If you have recently found out that you didn’t pass the bar exam, we are sorry that you are having to go through this. But as you get ready to study again, we want you to make the best preparation plans for you. To help you with this, Sean Silverman, an MBE expert, shares some tips on how to study to raise your MBE scores. Without further ado . . .
You frequently work with students who have had a bar exam failure. Do you have any advice for a student deciding how to study for the next bar exam after a failure?
The first thing, and this is perhaps more important than many people realize, is to put yourself in the mindset necessary to begin studying again. As difficult as it may be, that means putting behind any previous attempts, and only looking forward to the task ahead, passing the exam. I truly believe this to be an essential foundation for any successful attempt at repeating the bar exam.
Once you are mentally prepared to begin studying, you’ll want to take a day or two to organize the materials you intend to use for the preparation period. You might decide to use the same books you used previously, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but be sure to change your approach to studying if the prior attempt at the exam was not successful. If last time you spent most of your time reading outlines, consider writing flashcards for key areas of law. If you took a class last time, consider this time seeking a tutor to assist you, or taking a class other than the one you previously took. It’s very important to change your approach, even if slightly, so that you’ll have an opportunity to view the material from a new perspective.
Understand that the previous attempt was not in any sense wasted time, because you’ve built a foundation, and you will be able delve deeper into the material with that foundation in place. And as you begin to learn new concepts that did not register the previous time, your confidence will increase as you realize how much more prepared you’ll be going into the exam this time around.
When do you recommend that a student seek targeted help for the MBE? What is a score you should be “worried about”?
I believe that targeted help is most helpful to a student who has first had the opportunity to struggle a bit with the material. My advice, therefore, is for the student to seek out such assistance after having gone through all the testable subjects and tried some questions in each area. At that point the student will have developed an understanding as to which areas are causing the most amount of difficulty, and the tutoring sessions can focus, specifically, on those areas.
From my experience tutoring students, the students who gain the most from the sessions are those who know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and this will only be the case, if the student has first taken some time to work through the material. That said, if a student decides that tutoring is the route to take when preparing for the exam, the tutoring should start early enough to get through all of the testable subjects. I recommend that if a student is going to work with a tutor, the student should contact the tutor from 6-8 weeks prior to the bar exam so that there will be enough time to adequately work through the material.
In regards to scoring, a student should be concerned If his/her scores are consistently below that which is required to pass in any specific jurisdiction. We tend to perform on the exam similarly to how we perform while preparing (though the MBE is scaled up on the actual test), so it is cause for concern when the scores during practice are not at the level needed to pass. Of course, this is more concerning as the exam approaches, but bar prep lends itself to not having all that much time to review material that you’ve already covered, so you want to be competent in each area fairly early on in the process.
Many students struggle raising their MBE scores. What is it about the MBE that causes students to struggle? Is it that they don’t know the law or that they don’t know how to approach the question, or both?
I can say with certainty that it is both. You might recall from back when studying for the LSAT (assuming those memories have not been pleasantly repressed), that conditions were divided into two categories: sufficient vs. necessary. That division applies quite well here. Knowledge of the law is necessary for success on the MBE, but it is not sufficient. If a person wants to learn how to play Chess, studying the rules of Chess would be a prerequisite, but it’s doubtful that anyone would excel at Chess without applying those rules to some actual games.
To excel on the MBE, you’ve got to practice applying what you’ve learned from the outlines to practice questions. The MBE is both knowledge-based, and skill-based, and I advise students to practice questions in any given subject immediately after learning the rules that will be used to answer the questions in that subject. In other words, work on both components (gaining knowledge and practicing your skills at applying that knowledge) for one subject, before moving on to the next. As you study, you might realize that your knowledge of the law is where it needs to be, and yet you are still not meeting your scoring objectives. That’s a good indication that you’ll want to shift your focus to applying the law, as it’s likely that particular skill needs to be developed. On the other hand, it’s essential to realize that the foundation will always be your knowledge of the law, so if at any point you don’t feel confident in that respect, you must limit the practice questions until you gain mastery in any given subject.
When do you think a tutor can help a student with the MBE? How is working with a tutor different than using a review program, such as Adaptibar? Any other recommendations for MBE preparation?
I think much of this is determined by the individual learning style of the student, but I do value the benefits that personalized tutoring provides to a student. I’m of the opinion that personalized tutoring is an excellent choice for students who are independent enough to study without taking a formal bar-review course, but still want someone to turn to when inevitable questions come up throughout the process.
The difference between private tutoring, and a program like Adaptibar, is that tutoring provides the opportunity to ask questions and become active in the learning process, rather than simply receiving the material passively. As a bar exam tutor, I don’t think I can avoid the inherent bias I have in my praise of bar exam tutoring, but I do believe that personalized instruction from a competent, caring, instructor is an ideal setting not only for the bar exam, but for learning, in general.
Sean Silverman is an attorney and instructor for a New York based bar review company. Throughout his time tutoring, he has prepared students for the MBE and MPRE, as well as the state portion of the New York, and Florida Bar Exam. In addition, he writes a blog providing readers strategic advice for effectively preparing for the MBE, as well as providing an opportunity for readers to ask questions regarding any of the content tested on the MBE. Visit his blog @ http://www.mbetutorial.blogspot.com, and for tutoring inquiries contact him directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
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