If you’re planning to sit for the New York Bar – as a first-time or repeat taker – you need to be prepared for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). New York has joined a growing number of jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, that have adopted the exam. July 2016 will mark the first administration of the UBE in New York. Let’s compare the old New York State Bar Exam (NYSBE) and the UBE, and then consider how to approach preparing for the UBE.
Structure and Scoring
The final iteration of the NYSBE consisted of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), one Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and a New York section comprised of five essay questions and 50 multiple-choice questions. The exam was administered over two days, with the New York section and MPT on the first day and the MBE on the second.
The UBE consists of the MBE, two MPTs, and the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). The MPTs and MEE will be given on the first day and the MBE on the second.
New York has not eliminated its local law requirement. It has replaced the New York essays and multiple-choice questions with a mandatory, online course in New York law and an open book, online multiple-choice test. This is likely to make the New York portion of the exam easier than before, while shifting the focus of bar prep efforts toward the UBE.
This shift of emphasis is further supported by changes in scoring the New York bar. The UBE components will be worth more than before. The MBE was worth 40%; now it will be worth 50%. The MPT was worth 10%; now the two MPTs will be combined for 20%. The newly required MEE will be worth 30%. That equals 100%. What about the New York content?
The old New York essays were worth 40% and the New York multiple-choice questions 10% — so 50% of the old exam depended on New York law. The new online New York test will be scored separately from the UBE, with 30 questions correct out of 50 required to pass. This significantly reduces the weight given to New York-specific material.
If you’re taking the New York Bar for the first time, you’ll need to focus your preparation on the MBE, MEE and MPT. Fortunately, there is significant overlap between the content of the MBE and MEE; all the MBE subjects are also tested on the MEE, but the MEE includes additional subjects. While reviewing (or learning!) substantive law is critical, you also will have to work on strategies, including time management, strategic guessing on multiple-choice questions, and how to write organized, thorough essays.
The MPT is a self-contained exam that does not require any specific substantive legal knowledge. You will need to become familiar with its format and the bar examiners’ expectations for an effective answer. The best way to do this is by practicing a variety of MPTs and getting expert feedback.
If you’re retaking the New York Bar, begin your bar prep by assessing your strengths and weaknesses on each portion of the exam. If you struggled with the notoriously difficult New York section, the new exam may be more favorable to you. The material in the online course should be familiar, and the open book format should make it easier to pass this component.
Assess your performance on the MBE, keeping in mind that it will now be worth half your score. Focus on strengthening areas of substantive weakness and on your multiple-choice exam skills, such as time management and process of elimination when you’re unsure of the answer.
Assess your performance on the MPT. If you performed poorly on the MPT, try to determine why. Did you run out of time? Struggle with organization? Not follow the directions precisely? Were you thrown by an unusual drafting request? With two MPTs on the UBE, try to practice a variety of different types of MPT (memos, briefs, letters, “wild cards”) so you can increase your speed, organization, and comfort level.
The most significant change you’ll face is taking the MEE for the first time. This will require you to master the subjects not tested on the MBE: conflicts of law, family law, business associations, trusts and estates, and secured transactions (UCC article 9). It will also require you to develop essay-writing skills tailored to the MEE. While the old NYSBE required five essays of 40-45 minutes each, the MEE has six essays of 30 minutes each. The MEE essays tend to be open-ended, issue-spotting questions, posing broader questions than the old New York essays. The combination of broadly phrased questions and less time may require you to revise your approach to bar essays.
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