The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is a difficult exam for law students to take. The difficulty doesn’t lie in the material necessarily, though the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility can be counter-intuitive at times, but rather, the difficulty is in everything that surrounds the MPRE.
The MPRE is administered three times each year: August, November, and March. The timing of the exam presents the first difficulty. Since most students take the MPRE prior to graduation, they are forced to take the exam either at the beginning or in the middle of the fall semester, or, in the middle of the spring semester. At each of these times students are busy with classes, extra-curricular activities and/or internships and externships. For students in their third year, often times there are the additional distractors of searching for a job as well as beginning planning for the bar exam; including preparation of their bar application. Given all of the tasks students are currently tackling during these times, it can be difficult to find the time to really study and focus on the MPRE.
Another difficulty presented by the MPRE is the subject matter itself. As I mentioned above, this difficulty isn’t in the material, but rather, the attractiveness of the subject matter. The fundamentals of legal ethics are relatively common sense. The difficulty with the subject, however, is two-fold. First, many students have not had any significant legal experience prior to taking their Personal Responsibility class at their school. This means that the subject matter is relatively abstract. Much like the Rules of Civil Procedure to the first semester 1L, the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility without the context of the complexities of lawyer-client relationships or the general practice of law can be confusing. Secondly, it is human nature for one to hold a positive image of his or herself. Therefore, when studying ethics, it is hard for the student to internalize the rules as there is a certain sense for the student that ‘this will never happen to me’ or ‘I would never do something “unethical.’” This combination can be difficult to overcome.
There are some other, lesser, factors at play as well. The MPRE is a few hours on a Saturday morning. If the 3L who is taking the exam in August doesn’t pass, there are a few more chances before graduation. And, at worse, there is another offering the month after the July bar exam. So, given the difficulties above and the seemingly unserious space the MPRE inhabits, students too often fail to approach the MPRE with the seriousness necessary to succeed on the exam. Not that students don’t think the exam is serious and are not respectful of the exam, generally, but that students are so distracted, and the material is so abstract, that it is difficult for students to get the motivation necessary to dive into the MPRE with the depth necessary for success.
But, with a little bit of serious attention and awareness about the MPRE, taking and passing the MPRE can be something each student can manage successfully on the first try. Here are 5 tips I tell students all the time to have success of the MPRE:
1. Build a Study Plan
The keys to success are less often found in the execution and more often in the process. So, building a simple study plan for the 3-6 weeks before the exam can help ensure that come game day, you are ready for the exam. In order to develop your study plan, you should know the basics of the exam you are taking. The Basics of the MPRE from the Bar Exam Toolbox are a good place to start. (Check out MPRE Basics Here). Your study plan should consist of 5-10 hours a week with a general focus on learning the material as well as practice questions. Considering the exam is on a Saturday, I have known many students to build this study time in 2 days a week, with one of those days being Saturday morning. That way, come exam time, their mind is built around the material. With any plan though, the success of the plan comes in the commitment. Blocking off study hours on your calendar each week and adhering to them will ensure that you have done the work necessary for success when it comes to actually sitting for the MPRE.
2. Map the Subjects Tested
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) does not hide the ball when it comes to the MPRE. They have a link on their website geared towards helping students prepare for the exam (Preparing for the MPRE). In addition to the having the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, they also have a document showing the scope and coverage of the subjects tested on the MPRE (MPRE Topics). This is a fantastic tool for building your study plan. Using this tool, you should not only build a checklist of subjects you need to know but also, you should be able to build your study schedule around these subjects and be allocating your study time according to the amount each subject is tested on the MPRE. There is plenty enough time in the 3-6 weeks prior to the exam to become familiar with each subject.
3. Know the Language of the MPRE
As you know by now, the law has its own language. Surely you’ve spent countless hours, particularly as a 1L, looking up words in Black’s Law Dictionary. Well, the MPRE also has its own set of key words and phrases and learning them can be the difference between being successful and having to take the exam again. Thankfully, the NCBE is forthright with this information. On the NCBE website, you can find a list of key words and phrases found on the MPRE (MPRE Key Words & Phrases). What makes this a particularly useful tool is that it tells you that many of the questions will use this terminology in the call of the question. So now, as you are studying the material, and implementing your study plan, you can begin to think about how you might be asked a question, and how to use these key words and phrases to help you think about finding the best possible answer.
4. Practice, Practice, and Practice
As will be the case with the bar exam, one of the most critical aspects of studying for the MPRE is doing as many practice questions as you can get your hands on. These questions have a unique structure and style, unique phrasing (see #3 above) and a certain rhythm to them that the most effective way to ensure success is to do countless practice questions. Having the knowledge of the material is not enough, you must practice the way in which you will be examined. Athletes and sports teams take all sorts of steps to try and replicate the game day or competition environment. Doing practice MPRE questions is the functional equivalent. But don’t stop at the questions, make sure you read the answers and understand not only the questions you answered incorrectly, but also the questions you answered correctly. Make sure your rationale is that of the examiners.
Practice questions are relatively easy to come by. Most of the commercial bar prep companies include for free (or a small fee) practice MPRE questions, as well as an outline. The NCBE also has two resources that I highly recommend. First, they have a short set of sample test questions, which can be found here (MPRE Practice Questions). Secondly, for the small fee of $35, the NCBE sells an MPRE Study Aid that includes a 60 question practice test that can be found here (MPRE Study Guides). There are also more Bar Exam Toolbox suggestions for Easy and Cheap study aids found here.
5. Take the MPRE in the same semester as Professional Responsibility
Most schools require, and each school offers, a class on professional responsibility. Most courses are based on the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility though some use the rules of the state in which the school is located. In either case, there are enough similarities and overlap that the most significant material will be covered. Now, for some this advice comes too late, but for others who have not yet taken their school’s professional responsibility class or the MPRE, I highly recommend this path. This is effective primarily to combat the difficulties articulated above. If you are taking a professional responsibility course, the motivation to study the rules and to prepare for the exam are baked into your motivations to be successful in your class. Furthermore, you will have the classroom and the professor to work through issues you are having with the material. And, the professor can help to make some of the abstract principals seem more real and communicate scenarios to show how even well meaning attorneys can find themselves in precarious situations.
The MPRE is a difficult exam. It is an exam that should be taken seriously. But, like the bar exam, it can be successfully managed with a good plan, good study, and good practice. It provides a nice insight into the type of strategy and dedication that will be necessary to take the bar exam but is approachable enough that if taken seriously it should be an opportunity to get some confidence. So, for those who have already taken the MPRE or for those taking it in just a few weeks, build a plan, hold yourself accountable and look forward to the exam AND the results.