Recent MBE Changes and the Importance of Using Updated Questions

Here is another guest post.  This one is from Dina Allam at MicroMash.  This is very timely and useful information about recent changes to the MBE portion of the bar exam.  Take it away, Dina ...

The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is notoriously one of the most feared aspects of the bar exam.  It certainly was for me.  It was the only time in my life 6 hours didn’t seem like enough time to finish an exam.  Every second counts on the MBE, and two minutes can make the difference between passing and failing.  I drank a Red Bull during lunch break to help me stay focused.  It had its payoffs (I believe drinking Red Bull helped me pass the bar) and its consequences – I had to rush to the restroom after lunch because I didn’t want to “waste too much time.”  Because there is so much pressure on the MBE, a better name might be the mental endurance test.  No matter what you call it, it’s important that you fully understand the MBE before you take it.  Over the next few months, you’ll have the pleasure of getting to know the MBE as well as I did or maybe even better.  

The MBE is the 200-question, 6-hour, multiple-choice portion of the bar exam administered on the last Wednesday in July and February.  Since the MBE tests content that is important to beginning the practice of law, the NCBE (National Conference of Bar Examiners) drafters evaluate questions on their relevance and credibility to beginning practitioners.  In recent years, the MBE has undergone many changes to become more consistent in style and format, resulting in more concise questions.  MicroMash Bar Review wants students to be aware of the several changes to the format of MBE questions that the NCBE announced and put into effect starting with the July 2009 bar exam:
  1. There will be no “none of the above” or “all of the above” answer choices.
  2. There will be no hypothetical fact-based answer choices (options that include “if” or “unless” statements which change the fact pattern).
  3. Common nouns will be used in lieu of proper nouns when practical (e.g., “a painter,” not “Pat” or “Painter”).
  4. There will be no “K-type” questions (Roman numerals in complex answer choices, e.g., I is true, but II and III are not true).
  5. One question will relate to a single fact pattern, instead of a series of questions that relate to one fact pattern.
In addition, the language in the answer choices will be parallel.  That is, the test taker will have options comparing similar elements, such as four different causes of action or four defense theories, etc., rather than comparing an answer choice that has a cause of action to one that has a defense theory.
Here is an example of a “K-type” question you will no longer see on the MBE (or at MicroMash)!

What does this all mean?  In the end it really means only one thing: you should no longer be using MBE practice questions in the old format.  One of most oft-repeated pieces of advice regarding bar exam prep (and MBE prep in particular) is to practice as many MBE questions as you can, making sure to do those questions in as close to realistic test conditions as possible.  That means answering practice questions in a timed environment whenever possible.  It means finding questions that, on par, are about as difficult or as tricky as those you’ll see on the MBE.  Most importantly, it means answering only MBE questions that reflect the new question format!  Studying and practicing for the MBE with updated question formats will prepare you for the actual MBE and simulate what you’ll see on exam day.  It will also help you accurately score yourself and keep track of how much time you need to plow through the examination.  

There are plenty of options available to assist you with bar prep (and MBE prep in particular).  Do yourself a favor and verify with your bar review company that their MBE practice questions are up-to-date with the current MBE question format standards.  The last thing you want is to show up on July 28th and see questions that don’t look familiar!

MicroMash is one of the bar review companies that has updated its questions to the current MBE format.  We excluded “K-type” questions, our fact patterns no longer have multiple questions, and our answer choices have been updated so that there are no “none of the above” or “all of the above” choices in the options.  

Visit our blog at for up-to-date “MBE Questions of the Day” starting Friday, May 28th, 2010, to help you study for the bar exam.  In the meantime, stop by for other bar exam tips and tricks!
For more information on the recent changes to the MBE, please read “Recent Changes in NCBE’s Multiple-Choice Examination Programs” by Beth E. Donahue of the NCBE.

Dina S. Allam, Esq.
Academic Director, MicroMash Bar Review


How to Make Bar Exam Flashcards

There are two essential characteristics of good flashcards:  (1) they should be short and (2) you should create them yourself. 

If, however, you have ever used pre-printed flashcards with success or if you do not have time to make your own, there are lots of pre-printed options out there:

You may want to check out these products: (1) Bar Cards Complete Set (California and Multistate Subjects), (2) Kaplan PMBR: MBE Review Flashcards, (3) Passing The Bar board game based on the MBE, (4) Critical Pass, (5) Law in a Flash and (6) Dominate the Bar

As I have discussed earlier, I am a believer in making your own outline for each bar exam subject area.  You should not make flashcards until you have made your outlines.  Making your own outlines permits you to synthesize the material into a more manageable size in a format that works with your brain and temperament.  (If you do not want to make your own outlines, then use the commercial outline or an outline you got from a friend or online.)  Once you have your outlines, create flashcards as you conduct your review of your outlines during the first month of bar studies.  This way, you don't spend 10 hours straight making Con Law flashcards, but get your flashcards over a month or so.  In my opinion, you will learn more making your flashcards over a few weeks than you could absorb/learn if you forced yourself to create the flashcards in one marathon session.  In any event, you should have all of your flashcards done with at least one month to go before the examination.  This will give you plenty of time to memorize them.

