When it comes to the MBE, most anyone will tell you that practice is the key. But what do you do when your scores plateau or even start getting worse during your bar prep? First, know that you are not alone. In the weeks leading up to my bar exam my MBE practice scores took a dive, which induced more than a bit of panic. It can be stressful, but remember that you are not graded based on your practice exam average. Take your practice results for what they are worth—nothing (whether they are good or bad). That said, it is fair for the alarm bells to ring when your MBE practice begins going poorly all of the sudden. Here are five questions to ask when you feel like nothing is working:
1. What kind of MBE Practice are you doing?
Think about the type of practice you are doing. Depending on your study approach, your MBE practice question sets could be organized in any number of ways. Are they broken into subjects or are they mixed to mimic real test sections? Are they all timed like real exam sessions? Are they the length of a real exam? Some programs build from small, subject-based practice sections to longer, mixed sections. Appreciating how your system is presenting the material may help you to identify why your scores have suddenly dropped. If you can pinpoint a subject or a format that is giving you trouble that could be the first step to getting things back on the right track. (If you are looking for a way to improve, read Christen Morgan’s post 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your MBE Score.)
2. Are they Organized by Difficulty?
Apart from type of question and length of MBE practice section, some programs sort MBE problems in terms of difficulty, and they get harder as you move through the program. If this is the case, your “problem” may not be too much of a problem. If you are only working the toughest MBE questions for a given subject, your scores could reasonably slip. It would be great if your knowledge and exam skills improved to keep pace with the difficulty level, but odds are your success rate will slip if your MBE practice is organized in this way. Be sure to realistically assess yourself—maybe things are not as bad as they seem.
3. Are you second Guessing yourself?
As long as you have been taking multiple choice tests, people have likely told you to avoid second guessing yourself or that your first choice is likely the correct one. This maxim has its limits, especially with challenging MBE questions that require diligent, critical analysis, but take account of your psychological state. If you find yourself panicking when it is time to pick an answer and you are losing your composure, acknowledge this as a weakness to address. If you are second guessing your carefully deduced answer choice based on anything less than solid, well-reasoned logic, it may indicate that your stress level is the problem, not your content knowledge.
4. Are New Strategies Getting in the Way?
Exam taking strategies can be great tools, but don’t let them become stumbling blocks. Particularly for the MBE, everyone has non-content-based tips, tricks, and strategies. If you are having trouble, it can be tempting to go looking for a silver-bullet solution in a test-taking strategy. Once you have progressed beyond the halfway point in your preparation period, be wary of adding new strategies. When you get to test day, you want any strategy you are employing on the exam to be so second nature that it requires no thought to implement. Honing your technique is a main reason for plowing through so many practice questions in the first place. To upset your system by adding in methods late in your prep can often do more harm than good because it takes your mind off the law and is liable to throw off you legal analysis and pacing.
5. Do you have Strategies to Maintain your Confidence?
Hitting a rough patch in your MBE prep is like a slump at the plate in baseball. Take it from hall of fame manager Connie Mack –
“I have seen boys on my baseball team go into slumps and never come out of them, and I have seen others snap right out and come back better than ever. I guess more players lick themselves than are ever licked by an opposing team. The first thing any man has to know is how to handle himself. Training counts. You can’t win any game unless you are ready to win.”
You need to know your strategies, you need to know the law, you need to keep the right pace, but all of that can be canceled out if you lose your confidence. If you are slumping on the MBE, try to determine if there is something you can fix, but don’t give up hope. If you have prepared hard, you will pull through the slump if you can keep your head on straight and push through. If you lose your focus and upend your prep plan, you could be like one of those ballplayers that never came out of their slump. Trust your bar prep plan, don’t overly fixate on the slump, and hang on to your confidence. (For more on mindset, read Carolyn Negrin’s The Power of a Positive Mindset.)
Resist the urge to panic. Focus on what you can do to improve, address weaknesses, and keep your head up. MBE slumps are a normal part of the long bar prep process. If you maintain a positive outlook and keep confidently moving forward, you too will be able to attest that a temporary dip in your MBE practice scores did nothing to prevent you from passing the bar exam!