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 scores 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
1. Read the call of the question (skim).
2. Read the fact pattern actively.
3. Determine the subject and the issue being tested.
4. State the rule necessary to resolve the legal issue you’ve identified.
5. Determine the answer without looking at the answer choices (if applicable).
6. Choose the answer that best fits your analysis.
7. 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 keywords 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. 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. 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: 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 – Find the correct answer choice. Read the answer choices and select the answer choice that comes to the correct conclusion based on the law(s) you identified.
Step Seven – 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.
What Do You Look For in MBE Questions?
• Focus on the parties’ relationships and interactions
• Look for the facts that are embedded in the fact pattern to raise legal issue arguments.
• Read for keywords, which are often adjectives, such as “oral” or “written,” and adverbs such as “deliberate” or “intended.”
How to Deal With Certain MBE Issues
• Negatives: A few questions may have negatives in the facts, the call of the question, or the answer choices. This means that the correct choice becomes the worst, least helpful, least likely, or most false alternative. For example, “Which argument would be the least helpful as a viable defense?” Reason very carefully through the answer choices and reverse the polarity of the normal frame of reference. A true-false approach is often helpful when dealing with negatives. You can evaluate each answer choice by asking, “Is this statement true or false?”
• Absolutes: Be on alert for sweeping exclusionary words such as “all,” “always,” “none,” “never,” and “under no circumstances,” or “solely.’ An answer containing such words is so broad that it is unlikely to be correct. ALWAYS ask yourself: is there any exception? If the answer to that is yes, then you can eliminate this answer choice. A more narrowly stated and inclusive alternative is preferable.
• Modifiers: Certain modifiers in answer choices can impact the answer choice being correct or not. Many answer choices begin with the conclusion (i.e., Yes, or Plaintiff will prevail). It will then be followed by a conditional or limiting modifying word (because, since, if, only if, or unless) and a statement of supporting legal reasoning or rationale.
o “Because,” “Since,” or “As” ⇒These conditional modifiers usually indicate that the rationale that follows is legally necessary to satisfy the conclusion. The reasoning must be consistent with the facts given in the question, and the reasoning must also resolve a central issue in the question.
o “If” and “Only if” ⇒ This limiting modifier indicates the rationale that follows need only be POSSIBLE under the facts and it is not required to be totally consistent as in “because” or “since” answers. The “if” modifier can, and often does, go beyond the given question facts to create a more compelling factual argument to support the legal conclusion. This modifier also requires you to reason through the other three alternatives to be sure there is not a better “if” argument.
o “Unless” ⇒ This conditional modifier usually is followed by a rationale that addresses more required legal elements than the other modifiers. The “unless” reasoning can reverse the general rule outcome or provide a missing element. It MUST be necessary for controlling principles of law to apply. In other words, if there is any other way the rule can occur, an “unless” alternative is incorrect. Reason through all the other answer choices to make sure there is no better argument.
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Some More MBE Tricks and Things to Remember
• The One Point Rule: Some MBE questions contain very challenging subjects (e.g., future interests or the Rule Against Perpetuities). It may not be efficient to spend the time necessary to totally analyze every detail. Every question is worth one point and you still may be uncertain after expending considerable time and effort. By eliminating wrong answers you can usually reduce the choice to two viable alternatives.
• More Encompassing Answer: Remember that a correct answer must contain all of the required elements and reasoning of the governing black letter law necessary to be the best choice. This concept favors a more detailed and longer alternative over a shorter, fragmented choice. You want to choose the answer with a complete rationale, utilizing as much of the applicable rule as possible.
• Central Issue: Generally, the more precise the answer focuses on the question’s central issue, the better the choice. This is why it is important in the step-by-step MBE question process to pick out the specific central issue in the question.
• Easier to Prove: An answer choice that is easier to prove is preferable over one with more complicated legal requirements.
• Opposite Answers: If two of the four alternatives are directly opposite, one of the opposites is likely to be the best answer. This tip would also apply if a similar rationale supports opposite answer outcomes.
• Two Subjects: An answer choice that includes another legal subject from the one that is being tested is usually wrong. Multiple choice questions infrequently have cross-overs between subjects, so no answer containing two legal subject areas is likely the correct answer.
Eliminating Wrong Answers
1. Legal Rule Misstatement: the statement of the rule is wrong or incompletely states the legal principle at issue (e.g., a key requirement of the rule is intentionally omitted).
2. Factual Omission or Misstatement: the facts required to support the choice are not stated in the question’s fact pattern. For example, say an answer choice has to do with the “firm offer rule” in contracts. However, the facts are silent as to whether a party is a merchant. This would be a factual omission. An answer choice’s facts may also clearly go beyond what is required by the question. Further, occasionally, the facts of the alternative directly contradict the facts in the question.
3. Legal or Factual Irrelevancy: The law or facts in an answer choice are accurate, but do not focus on the central determinant issue of the question. For example, the question involves an element of the law that Plaintiff must prove to establish a prima facie case, thus avoiding a summary judgment of dismissal or directed verdict, but the answer choice focuses on less relevant facts that do not focus on the dispositive facts in the question.
4. Misapplication of the Rule to the Facts: The answer choice may have the correct rule it’s applying, but it incorrectly applies it to your given facts.
The Ultimate Guide to the UBE
This Guide covers it all – from the basics of what is tested on the UBE, to the best ways to personalize your bar exam study, to the most important of all – how to maximize your score on each of the three sections of the UBE.
How to Study for the MBE
• Quality over Quantity: It has a lot to do with the quality of your study, rather than the number of practice questions you do. If you’re just doing questions for the sake of doing them, and not taking the time to slow down and learn from the questions, then you are not effectively studying.
• Track Your Progress: In order to increase your MBE score, you must track your progress and performance and target your weak areas. It is helpful to utilize an MBE tracker chart when studying for the bar exam (see sample attached). It’s not only important to track which subjects or rules you do not know, but it is also critical to track WHY you are getting questions wrong so that you can slowly increase your awareness and skills to strengthen your performance.
• Practice Section By Section: When you are just beginning to work with multiple-choice questions, it is helpful to practice them in sections. For example, say you just finished your evidence lecture when studying for the bar. First, practice relevancy multiple-choice questions, then practice hearsay multiple-choice questions, and so on. This will allow you to slowly become more accustomed to multiple-choice questions within each topic in a subject.
• Always Mix. It’s important to practice multiple choice questions by subject, but it’s equally important to practice mixed subject questions. Taking an exam and answering questions testing multiple subjects is a different and unique skill set. You have to train yourself to be able to switch through different subjects every two minutes or so. For this reason, it’s always important to incorporate the mixed practice into your studying.
• Don’t Let Old Subjects Be Old Subjects: When you’re studying for the bar and practicing MBE questions, always incorporate what you’ve already study after you move on to new subjects. If you studied torts in week one, you still want to be reviewing and practicing it in weeks three, four, and so on. You want to practice spaced repetition in your bar study – always reviewing what you’ve already reviewed and always practicing what you’ve already practiced. Students who study this way are the most successful on the bar exam.