Die, National Board of Law Examiners

I’ve been gone for over two months. I spent my entire summer preparing for the bar exam, which I finally took last week. God willing, I passed.

The thing is, I felt screwed over by the Multistate Bar Exam. So did most other people I talked with. The MBE is a 200-question multiple choice nightmare, taken in most states, that supposedly tests your knowledge of Contracts, Torts, Property, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Evidence. In Pennsylvania, it’s particularly helpful to do well on this exam, since the better you do on the MBE, the more points you can afford to lose on the essays.

I shelled out several thousand dollars and spent the summer doing between four to five thousand MBE practice problems. My scores were pretty good–I was ranging in the 70% range by the end of July. (70% isn’t great, but for bar purposes, it was all I needed.) Thing is, when I took the actual MBE, the vast majority of the questions were NOT what most of us were expecting. Typically, for example, they’d ask you a dozen questions dealing with the hearsay rule in evidence. I’d swear that this time around, I saw maybe 4 hearsay questions. Largely, the MBE tested on things that neither I nor most other reasonable law students would have bothered studying–odd things like judicial standards of admissibility–in part, because our bar review courses had told us what to focus on, based on past exams.

I feel like crap about the bar now, and I’d be lucky to pass. Some friends of mine and I came up with two theories as to why the exam was so weird this time around:

  1. The bar examiners are trying to keep down a glutted job market. They’ve made the test difficult enough to ensure that a certain number of people fail, thus slowing down job entries. Fabulous. Look, idiots, it doesn’t matter whether or not I’ve got a license: if the market doesn’t want me, it won’t hire me. At least let me GET MY LICENSE so I can do pro bono work until the market gets better. I’ve spent over $80,000 in legal studies in a three year period, and I don’t need to have that wasted simply because you want to make the market more “comfortable.” Especially since getting my license MAKES NO DIFFERENCE.

  2. The bar examiners decided to go war with PMBR. PMBR is a bar review course that specializes in MBE studies. They don’t charge a ridiculous amount, and they give you an assload of practice problems to occupy you throughout the summer. (They actually make them harder, so that you have an easier time with the actual test.) Thing is–PMBR geared themselves toward the old test that had questions you’d expect. We suspect that the bar examiners got sick of PMBR telling students how to pass the exam more easily, and decided to up the stakes.
    Again, if this is the case, I’m pissed off. Given that people don’t learn everything they need to in law school, I found this course very helpful–not just for passing the exam, but also for understanding substantive law. (I.e., I never took First Amendment law in school–this course gave me a decent overview.) Why they’d defy this actual education to test on obscure points is beyond me.

My overall point: if I failed the bar exam, it’s the National Bar Examiners’ fault. I realize that some might point the finger at me for having not studied enough, but believe me, I’ve sacrificed my entire summer and studied 12 hours a day only to be devastated when it came to testing time. They sprung something completely unexpected on me, and I though it was a load of crap. I wish they, their employees, and their decendants for a thousand generations would all get the worst case of groin beetles imaginable.

I feel your pain. I just graduated law school at the end of July, and I’m signing up to take the Bar Exam this coming February (2004). I’ll take PMBR and BarBri courses as I get closer and start studying on my own in the meantime, but I don’t have a job lined up so I have no idea how I’m going to pay for them. It sounds from you and several of my friends who just took this July Bar that it was really bad, and they all felt unprepared.

If it helps at all, I wish you the best of luck.

Taking it in February too.


Hope you did well, Res.

I’m sorry, but this is a load of crap. The MBE tests discrete knowledge in six areas of the law. The MBE examiners are not obligated to test those areas in a particular fashion; they are only obligated to test those areas in such a way that the candidate’s knowledge of the law is accurately measured. That is, after all, the whole point of examining candidates for admission to the bar.

If you should be pissed at anyone, it should be at the bar review courses to whom you or your future employer paid good money that failed to anticipate and prep you for changes in the exam format.

Having said that, I’ve taken and passed the bar exams of two states: New York in July 1999, and Texas this last February. When I sat for the New York exam, I noticed that the MBE questions were very similar to the practice exams I was given as part of my bar review course, but when I sat for Texas many of the questions, while addressing the same topic areas, were quite different in their phrasing and approach. I think it is clear that the NCBE is changing the test.

And frankly, those changes are probably a good thing. PMBR makes you take a zillion questions, such that you barely needed to read them when you actually sat for the exam – the questions were so close to what actually appeared on the MBE that a prepped examinee could virtually take the exam on automatic pilot. Now an examinee actually has to think about the question and use his knowledge of the law to answer it. That makes the exam better in my book.

