Bar Exam FAQ

How many MBE questions should I do to get ready for the California Bar Exam?

This depends on your performance, but at a minimum, 2,500.  It sounds like a daunting number, but there is a reason why it is necessary to do so many MBEs.  The MBE covers seven subjects (Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Torts and Property).  Most students must do about 1,200 MBE questions before they will notice a major increase in their average MBE score.  It usually requires completing about 1300 MBE questions in order to see all of the different combinations of issue testing more than once.  Keep this in mind: Day 2 of the bar exam will consist of 200 MBEs.  If you have only completed 600 to 1200 MBEs in your bar review period, when you get to Day 2 those 200 questions are going to feel like an awful lot of questions.  If, on the other hand, you have practiced taking MBE questions over and over again (and we recommend 2500 questions) Day 2 will feel easy.  It is really that simple.

NOTE: As of July 2017, the California bar exam will consist of two days. Day one will consist of five one hour essays and one 90 minute performance test. Day two will remain the same as past years and will consist of the MBE portion of the exam. However, the MBE portion used to only be worth 35% of a California bar examinee’s score. Now that the exam has gone from a three day exam to a two day exam, the MBE portion of the bar exam is worth 50%. As a result, your attention to the MBE portion of the California bar exam is more important than ever.

What score do I need on my practice MBEs to know that I'm ready for the bar?

The California Bar Examiners scale the MBE portion of the exam each round, just as they scale the written portions.  This means that a 65% (which equates to a raw score of 130) one round may be passing, while that same raw score another round might not be sufficient.  While it is impossible to anticipate how a given round will be scaled, historically, 70% correct has been enough to pass.  However, nobody wants to miss the bar exam by a few points.  Therefore, it is a good idea to try to average as high a score as possible.  Generally, student’s scores will vary from topic to topic.  It will be important for you to identify your weaker areas so that you can devote more time to these areas and increase your scores overall.  If you can consistently average over 70% correct in practice, then you are well prepared for passing the MBE portion of the bar exam.

Every one wants to know: “How many MBEs out of 200 do I need to get right?”  In July 2004, the passing “raw” MBE score was a 136.  However, on previous rounds the passing raw MBE score has been much higher (in the low 140s).  The way to achieve a passing is through good, solid preparation.  Practice is the most important aspect of the MBE section.  The key to improving your MBE score and to succeeding on this portion of the exam is struggling through each missed MBE and studying the answer explanations until it makes sense to you and you can remember it. Bar None Review utilizes techniques that will help you to master the most difficult questions. One of the key things to always remember when studying for and practicing the MBE portion of the bar exam is that it is a standardized test. As a result, there are many techniques which students can learn to make even the most difficult questions do-able.

I have MBE books provided by my bar review course and I'm going to do all of the questions. Isn't that enough?

It depends.  It depends upon which bar review company you choose what your bar review company uses for its MBE portion of the exam preparation.  Since the MBE portion of the bar exam is written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) it makes sense to practice the questions the NCBE has released in the past.  It not only makes sense to practice these released questions, it makes sense to practice these until you become very, very good at their (the NCBE’s) MBEs.  Why?  Remember when you were in law school and you sometimes needed to get into the head of your law school professor in order to do really well in his or her class?  Torts is torts.  Contracts is contracts.  But, if you wanted to do really, really well in a particular course in law school, it often meant paying close attention to what your professor wanted from you.

Taking the California Bar Exam is no different.  In order to pass, you need to understand how they ask questions and what they are looking for in a correct answer choice. One of the best ways to do this is to practice their questions and answers.  For the MBE portion of the California Bar Exam, you should study the NCBE’s released questions and answers.  You will need to bear in mind that the NCBE does not release any explanations to their answers. They simply tell you which answer is the correct answer choice.

The NCBEs have released about 900 of their past MBE questions.  You can purchase these released questions and actual past tests (200 set questions) directly from the NCBE.  Note that NCBE does not provide explanatory answers.  Any explanations you see in books were written by independent authors.  There are books available that contain these past NCBE questions and include explanatory answers.  However, students should be aware that the quality of these materials and the effectiveness of their explanatory answers varies greatly from one source to the next.  However, we have selected a volume as part of our MBE review that we feel is the best book on the market.  The explanatory answers are exceptionally good and provide excellent support for the reasoning that is behind a given answer choice.