How do you decide what to put on your flashcards?

As I stated above, the information should be brief.  So, you can put definitions, elements, "prongs", etc.  Never put some sort of long, drawn out analysis on a flashcard.  This will just freak you out and make studying cumbersome and ineffective.

For example, the front of your flashcard might say:  "Burglary -- Elements".  The back would say:  "(1) breaking; (2) entering; (3) the dwelling; (4) of another; (5) at night; (6) with intent to commit a felony therein."  Do not put a treatise about mens rea and intent on the same flashcard. 

When I took the PMBR course, it came with a large set of flashcards.  These cards had massive answers on the back.  It seemed like they were just reproductions of the famously wordy PMBR answer explanations (which are great, but not for flashcards).  I threw the PMBR flashcards in the recycle bin shortly after I received them.

Finally, be sure to note in a corner on the front of each flashcard what subject is being addressed by the card (e.g., Crim Pro; Real Prop; Evid; etc).  This way, you can keep your cards grouped by subject.  In my opinion, you should always study flashcards by subject.  To the extent the topics overlap, you should be able to practice this when you are writing practice "cross-over" essays.

How to memorize.

You probably have your own method for this.  I like to take a small number of flashcards (20-30) from a single subject and review them after I have spent a block of time studying that subject.  So, for example, if I have spent the last two hours writing practice Civil Procedure essays, I will spend 30 minutes reviewing and memorizing flashcards on this topic to solidify related content in my mind.

Another way to do flashcards is to have an MBE session.  So, for 2 hours, you review only MBE topic flashcards.  Then, you spend another two hours doing 50 MBE questions and reviewing the answers to them.  Reinforce your knowledge with different techniques in these back-to-back sessions.

Finally, during the last two weeks before the exam, you will have certain topics you know well and others that are more difficult.  Concentrate your efforts on flashcards from the more difficult subjects during these final weeks.  Of course, you will need to review the easier topics' flashcards periodically during this period as well to keep the information fresh.

[Photo: k4dordy]


How do I study for the Performance Exam Section on the California Bar Exam and how important is it?

The people over at Bar Exam Doctor have kindly provided me with a guest post about their product designed to help bar examinees do better on the California bar's Performance Test.  In the interest of providing bar examinees with as much information as possible about how to succeed on the bar exam, I am posting this for your information.  (Please note, I have received no payment for this post and will receive no payment if you decide to sign up for the Bar Exam Doctor service.) 

Without further ado, here is their post:

How do I study for the Performance Exam Section on the California Bar Exam and how important is it?

I’ve been tutoring students over five years now and one of the most common questions I am asked is…"how do I study for the performance exam section on my bar exam and how important is that part of the exam?"

One performance exam is equal to two essays and makes up 1/3 of your total bar exam testing time. Despite this, my experience in helping students prepare for the exam is that they pay much more attention to the essay and multiple choice sections of the bar exam to the exclusion of the performance test. This is a big mistake.

As a practitioner, I can tell you that a law clerk or first year attorney who can write a well researched and well written legal memorandum, brief, status letter to a client, or assist on a legal pleading or motion is extrememly valuable to a large firm and even more so to a small firm or sole practitioner.

The performance exam is designed to test your ability to organize, analyze, then write in a defined, and short, period of time (3 hours). There are various methods (which I teach my students in individual tutoring sessions) but the one thing that is not a secret but which is crucial to your success on the performance exam is repetitive practice!

We developed so that candidates preparing for the bar exam would have a place to go online, to practice writing performance exams, and to receive substantive feedback from well qualified graders!



How to Eat Right while Studying for the Bar Exam

Everyone has heard of the "Freshman Fifteen," which is supposedly the amount of weight that people pack on during their freshman year of college because they drink too much beer and eat too much pizza.  Well, if you are not careful, you can quickly gain weight during bar exam studies.  The stress and long hours can lead to bad eating habits and poor food choices, with the result that you not only gain weight, but lose energy and lack mental focus.

