When we’re preparing for the bar exam, we oftentimes overlook a key component of the exam: the Multistate Performance Test (“MPT”). With so much substantive law to memorize, the MPT can often be put on the back burner while we slog through hours of Real Property lectures and Civil Procedure flashcards. But the MPT is a critical component of your bar exam score. Depending on your state, the MPT can be worth nearly 20% of your total score.
While the MPT doesn’t require you know to a specific body of law like the rest of the exam does, it presents its own challenge. One of the core challenges of the MPT is the limited amount of time you have to complete it. In total, you have only 90 minutes to review the instructions, task memo, file, library, and draft a complete answer. With such a limited amount of time, coming up with a game plan for the MPT before exam day is critical.
One of the best—and easiest—ways to simplify your experience with the MPT is to properly review the task memo. The task memo appears at the outset of any MPT, and tells you exactly what you’ll be focusing on for the next 90 minutes. Below are key tips on reviewing and using the task memo to increase your MPT scores.
1. Thoroughly Review the Task Memo First
Before skipping around through the file and library, carefully review the task memo. The task memo sets you up with a realistic situation similar to what you’d be tasked with as a new attorney, and is typically introduced as a project to you from a more senior attorney in your organization.
The task memo will contain cursory background on a problem that your client or organization is facing and, most importantly, will tell you exactly what you need to do and focus on for the next 90 minutes. The file and library will contain a lot of material—some of which will be relevant to your answer, and some of which you simply don’t need. A careful reading of the task memo will ensure that you don’t fall victim to red herrings and information that’s outside the scope of what you need to complete.
2. Review the Form of the Work Product you’re Creating
Certain types of questions occur over and over again on the MPT, and the task memo will tell you which kind you’ve been lucky enough to get. The common types of tasks include the following: objective memo, persuasive brief, demand letter, and opinion letter. Then there are the less common types of MPT tasks, including drafting a closing argument or creating a basic contract for an imaginary client.
Reviewing the task memo will immediately orient you to the type of work product you’re creating and the format that your end product will have. If you’ve been tasked with an objective memo, know that your end product will require you to flesh out both sides of an issue without using persuasive terms. Conversely, if you’ve been assigned a persuasive brief, view the file and library with an eye towards crafting favorable arguments for your imaginary client. And if you’ve been assigned an uncommon type of task, such as a closing argument, know that the task memo will set out everything you need to do to successfully complete the task.
3. Using the Task Memo to Guide your Review of the Library and File
The task memo will orient what you’re looking for as you review the file and library. For instance, the task memo from an MPT from the July 2018 bar exam asks the examinee to draft the “Legal Argument” portion of the District Attorney’s brief opposing a defendant’s motion for a new trial. The task memo specifically states that there are three issues that need to be addressed: two issues regarding the prosecutor’s alleged failure to comply with Brady, and one issue arising under Franklin Rule of Evidence 804. Right there, you have explicit guidance on what to look for in the library and file. As you review the library, you’ll hone in on those requirements at issue under Brady and Franklin Rule of Evidence 804.
4. Make Careful Note of What the Task Memo Tells you not to do
Just as important as what the task memo tells you to do, the task memo tells you what not to do. For instance, a task memo will often tell you not to provide a statement of facts. Noting this will save you ample time as you go through the file and begin drafting. And if you do include something that the bar examiners specifically told you not to, you won’t receive a single point for any of that work, all while taking time away from racking up other points that are critical for you to pass the exam.
To prepare for the MPT, I strongly recommend completing at least one practice MPT per week leading up to the exam. Complete the MPT under real timed conditions so that you get a feeling for the timing of it. If you’re short on time or want additional practice, a great way to expose yourself to additional types of MPTs is to review and outline the task memo. By doing so, you’ll gain a broad understanding of the different types of tasks you may be called upon to complete. And just remember: a successful MPT answer starts with the task memo.