How many practice essays should I write?

At a minimum, one per subject.  Keep in mind that in the area of Torts, for example, you could have an exam testing Defamation, Negligence, Products Liability, or any one of several other issues.  Therefore you should ideally write at least one exam covering each of the major testable issues in each bar tested subject.  Since exams generally cover multiple issues, this goal can be accomplished by writing approximately 30 practice exams.

Why do I need to read and issue spot so many exams?

There are many issues that come up within each bar tested subject.  Within Criminal Procedure, for example, you would want to read and issue spot exams dealing with Search and Seizure, the Right to Counsel, the Right Against Self-Incrimination, etc.  This can only be done by going over a large number of past exams.  Additionally, you will want to read multiple exams on each issue.  That way you will start to see patterns and trends emerge in the released answers, and you will understand what the graders are looking for.

Where do the "released" answers come from?

Each round the bar graders are asked to submit a selection of answers they especially liked from the stack they graded.  (Each grader only grades one question, and usually two or three graders will tackle the same question depending on the number of examinees.)  The Committee of Bar Examiners then checks the Applicant Numbers on the submitted exams to make sure that the writers passed the bar.  Only those people who passed the bar have their answers considered.  Then Committee then selects two answers that they feel are a good representation of solid, passing answers for each essay question and each performance test.

The released answers are not always the “best” answers.  Sometimes the Committee selects a particular answer to show that examinees do not need to be perfect to pass the bar.  Often the two released answers display very different writing styles.  If you look at enough released answers over a long enough period of time, however, you will notice that patterns emerge and you will understand what the graders are looking for.

How should I prepare for the new 90 minute performance test?

When it comes to the Performance Test, many students make a mountain out of a mole hill.  While this portion of the bar exam is labeled “performance,” it is still an exam and your answer should reflect that.  In our experience, most students will only need to write two to three Performance Tests to gain the comfort level they need with the style.  Of course, this presumes that you have good Performance Test materials and have studied them thoroughly.

Do I need a separate course for the MBEs and/or Performance Test?

With Bar None Review, no supplemental courses are necessary.  We train our students for each section of the bar exam.  While many of the skills overlap, such as between essay writing and Performance Test writing, and much of the substantive knowledge is used for both the MBE and writing, it is still necessary to approach and prepare for each section.  We provide attack plans and approaches geared towards preparing our students to handle each section skillfully.

Is it going to be a problem that I have to work during bar review?

If you are a first time taker we recommend that you take two full months off prior to the bar exam to allow for adequate preparation.  This will enable you enough time to study and to master the subjects and skills necessary to pass the California Bar Exam.

If you are a repeat taker you may be able to successfully prepare for the bar exam and work either full or part time.  However, each student’s individual situation is different.  If you do have to work full time we will provide you with a program that will help maximize your study time.  Because our classroom schedule consists of nights and weekends, many of our students do work full time and manage the program.  While many of our students work part time or even full time during bar review and pass the exam, these students succeed by having excellent time management skills and by following our program instructions carefully.  Whatever your situation – first time taker, repeat taker, working full or part time – we will work with you to develop a plan that will best utilize your study time.

Is it worth paying more for live instruction over a videotape course?

The short answer is “yes”.  You cannot ask questions of a videotape.  You cannot ask that the tape be paused for you to write something down, or rewound if you missed something. In our opinion there is no comparison between a video taped program and a course that provide live, dynamic instruction.

I'm a repeat taker. Is it worth my time to take a Simulated Bar Exam?

A good Simulated Bar Exam does much more than demonstrate to you the level of stamina needed for two full days of testing.  It can diagnose any problem areas in time for you to correct them.  And it is a great confidence booster to see how much you have learned during your bar review course.

How early should I begin my review?

If you are still in law school, you may need to focus your full attention on school until you have taken your last final.  Also, memorizing the law (or anything else) too early means that it will not stick with you.  You can begin learning the writing skills and MBE skills you need three or four months before the bar exam.  But you should not attempt to memorize the law until your bar review course has started.