I will admit that both times I took the bar exam, I did not eat in the manner I am about to describe, but I wish I had.  (Instead, I relied far too much on coffee and green tea to keep me awake, if not alert.)  I discovered the following method of eating about five months ago.  Even though I was exercising, I was still flabby and low energy.  Then, I discovered this eating strategy.  After changing my diet but making no other changes to my routine or my exercise regimen, I lost 15 pounds and three inches off my waist in less than two months and I felt great and continue to feel great.  All this while working as a litigation attorney and trying to have a life.

The trick is that you eliminate all "fast carbs" from your diet.  "Fast carbs" really means any high glycemic index carbohydrates that metabolize quickly, leaving hundreds of calories unused and that turn into fat.  This is why even if you are eating healthy food (e.g., whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, etc) you can still pack on weight because of the high carbohydrate value.

Unfortunately, we all need carbohydrates to live.  So, change your diet to include "slow carbs."  These carbs are low glycemic index and take much longer for the body to metabolize.  Therefore, their energy lasts longer and you don't suffer from a "carb crash" an hour after lunch.  Slow carbs include beans and legumes, such as lentils.

Now, you need more than just beans to live.  So, you need to have protein and vitamins.  Therefore, you need to eat some sort of lean protein at each meal.  Examples include:  egg whites, lean chicken or beef, and fish.  You also need to get vitamins from vegetables.  But chose wisely, as some vegetables are high in sugar and therefore contain those fast carbs you are trying to avoid.  Good choices include:  broccoli, asparagus, chard (or any leafy green other than lettuce), brussels sprouts, peas, and mixed vegetables.

Okay, I know what you are thinking:  this sounds a bit boring.  Well, it can be.  What you need to do is mix it up with some spices and various bean and lentil varieties so that you have different flavors and textures.  Have an egg white omelet (you can include one egg for flavor) on a Wednesday instead of saving it as a treat for the weekend.

The key to this diet is that you need to eat at least five times per day to keep your energy up.  I realize this can be an inconvenience while studying for the bar exam.  So, let me suggest the following schedule:

Breakfast:  Eat a meal from the above-listed foods, combining a protein, a legume, and vegetables.
Snack during morning lecture:  Cold meat (chicken/beef/pork) salad with peas/broccoli and lentils.
Lunch:   Re-heat something in a microwave from a couple of days before.  If you want to go out to eat, make good choices.  If you have an El Pollo Loco near you, that is a good choice.  You can even order a hamburger without a bun -- weird, but effective.  Generally, on this diet, it is important to make most of your own meals.
Afternoon Snack:  (You can cheat a little here.  Maybe you aren't hungry, so skip the meal.  If you are only slightly hungry, maybe have a 120 calorie CLIF ZBaR -- super yummy and not exactly "slow carb," but close enough.)
Dinner:  Mix and match a protein, a bean/legume, and a vegetable.

Repeat the next day.

Finally, just like you should take at least one day off each week from studying for the bar exam, you should take one day off per week on this diet.  You will crave bread or rice or pasta, so have waffles for breakfast, Subway for lunch, and spaghetti with cream sauce for dinner.  Furthermore, those foods taste so much better when you only have them once a week.

Some favorite meals of mine:

--1/3 cup egg whites and one egg scrambled with herbes de provence; 1/2 cup of red beans; asparagus
--re-heated chicken; 1/2 cup black beans; mixed vegetables
--re-heated steak (cubed); lentils and broccoli mix
--put Trader Joe's Jalapeno sauce or other hot sauce/salsa on eggs and beans (no ketchup as it contains corn syrup)
(Also, note that I use egg whites, which you can buy in a carton . . . very convenient.  Trader Joe's has great prices if there is one near you.  And these are 100% egg whites, not artificial, low-cholesterol egg product that you can buy at supermarkets.)
--drink coffee/tea/water (no juice; don't drink calories)

--chicken salad (cubed chicken, lentils, and broccoli) (this can be warm or cold)
--carne asada (meat only, no tortilla) with beans and mixed vegetables (and lots of hot sauce or salsa)
--fish with red beans and asparagus
--omelet with beans and spinach/collards/chard/kale
--chicken/beef/pork with lentil and mixed vegetables

--Re-heat leftovers
--carrot sticks (lots of sugars, but still a vegetable)

Drinks:  (avoid drinking calories as much as possible)
--Coffee/Tea/Yerba Mate (if you must, diet soda)
--Kefir (small glass of protein packed dairy drink.  Super tasty, and the high protein makes up for the calories.) 

[Disclaimer:  I am not a nutritionist or a doctor.  All I know is that what I have just described works for me.  If you have any underlying health issues, you may want to check with your doctor or with a nutritionist or dietitian before you implement any of the suggestions above.]

[Photo:  matthewf01]
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