score. Here, we tell you how to do just that.
How to Improve Your MBE Score 20 or More Points
1. Make sure you have good outlines.
If you do not have good outlines, you are already starting behind. You need good outlines!
Ask yourself: Are your outlines organized in a way so that you are able to understand the law? If you do not understand your outlines, if they are poorly organized, or if they are too long or too short, you may need new outlines.
Also ask: Are your outlines a practical length? Your outlines need to be lengthy but not unmanageable. For example, an MBE outline should be about 40-50 pages. If it is significantly shorter (like 5 pages) or significantly longer (100 pages) it is probably not detailed enough or overly detailed.
While this is a basic step, it is critical. If your outlines are unhelpful, the very base of your foundation is already cracked. Fix it before proceeding.
2. Make sure you understand the law.
The next step to improving your MBE score is to make sure you understand the law. You need to have a basic understanding of what it means so that you can apply it. Wondering if you understand the law. Ask yourself: Can you explain the dormant commerce clause? Or mortgage priority disputes? Or strict products liability?
Try to explain some of these concepts out loud using your outline. If you are unable to, you have identified an important step you need to take: You need to understand the law better. You can do this through listening to course lectures (if you find them helpful), bar exam private tutoring, or even just using google as a resource.
3. Memorize the law.
The Absolute. Fastest. Way. to improve your MBE score is to make sure you have the law memorized VERY well.
Most students confuse having a general understanding of the overall law with having it memorized. A basic understanding is not enough. You need to have the law memorized. The MBE portion of the bar exam tests nuances of the law. It does not test a general overview of the law. The absolute best way to improve your MBE score is to memorize the nuances of the law.
Think you have it memorized? Want to really test yourself? Get out a pen and write down the answers to these three questions. Take as much time as you need to think of the answers. Then look at the answers below.
- 1. What are the elements of a dying declaration?
- 2. What are the four ways to sever a joint tenancy?
- 3. What are the elements of negligence per se?
Here are the answers:
- 1. What are the elements of a dying declaration? A dying declaration has four elements. (1) The declarant must be unavailable (but not necessarily dead); (2) The declarant must believe death is imminent; (3) The case must be a homicide or civil case; and (4) The statement must concern the cause or circumstances of death.
- 2. What are the four ways to sever a joint tenancy? (1) Granting a mortgage in a title theory state; (2) Signing a contract for sale; (3) Giving away one’s interest during life; (4) A judgment creditor having an actual judicial sale.
- 3. What are the elements of negligence per se? (1) The defendant violates a statute without excuse; (2) The plaintiff is in the class of persons that the statute is trying to protect; (3) The plaintiff receives the type of harm the statute is designed to prevent.
There were 11 elements total that you should have recognized. Give yourself a point for each element. If you recognized 9-11 elements, you are memorizing well! Good job. If you were able to recognize 5-8 elements correctly, you are on track but still have work to do. If you want to improve your score, stop staring at questions and start memorizing your outlines. And if you recognized less than 5 of the above elements, you have work to do! If you didn’t know what some or all of the questions were asking, you may need to work on comprehension. Wondering how to memorize your bar exam outlines? Check out this post for a great bar exam memorization strategy.
This is the step we see students skip the most. Make sure you are not skipping it!
Also, you do not have to learn every single thing about every area of law in order to have it adequately memorized. Check out our MBE frequency chart to see the most highly tested topics on the MBE. Focus on these when you memorize the law! It is most worth your time to focus on the highly tested topics!
4. Apply the law methodically.
Many students race through MBE questions. They make it a goal to answer so many questions a day. However, they are not getting enough out of the questions they answer. We know some students who answered 5,000 MBE questions when they were studying for the bar exam — and they failed. And we know students who answered a total of 124 MBE questions — and they passed. While 124 MBE questions is probably too few, the point is well taken.
Instead of focusing on quantity, focus on quality. Take an hour or so each day to dissect MBE questions. Examine each and every fact. Pay close attention to how the characters in the fact pattern are described. Jot out any key dates or events. Make sure you are able to identify the issue. Then, figure out the exact rule that is being tested. Apply the rule. And come up with an answer. Go through every answer choice and figure out why one is right and the others are wrong. It can easily take 15 minutes to answer a question if you do it this way. But you will learn so much and you will improve your understanding of exactly how MBE questions are tested that it will be worth it. We have a detailed guide on how you can focus on quality to improve your MBE score here.
Note: You still need to make sure you have your timing down and take timed exams. But when you are practicing questions with the goal of getting better at answering multiple-choice questions, quality is key.
5. When you answer an MBE question incorrectly, write it down!
If you listen to a lecture about the law, do you automatically know everything you just heard? No. While you may understand it, you don’t have it memorized. You have to go back and review your outlines until you know them. And it is the same when you answer an MBE question.
If you answer an MBE question incorrectly, and you simply review the explanation, as many do, you are halfway there. But in reality, you are learning so much and doing so much that you will probably get the question wrong the next time you see it.
So if you answer an MBE question incorrectly, don’t just read the explanation. Instead, write down why you answer it incorrectly on a legal pad. I call this the “legal pad” method. Do this for every question you answer wrong — write down the law you didn’t know on a legal pad. This way you can constantly review the law you do not know over and over again.
If you answered a question incorrectly because you forgot the elements of the dying declaration hearsay exception, and if you write down those elements on that legal pad — I promise you if you keep reviewing that legal pad, you will remember them! And if you notice you keep getting hearsay questions wrong, maybe it is time to find a new approach to hearsay.
And do the same thing if you answer a question incorrectly for a different reason. For example, if you were circled the wrong bubble or misread the facts or got it wrong for any other reason, write it down on your legal pad. This will help you find patterns in both the areas of law you don’t know and the other reasons you are answering questions incorrectly.
If you review this legal pad constantly, you will turn areas of law you don’t know into strengths and you will be able to identify other reasons you are answering questions incorrectly.
Bonus Tip: Make sure you are using real MBE Questions!
Some students get so frustrated by their MBE scores, and it turns out, they are not even using actual, official, NCBE-released questions! If you are using questions made up by a company or a bar review course (like Barbri, Kaplan, Themis, or even us — JD Advising!), these questions are not bad but the best way to gauge your score is to use REAL MBE questions. These are actual, official, NCBE-released questions. (Hint: if the course or company doesn’t advertise that it is using released questions, it probably isn’t!).
If you are wondering where to find real MBE questions, we tell you in this post! There are a few popular sources. We also have our own Qbank of over 1,500 actual, official, released MBE questions. These include the most recent exams released in 2019 by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. You can see a screenshot of our Qbank study builder below.
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