Is it better to attend a class with other students or to have a one-on-one tutor?

The ideal bar preparation involves a combination of classroom work and individual tutoring.  Being in a classroom with other students can help you avoid the feeling of isolation that comes from living and breathing the bar exam 24/7 for week after week.  Students also benefit from one another’s questions in class.  And, having a structured course ensures that all of the substantive material is covered in depth.

Tutoring allows students a chance to get personal feedback on their writing and MBE performance.  It is also an opportunity to ask any questions that may not have occurred to you during the class.  Your tutor can help you narrow your focus to your problem areas and thereby assist you to study more effectively.

How far should I be prepared to drive to take a course I think can really help me?

We have had students drive over an hour each way to attend our class, and then go on to pass the bar.  Who says time in a car is wasted? You can use your commuting time productively by listening to audio tapes.  Bar None Review has a lending library of audio tapes that we make available to our students at no additional charge.  Your time is your most precious commodity during bar review.  If you decide a course is worth driving for, be sure to maximize your efficiency.

Are my chances of passing the bar exam better in July?

This is probably one of the most common questions asked by law students.  If you were to look solely at the statistics, the answer would be yes.  According to the California State Bar statistics, each year the pass rate for the July bar exam is higher than for the February bar exam.  (Typically the July pass rate hovers around 50% while the February pass rate is about 40% – most recently 37%).  However, this is not to say that your chances of passing the bar exam are lower if you sign up to take the February bar exam.  When reviewing the statistics (which you may view by visiting the California State Bar website at: www.calbar.org) it is important to understand what the statistics reflect.  So what accounts for the difference in pass rates between the July and February bar exams?

First of all, there are more students from ABA accredited law schools taking the July bar exam than there are taking the February bar exam.  Second, bar takers from ABA law schools pass the California bar exam at a higher rate than those students graduating from unaccredited law schools.  It makes sense then that the pass rate on the July bar exam is higher than the February bar exam since more of the students sitting for the bar exam in July come from ABA accredited law schools.

There is a third likely reason for the lower pass rate on the February bar exam.  Regardless of what law school a bar examinee has attended, his or her chances of passing the bar exam are the highest on their first bar exam attempt.  This is not to say that repeat attempts are futile.   However, statistically first time takers pass at a much higher rate than those students who are repeating the bar exam.  (This is often reflective of the fact that many bar takers who are retaking the bar exam do not take a review course and worse, are unable to take time off of work the second time around to study for the exam).  Since there are more students taking the bar exam for the first time in July ( ABA law schools typically graduate their students in May and those students typically sit for the bar exam in July) than in February, the July bar exam statistics are most likely impacted by these students higher pass rate.

Regardless of when you take the bar exam you must be prepared.  The bottom line is, February or July, you have fifteen subjects that you must know well.  These subjects are tested in three different formats and you must be prepared to succeed on all three formats.  It does not all just come down to the multi-states and it does not all just come down to the essays or the performance tests.

Can you fail the bar by failing essays?  Yes.  Can you fail the bar by not achieving a passing score on the multi-state section?  Yes.  Can you fail the bar by writing below average Performance Tests?  Yes.  Failing any one section can lead to failing the entire test.

Too often students place most of their emphasis on the multi-states and ignore practicing for the written portions.  Or, students focus on the written portion and do not realize the significance of the multiple choice section.  Two thirds of your test taking time is written.  You must pass the written portions in order to pass the bar exam.  While it is true that the higher your multi-state score the more you can “get away with” on the written portions, this is a very dangerous hypothesis.   It is virtually impossible to pass the California bar exam without passing the written portions of the exam.  This is not the case in other jurisdictions.  In many jurisdictions the MBE portion of that state’s bar exam is weighted much more heavily than in California.  In addition, most states require a lower score on the MBE for “passing”.  However, in California, the bar examiners are looking for a level of performance on all three portions of the exam.  These sections are weighted accordingly by the bar examiners so that passing bar takers are those students who have performed well enough on all three sections.