Answering MBE questions is a skill. Many bar exam takers rush through MBE questions to try to get through as many as possible in hopes they will see their score improve. However, if you want to see your MBE score improve, you have to slow down, dissect questions, understand exactly how they are written, and THEN start to speed up. Let’s talk about how to break down an MBE question!
Step-By-Step Approach to Attacking MBE Questions
- Read the call of the question (skim).
- Read the fact pattern actively.
- Determine the subject and the issue being tested.
- State the rule necessary to resolve the legal issue you’ve identified.
- Determine the answer without looking at the answer choices (if applicable).
- Choose the answer that best fits your analysis.
- Review the incorrect answer choices.
Step One: Skim the Call of the Question
This may give you an idea of what your subject is, or what specifically you are looking for in the fact pattern.
Step Two: Read the Fact Pattern Actively
Underline key words and phrases that you think are triggering the legal issue being tested. Pay close attention to details about people, places, and things
Step Three: Identify the Subject and Issue Being Tested
When you are taking the bar exam, all questions are mixed. Identify which subject is being tested (civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, or torts). Then, identify the legal issue being tested, but try to be as specific as possible to help you get to the correct answer. For example, if you are in the subject of real property, is it an adverse possession issue? An easement issue? The issue should not be “who owns rights to the land” but instead should be “did A have an easement by prescription to utilize the walkway?” Being able to identify the specific legal issue is crucial.
Step Four: State the Applicable Rule (yes, even when doing MBE practice questions)
State the legal rule applicable to the issue you identify in Step 3. When you are practicing, it may be helpful to write this rule down to see how well you can recite it. If you cannot remember the actual rule, look it up in your outline or materials and then write it down so that you are more likely to remember it the next time you encounter a similar question!
NOTE: If you are struggling with identifying the applicable issue and legal rule, you may need to spend more time understanding, processing, and knowing the material before completing more and more practice questions.
Step Five: Answer the Question Without Looking At the Answer Choices (no peeking!)
Without looking at the answer choices, answer the call of the question based on the rule that you just stated. Answering the question before reading the answer choices will prevent you from picking a deceptive answer that is intended to trick you. If you find that you need to look at the answer choices to discern the applicable law being tested by a question, you may need to spend more time understanding the rules that the particular question is testing.
NOTE (sometimes you have to peek): Some multiple choice questions are written in such a way where you HAVE to look at the answer choices to answer the question. For these types, you would need to discern from the answer choices to choose the best one (i.e., in which of the following scenarios would X be guilty of murder?).
Step Six: Fine the Correct Answer Choice
Find the answer that matches with what you came up with in Step 5
Step 7: Review the Incorrect Answer Choices
Read the other answer choices and explain why each one is incorrect. This will help you to feel more confident in your answer choice. And, it will test whether you really know the law.
NOTE: This approach will take you about 5-10 minutes per question at first. That’s okay. Right now, we are practicing questions with the goal to learn the law and to learn multiple choice test taking. The goal is not to simply answer as many questions as possible.
Next, we will go over what to look for in MBE questions and how to deal with certain MBE issues in Part II!
This is part of a four part series. See also Part III and Part IV.