Bar Exam Myths

Seven Common Bar Exam Myths

There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there about the bar exam.  Far too many bar exam myths get repeated over time, resulting in many mistakes in preparation.  In this post, we try to clear up seven common bar exam myths that could be affecting how you prepare.  It is important not to fall into these traps so that you can get the most out of your studying!

Seven Common Bar Exam Myths

1. Focusing prep on one portion of the exam will get you through the other

The first of our common bar exam myths is that if you study only for one portion of the bar exam (i.e. for the essay portion only), this will suffice to get you ready for the other(s).  This is not true.  While there is certainly overlap in the subjects that will be tested on each portion, there are very different skills that you need to practice to be adequately prepared.  Further, the rules that are highly tested on the MBE (which you should emphasize in your memorization), may not be the same rules that are highly tested on the essay portion.

For the MBE, you need to be able to interpret a short fact pattern, recall a very precise rule of law, and use it to identify the correct answer choice, all in a very short period of time.  On the essay portion, you have more time, but far more facts to sort through.  Additionally, you have to be able to reproduce the law in order to pick up points.  All of this requires individual practice.  You should not assume that studying the law with an emphasis on the essays will adequately prepare you for the multiple choice.

2. If you passed/failed the MPRE, you are more likely to pass/fail the bar

We often see students who do poorly on the MPRE panic in regards to their bar exam prospects.  Similarly, those who succeed on the MPRE with flying colors may assume that the bar exam will be no different.  This is a very popular bar exam myth.  In reality, success or failure on one does not necessarily determine your success or failure on the other.  While both are standardized tests and challenge you on your ability to interpret facts, they are testing very different areas of the legal profession.  There are many attorneys who struggle with answering the sort of questions presented on the MPRE but who then have no problems with the more traditional law tested on the bar exam.  Don’t assume that your performance on one will translate to the other.  Give them each the attention they deserve.

3. I should pay equal attention to all the material / I should completely ignore less frequently tested material

These are two bar exam myths that sit on the opposite end of the spectrum.  First, some people assume that all material that could be tested on the bar exam should be treated equally.  This is not true, as there are specific subjects, and topics within those subjects, that turn up far more frequently on the bar exam.  But then you will see people assume that they should ignore the material that hardly ever comes up.  This is not true either, as you never want to take the chance that this is the year that something makes a reappearance.  Rather, you should proportionately divide your time based on the frequency of the subject and the topic.  Spend the most time on the issues that are most likely to come up, but never ignore something completely!

4. I have to perform very well in order to pass

Another common bar exam myth is that you have answer a very high percentage of questions correctly (or score very highly on the essays) in order to pass.  This ignores the fact that the exam is scaled.  Depending on the overall difficulty of the exam, a decent number of points will be added to your raw score in order to come up with your final score.  In fact, answering 60-65% of the MBE questions correctly will put you right around the passing score in most UBE jurisdictions.  In school, that would be the equivalent of a D or D-!  Thus, you don’t really need to perform all that well at all in order to pass the bar exam!

5. I need to know extreme levels of detail on all testable topics

To combat this common bar exam myth, it’s better to frame what you need to know as digging just a few inches deep across a wide plot of topics as opposed to digging a foot deep into the minute details.  While the bar exam certainly tests rules, exceptions, and some details on certain subjects, it does not test every little nuance or extreme hypothetical.  The fact patterns are relatively straightforward as long as you understand how the rules have been tested in the past.  Too often we see our students bog themselves down with outrageous hypotheticals or trying to figure out the answers to controversial debates regarding the law.  None of this will be on the bar exam, which is merely a basic legal competency test.

6. I should be the most worried about wildcard tasks or essays testing extremely rare/difficult topics

We see a lot of our course students worry and stress over the possibility of encountering a wildcard MPT task or an essay on something extremely rare.  While these things are certainly possible on test day, the bar exam myth here is that this is a really bad thing.  It doesn’t have to be!  If you are well prepared and you run into something that is unfamiliar to you, chances are it is unfamiliar to everyone else as well.

Since the same grader will be grading everyone’s response to the same question, they will start to pick up on the fact that everyone is doing poorly.  This could lead to more lenient grading and opportunities for you to pick up a lot of points for not saying much of anything at all. Further, wildcard MPT tasks tend to have extra instructions to guide the taker through a unique task.  This extra structure leaves less room for you to deviate from the desired answer. You should have an easier time developing a satisfactory response.

7. I only need to practice writing a few essays but need to practice thousands of MBE questions

The last of our bar exam myths focuses on essay versus MBE practice. Neglecting essay practice is an approach of far too many bar exam takers.  Just like the MBE, the essay portion requires significant practice.  You need to get a feel for how the law is tested, how to read the pattern, how to organize your answer, how to write efficiently, how to perfect your timing, etc.  This generally involves completing a few essays per subject, so that you understand what you are likely to see in all circumstances.

Your MBE practice should emphasize quality over quantity.  And there is no “magic number” of questions you have to complete in order to have a chance at passing.  Everyone is different.  Those who struggle with timing will likely end up practicing more questions to work on that skill.  Those who struggle with the application of the law will likely practice fewer as they should be working through more questions slowly and methodically.  If you hear of someone who has completed 2,000+ questions, don’t let that discourage you!  As long as you have put in sufficient quality practice, you are right on track!

LAURA SIGLER, WHO GRADUATED MAGNA CUM LAUDE FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, IS A JD ADVISING LEGAL RESEARCHER AND ESSAY GRADER.