At any rate, if you studied hard you probably needn’t worry. More people pass the exam than fail it, even in a high-failure jurisdiction like New York. A year from now you probably won’t remember why you made such a big fuss over that lil’ ol’ test.

Why am i reminded of Tom Paxton’s One Million Lawyers (and other disasters)?

The study course didn’t match the test - and you’re pissed at the TEST?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Your user name is actually quite telling…

Agree. If you took a well-known bar review course and studied reasonably hard, you’ll most likely finish with the pack and pass with the pack. For what it’s worth, I vaguely remember people having similar complaints about the MBE when I took it 6 years ago. As I recall, there were two areas that were overrepresented. But I can’t remember the details, I can’t remember what score I got, all my classmates passed, none of us remember or care.

Just an aside: this makes me feel like an old Doper. I remember when you were posting threads asking for advice on going to law school!
As far as the test goes, the continual conflict between test prep companies and testing companies probably makes for a much stronger educational system overall. The alternitive is having the testing companies own the prep companies and at that point you really would be able to pay to pass.

Like others, it seems to me you should be mad at the bar review course for giving you the impression that they had all the answers. I took the exam and didn’t feel that it covered topics not covered by BarBri, but then again I studied so little that I can’t really claim to know what BarBri taught. I did feel that the NY portion included very obscure questions not covered by BarBri, which made me wonder whether the examiners studied the BarBri outlines and lectures and deliberately tested on subjects not covered. That seems like an assholish thing to do, given that almost none of us studied those subjects in law school. I’m going to be shocked if I passed, since I probably studied a total of 50 hours, plus about 100 hours in class. My entire knowledge of evidence and criminal procedure came from watching Law & Order! I seemed to be posting here a lot around mid-July, which is not a good sign. I responded to a few legal questions, which made me feel a little less guilty. :slight_smile:

Res sorry your feeling down about your exam. Hopefully Dewey Cheatem Undhow is right and all your studying will pay off. I’m crossing all crossables for you and sending up some prayers as well.


Are these bar exams open or closed book?

How many days of examintaion?

Do you take a bar degree in addition to a law degree, or do you simply write the bar exam based on what you gleaned from your law degree?

If it makes you feel any better—and it won’t—it justifies all that time you thought you were studying unimportant minutae. Thank goodness I knew about strict liability for wild animals.

The Bar Exam Sucks. Always.

I made it on the first try, but thought I got screwed on the Florida section. (Lots of judicial minutae) That might help.

Closed book. **

It varies from state to state, but typically two to two-and-a-half days.

One full day in every state is the Multistate Bar Exam, which is what the OP is complaining about. It is a multiple-choice test on six general topic areas: Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law/Procedure, Evidence, Torts and Property.

New York is a two-day exam. The second day involves a short multiple-choice test on New York civil and criminal procedure, and several essay questions covering New York law.

Texas is a two-and-a-half day exam. There is a full day of essays on Texas subjects. There is also a half-day involving the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), in which the examinee must draft a contract or pleading or brief or some other document that lawyers commonly create in the course of ordinary practice, as well as a short-answer section on Texas procedure.

Length != difficulty. I thought the New York exam was tougher, mostly because there are a lot more potential areas tested on their essays, and because they don’t use the MPT (which is a pretty easy thing to rack up points on – it doesn’t really require studying at all, so long as your drafting skills are up to snuff).**

It isn’t a bar “degree.” The bar exam is used for licensure of new attorneys – it is a test given by the state to ensure that the attorneys practicing within the state know enough law (particularly state-specific law) to be effective practitioners. It is, in essence, the state testing you to be sure you know enough stuff to practice law.

As a practical matter, you must have a law degree to sit for the bar exam in any state (there are some archaic exceptions to this that are almost never used). This is why most applicants take the July exam – they graduated from law school in May. Most folks sitting for the February exam are people who failed the exam the first time, or people (like me) who were already licensed in another jurisdiction.

One state – Wisconsin, IIRC – doesn’t require that you sit for their bar exam if you went to one of their state law schools (e.g., the University of Wisconsin). Other than that, you have to sit for the exam to be licensed in the state where you want to practice (experienced attorneys can “waive in” to some states without sitting for the exam – for example, if I had waited five years, I could have waived into Texas – but you’ve always got to take the exam for your first state of licensure).

Thanks, Dewey. That’s ineresting.

BTW, in Ontario, the bar exams are open book, and each major subject area is rigorously covered in a separtate multi hour exam at the end of the courses in that subject area.

