Monday, September 24, 2018
The most recent bar results are reverberating throughout the country. The data collected and distributed by Nancy Reeves the past week is illuminating. From what I can tell, only 2 states currently have first-time pass rates at or above last year. The national MBE average is the lowest since the 80’s. Another round of complaints and accusations aimed at the MBE are starting, especially since scaling essays to the MBE magnifies the impact of the dropping score. My advice to students, ignore the chatter and start preparing now.
I love to complain about the MBE. I think the NCBE’s monopoly on bar licensing tests makes them unresponsive, and the lack of statistical specialists in testing at law schools makes combatting their perceived experts difficult. Supreme Courts’ skepticism of law schools’ motivation amplifies the problem. I believe the NCBE through changes to the MBE (25 non-scored questions, subject matter changes, Civil Procedure addition, style changes, etc.) have made the test harder than it has ever been, and they continually ignore well-established scientific principles (ie – cognitive load theory) that call into question the validity of current MBE scores. My beliefs could be 100% correct, but the reality is alumni still have to take the MBE on February 27th or July 31st.
If MBE complaints are valid, students should respond by starting preparation. In general, changes to legal education and bar exams take forever. The complaints of Deans, Law Schools, and alumni will most likely not change the upcoming exams. The arguments could be correct, which means the upcoming MBE administrations will continue to be difficult with possible lower scores. Students will need more questions correct to pass. I highly encourage starting now to prepare for a much more difficult test.
The MBE requires unique skills to pass the exam, but the foundation for passing the test is still knowledge of the law. Without an understanding of the law, getting to the right answer is more difficult. Both February and July takers can start now refreshing memory of the law. I suggest trying to get a big picture 10,000 foot view of each MBE subject. Knowing the organization or schema for each subject will provide the context to help memorize rules. I then suggest looking through material in highly tested sub-topics for each subject (ie – Negligence, Hearsay, Free Speech, etc.). Many bar review companies will provide early start lectures or outlines or both. Use the material to identify areas to work through.
Additional work throughout the semester is important for February takers. I suggest focusing on 1 subject per week by looking through the material suggested above, completing a few practice MBE questions, and issue spotting 1 practice essay question. The key is to get some of the law and see how it is tested.
July takers shouldn’t spend as much time this semester, but refreshing the law is a good start. My suggestion is to watch the short lectures or look at highly tested material for a short amount of time. The goal is not memorization that lasts for 10 months. The goal is refreshing memory of already learned law and understanding the schema.
The current tasks may be different for February and July takers, but my advice for both is the same. Now is the time to start preparing. If the MBE will be as hard as we all predict, then don’t wait to prepare for the test. However, don’t overwork and burn out now. My suggestion is only for 2-3 hours a week, but 2-3 hours over 7-8 weeks left in the semester can make a huge difference.
The hype and complaints may be true, but students will still be taking the bar in February and July. One ingredient for overcoming the difficulty is early preparation with hard work. To finish using a sports analogy (I couldn’t do a post without it), leave it all out on the field. Anything can happen on the bar exam, but if you can walk out of the room and say you did everything you could reasonably do to prepare, then that is what matters. Start that preparation now, and you can pass the bar!