As the end of February looms, many law students across the country are in a state of frenzy. They are emerging from their three-month self-quarantine with lecture-fatigue, bar-prep books, and flashcards by the hundreds. As a successful first-time bar taker, here is the advice I would like to offer ahead of the February exam date.
Know thy Enemy (Bar Exam)
Ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu once said, “Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”
It may sound corny, but this exam is a battlefield and you are the general on the field. You know your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else, and you need to play to your strengths to pass the bar. If you have studied the material, learned the tricks, and been consistent – you will succeed. If you have studied occasionally and rely on your previously attained knowledge – you are taking a big risk. Every single point and half point counts (one point may end up being the difference between being able to practice in your jurisdiction of choice or not)!
Keep in mind that the UBE is comprised of the following three sections, weighted as follows: Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) 50%, Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) 30%, and Multistate Performance Test (MPT) 20%. UBE total scores are reported on a 400-point scale with jurisdictions set their own minimum passing scores for the UBE (Illinois is currently at 266).
Be Prepared for the MBE
The MBE is the largest section on the UBE, and you must be prepared to quickly bounce from topic to topic in your rolodex of legal knowledge. Here are some upcoming test day tips for the MBE:
- Keep an Eye on your Time. Pick an answer within the 1.8-minute time limit and then move on! If there are questions you want to go back to later, mark them for later. Each question is weighed the same, so don’t waste your time dwelling on difficult questions – they will not dictate whether you pass or fail.
- Keep a Steady Pace. As soon as you start, keep track of your pace while taking the exam. If you plan on using the full time, the following intervals are a good guide for keeping pace:
|Questions Completed||Time Marker|
|Question # 25||45 minutes|
|Question # 50||1 hour 30 minutes|
|Question # 75||2 hours 15 minutes|
|Question # 100||3 hours|
- Have a System to Transfer Answers (AND DON’T LEAVE IT UNTIL THE END!). Your bubble sheet will be separate from the answer booklet. Make sure you have a working system in place to transfer the answer choices from the booklet to your bubble sheet as you go. I would advise transferring two full pages of answers at a time as you go along. Only deviate from this method if you are running low on time because every single answer matters.
- Answer Every Question. This is a no brainer. Scores are calculated by the number of correct answers – points will NOT be subtracted for incorrect answers. Therefore, make sure you answer EVERY question – and that also goes for if you have 1 minute left on the timer and 10 unanswered questions, pick a letter and bubble something into all the remaining bubbles. Statistically, you have a good chance of getting at least one or two of those right, and you need those points. Remember, every point and half point matter.
- Remember to Breathe. This test is stressful. If you need to take a moment, go use the washroom, and recollect yourself – do that if it will help you power through the rest of the exam.
Be Prepared for the MEE/MPT
The MPT/MEE are similar in formatting. You are typing or writing your answer choices based on the prompts you are presented.
- Know the Law. You have been studying for the past 2-3 months for this exam and you know the law. Read the questions carefully and apply your knowledge to the fact patterns presented. For the MEE you just need to apply your knowledge, for the MPT you need to stick to the library and use the law given to you.
- Use Common Sense. The bar examiners mainly want to make sure they are not releasing a complete barnacle into the legal profession. If you don’t remember the specific law that the question is looking for, make up something that seems reasonable. Don’t make up laws for your entire exam, but if you do not recall something specific, come up with a reasonable alternative. You will, at the very least, get points for the application of the law to the fact pattern.
- Don’t Be Committed to the Order. Be sensible about your time, but take 30-60 seconds to skim through the question booklet. Start on the question about which you feel most confident. You can reorder your essays ahead of time depending on your preference, but just make sure you write your answer in the correct space.
- Answer Every Question. Just like the MBE, every point counts. If you draw an absolute blank, rely on IRAC/CRAC/etc. to restate the call of the question, and then do your best with the remainder. Even if you answer with the bare minimum, you can still earn points – and every point counts.
UPLOAD YOUR TEST ANSWERS
I cannot emphasize this enough. Either stay in the testing center until you have uploaded your answers or make that your first priority when you get home. Do not (repeat, DO NOT) take a nap first thing when you get home, wake up at 3 am in a panic, and realize that you haven’t uploaded the answers to your 2-day, mentally and physically exhausting, exam.
It’s OK to Fail
We began with Sun Tzu and we will end on Winston Churchill’s saying that, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, how smart you are, or how hard you study, you may fall short – and that is okay. Sometimes this even happens more than once. I know an attorney that failed the bar exam seven times – but he finally passed on his eighth try. There will always be a light at the end of any dark tunnel. The bar exam results do not define your tomorrow, so take solace in the fact that you can regroup and try again.
Best of luck to everyone taking the bar exam and feel free to reach out if you need any last-minute tips, tricks, or simply some reassurance that you can make it through.
About the Author:
Before pursuing a legal career, Natalie spent several years in the microbiology department at Evanston Hospital where she conducted comparative research studies, performed quality control testing, and worked on state-of-the-art medical device technology. After doing a swift 180 and finding law as her true calling, Natalie focused her efforts into intellectual property.
Natalie received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology, with a minor in Biostatistics from Loyola University Chicago. She earned her law degree from UIC School of Law and she is currently working as an Associate at Advitam IP LLC, where she handles a variety of IP matters including trademark litigation, copyright infringement, and other IP-related disputes.