Once finishing law school at university (LL.B./J.D.), students then do a year of articling/apprenticing and about half a year of courses and bar exams through the Law Society to get a Barr.L.

Here in Ontario the Law Society of Upper Canada was teaching law and offering law degrees long before universities got into the game, so students now find themselves going to school twice for law degrees before being called to the bar.

On its face, it might appear redundant, but in reality, it is a pretty good system. The university LL.B/J.D. covers policy and theory, helping students see the forsest rather than bumping into trees. The Law Society Barr.L. is much more practice and procedure oriented, teaching students what they actually need to know to get the job done.

Most states. Washington, at least, doesn’t use the MBE. We just had 18 essay questions for two days on substantive law, and another 6 the third day on professional responsibility.

I do know how the OP feels. After going through the corporations section, BarBri swore to all of us “They’ve never, ever asked an LLP question, so don’t give that a second thought.” And there was only a line or two about them in the review books. So, most people I know (including me) barely did. And then panicked completely when one of the essays was entirely about them, and we had to write a full essay about how to apply the laws (that we didn’t know) to the facts given.

Still, not the examiner’s fault. There was fair notice that it could have been on the test - same, as it seems, with the MBE this year.

You should sue! :stuck_out_tongue:

That’s a pretty good definition of the life of a litigator. :stuck_out_tongue:

Fair 'nuff. According to the NCBE, only two of fifty states do not use the MBE, Washington and Louisiana (neither does Puerto Rico). I’m not surprised that Louisiana doesn’t use it since they have that crazy-assed civil law system, but I’m surprised Washington doesn’t.

In fact, what does Washington have against the NCBE? They don’t use any of their tests, including the obscenely easy Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). The only other jurisdiction that disses the NCBE that hard is Puerto Rico.

FTR, the MPRE is a half-day (IIRC) test on professional ethics that you have to pass in order to be admitted to the states that require it. It is given separately from the bar exam. Unlike the bar exam, you only need to take it once (I think your score becomes “stale” after a certain number of years, though); the NCBE will send your scores to whichever states you ask them to for a nominal fee. Also unlike the bar exam, you don’t have to have a law degree to sit for the test – I sat for it my third year of law school, which is pretty common. It is ridiculously easy – I went to a half-day prep class, studied for an hour or two on my own, and got a score well above passing for pretty much every state in the union.

I also note that New York now uses the MPT; I guess that’s a recent change to their test format.

Thanks to everyone who responded, even Dewey, who reminded me that PMBR was tooting its own horn a little too much.

For the sake of clarification: I took both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bar exams, giving me a total of three days. Pennsylvania covers roughly 20 subject areas, including the multistate subjects. I found BAR/BRI pretty helpful for Pennsylvania’s essays, at least in the substantive outlines they provided (their lectures were videotaped and most of them were absolutely useless). Pennsylvania’s essays were relatively straightforward, and it all came down to whether the question triggered a certain legal term in your memory. To be honest, some of PA’s essay questions were too easy; one question was about whether a private actor’s behavior could be considered unconstitutional (the answer was a blatant NO: state action doesn’t generally apply to individiuals, and definitely not in this case); and another was on whether you could put a restraint on alienation on a fee simple (again, blatant NO). I felt good about the essays, and I’d be surprised if I got below a 15 out of 20 on each.

New Jersey’s essays are a little weirder. Jersey only tests the multistate subjects, but they tend to either hide issues or test on obscure points. Additionally, they want you to gear your answer towards a specific audience: i.e., one might be a letter to a client, while another is to a judge, so the former has to be less formalistic than the latter. Jersey is a crapshoot: I honestly don’t know how I did there.

Oh, and to those of you taking the bar in February, I’d recommend taking it on computer if you can. PA let me; Jersey didn’t. I felt that the quality of my essays was much better in PA, since I was free to move text or delete errors. In Jersey, my wrist hurt like hell after an hour, and my handwriting is terrible (I printed most of the time, of course).

That sounds like regular law school exams to me. Are you sure they’re called “bar exams”?

I have lots of foreign trained lawyer friends, and though I haven’t done a complete survey of legal education, the U.S. system is pretty unique. Canada is the only other country that offers law degrees as graduate J.D. degrees.

I always wondered why lawyers in the U.S. have to be trained while on the job instead of instituting some kind of formal apprenticeship program like in medicine. The bar exam doesn’t really test the knowledge and skills necessary to be a lawyer. I consider it just another hoop they make you jump through.

I’m sure. Been there, seen it, surfed it.