When you start to prepare for the bar exam, everyone will have opinions on everything from which bar to take to what to eat for breakfast before the exam. Some advice may make sense to you and some may not, but for facts about the bar exam itself, going straight to the source is a wise strategy. (Also advice you could ignore, but I wouldn’t recommend it.) Along with your jurisdiction’s bar, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is a key primary source.
The NCBE website, ncbex.org, has the information you will need to orient yourself at the beginning of your bar prep. For most applicants, some of the components of your exam, if not all, will be addressed by this site. The NCBE administers the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Along with telling you which jurisdictions have adopted which components, the website provides important hard facts you will need to craft a smart bar prep study plan.
Mastering The Acronyms
The MBE is a 200-question, multiple-choice component that tests your application of “fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze given fact patterns.” This is a six hour component. On the UBE, it accounts for 50% of the overall score. (Here is a podcast with tips for mastering the MBE.)
The MEE is a six essay question component that “requires the examinee to demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively in writing.” This component includes six 30-minute questions. On the UBE, it accounts for 30% of the overall score. (Here are some thoughts on how to approach the MEE.)
The MPT is a two question (task) component that tests your ability to perform “fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation.” For the MPT, the substantive law is given, but you must demonstrate “fundamental skills” expected of young lawyers like drafting a memo or a brief. This component includes two 90-minute questions. On the UBE, it accounts for 20% of the overall score. (Here are some tips to quick tips to remember for the MPT.)
What is Tested?
Beyond the structure and format, the NCBE offers some advice for preparing. Like the course syllabus in law school, if the person making the exam offers hints as to the exam content, it is smart to consider that when making your study plan. For each component, the NCBE provides a handy outline of subject matter that is fair game. This is a great place to start getting your exam prep schedule organized.
For the MBE, the outline is broken down into its broad subjects – civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts.
For the MEE, the outline covers business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, family law, real property, secured transactions, torts, and trusts and estates.
For the MPT – true to its substantive law-free promise – the outline does not include subject matter. Instead, it provides skills to be tested. Namely, it breaks down the following skills: problem-solving, legal analysis and reasoning, factual analysis, communication, organization and management of a legal task, and recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas.
Preparation Aids (Free and Fee)
The NCBE offers some samples and preparation materials for free. Clearly, the NCBE just intends to give you an idea of the structure and formatting because some of the samples are very old. Nevertheless, before deciding your preparation method for each component, take a look. It might give you a more informed opinion on how best you might prepare, be it through a bar prep service, a tutor, or otherwise.
The MBE section offers some sample test questions (with an answer key) and a collection of sample MBEs administered in the 1990s.
The MEE section offers sample questions, but no sample answers or analysis. However, it does include older administered MEE questions with analysis and scoring breakdowns.
The MPT section offerings are again different because of its unique format and objective. The NCBE offers “summaries” of past MPT’s that explain in paragraph form the task requested of the MPT examinee and the contents of the file, e.g., the examinee was asked to draft an objective memo about a workers comp claim and the file included memo instructions, an interview transcript, an email exchange, the claim, labor code sections, and two cases. The older, administered MPT’s provided include the actual questions, files, and point sheets.
The NCBE also has an online store. The store includes online MBE practice exams (which include annotated answers), MEE questions with analysis (in hard copy or download), and MPTs with questions and document files and point sheets(in hard copy or download).
While personally, I would not glean much from the NCBE’s detailed statistics, some might enjoy a quick glance at statistics from exams past. Although date-delayed, the website offers tremendously detailed statistical breakdowns of the components. I would venture to guess that the value of these to the average bar applicant is minimal, but for the statistics buffs out there, it is there if you want it.
But don’t take my word for it, go explore the NCBE’s site. You can relax and prepare more confidently if you take the time upfront to educate yourself on the basics of your bar exam. And who better to ask than the examiners?