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Your attention, please: 5 bar exam aspects first-time takers shouldn’t overlook

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Failing the Bar Exam

Each year, thousands of law students prepare to take the bar exam, including those who haven’t passed previously. When approaching the bar exam, many students are overwhelmed by the amount of material that they need to study for the exam. Students often spend a lot of time creating study guides, flashcards, and listening to lectures rather than spending the time to review the areas of law that sufficiently make up the exam. It’s important to create an effective study plan and recognize ways to maximize their chances of success.

Here are 5 areas law students shouldn’t overlook on their first try, along with some tips for future preparation:

Reason #1: Spending too much time studying one section of the exam.

Across the United States, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a standardized bar exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The exam is divided into three sections: the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).  The sections are weighted as follows:

  • The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is 50 percent of your overall score.
  • The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) is 30 percent of your overall score.
  • The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) is 20 percent of your overall score.

While the MBE is often the greatest portion of your overall score, a common mistake that students make when preparing for the bar exam is spending too much time on only one of the three sections. Many students will focus on the section that they are most nervous about and neglect to study the other sections. Each section of the bar exam is important, and students must do well on each section to pass.

Reason #2: Not focusing enough on the highly tested topics on the MBE sections.

One of the most common reasons law students do not pass the bar exam is not focusing on the highly tested topics that can maximize their chances of passing the exam. The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) consists of 200 questions, 25 of which are not scored, and focuses on seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contract Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Tort Law. The MBE tests your knowledge of these areas of law, but these areas are not tested equally.

The following are the most tested subtopics on the MBE exam:

  • Civil Procedure: Jurisdiction and Venue, Pretrial Procedures and Motions are the most tested subtopics under Civil Procedure. There are about 5-6 scored questions for each of these subtopics. There are about 2-3 questions for each of the remaining subtopics.
  • Constitutional Law: The most tested subtopic under Constitutional Law is Individual Rights with 12-13 scored questions. The remaining subtopics have approximately 4-5 questions each.
  • Contract Law: Formation of Contracts, and Performance, Breach, and Discharge are the two most tested subtopics under Contract Law. There are about 6-7 questions for each topic and the remaining subtopics have about 3-4 questions each.
  • Criminal Law & Procedure: The most tested subtopic under Criminal Law and Procedure is Constitutional Protection of Accused Persons with 12-13 scored questions. The remaining topics have about 3-4 questions each.
  • Evidence: Relevancy and Reasons for Excluding Relevant Evidence is the most commonly tested subtopic of Evidence with 8-9 questions. Following, Presentation of Evidence, and Hearsay and Circumstances of its Admissibility have 6-7 questions each. The remaining subtopics only have 2-3 questions each.
  • Real Property: This is the only section in which each subtopic is tested equally with 5-6 questions each.
  • Tort Law: Negligence is the most tested subtopic under Tort Law with 12-13 scored questions. The remaining subtopics have approximately 4-5 questions each.

While students should not neglect the other subtopics, it’s important to recognize these highly tested topics on the exam and prioritize them to maximize their chances of passing the exam, especially on the MBE as it takes up 40-50% of a student’s overall score.

Reason #3: Not focusing enough on the highly tested topics on the MEE sections.

The second portion of the UBE is the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). The essay portion of the UBE focuses on the same seven topics of the MBE in addition to the following: Business Associations, Uniform Commercial Code Article 9 (Secured Transactions), Conflict of Laws, Family Law, and Trust and Estates. According to past examinations by the NCBE and the frequency of topics, the following are just some of the highly tested essay subjects in order from most to least tested:

  1. Civil Procedure
  2. Contracts
  3. Agency and Partnership
  4. Corporations and LLCs
  5. Secured Transactions
  6. Evidence
  7. Trust and Future Interests
  8. Torts
  9. Real Property
  10. Constitutional Law

While the NCBE may choose from a variety of subjects, it’s important to recognize these highly tested subjects to help your chances of passing the bar exam. Creating an effective study plan that prioritizes these subjects, but still does not neglect the others, will help students’ efforts in preparing for the bar exam.

Reason #4: Passive studying, not active studying

When preparing for the exam, students often take part in passive studying rather than active studying and spend time understanding the topics more thoroughly. Oftentimes, students will listen to lectures, create study guides and outlines instead of putting what they are learning to more in-depth practice. Students should take time actively studying the material, creating a retention and memorization schedule to best help them know what is on the exam. Through understanding the highly tested topics and how this information will apply to realistic situations, students will be able to establish a stronger foundation for the MPT and essay portions of the exams.

Reason #5: Students are not practicing time management.

Lastly, many students don’t pass the bar exam on their first attempt due to a lack of time. Studying for the bar exam is a time-consuming process and many students do not understand how much time they have to devote to taking and preparing for the exam. Preparing for the bar exam takes roughly 400 hours, so students have to decide how to delegate their time. The time it takes for students to grasp what is required of the exam is critical and may influence other aspects of their lives, including work and their social life. In addition, students should figure out a study schedule that allows them to prepare, memorize, practice and find time to take care of themselves.

Preparing for the bar exam can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking, especially if it’s your second attempt. It’s a fact that not everyone passes the bar exam on their first try, and it’s important to recognize the reasons why students don’t pass and how you can maximize your chances of passing the bar exam.

Rich Grungo Born and raised in South Jersey, Rich Grungo graduated from Rancocas Valley Regional H.S. in Mt. Holly. After receiving his undergraduate degree at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. he attended law school at Rutgers University School of Law. Mr. Grungo is a member of the New Jersey Association for Justice, Pennsylvania Association for Justice, Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association and Philadelphia Bar Association. Rich Grungo lives with his wife and 3 children in Burlington County, New Jersey.