How to Achieve a Passing MBE Score on the California Bar Exam

Hello Bar Examinees!

Are you on target to pass the February 2019 Bar Exam?

I want to clear up a few things that most bar examinees fail to understand about the MBE section of the California bar exam.


The MBEs are difficult (gee, thanks Lisa, cuz I didn’t already know that . . . ) Everyone recognizes that the MBEs are difficult but, did you know that the passing MBE score for California is usually the highest in the country? Everyone takes the same MBE exam throughout the country (200 multiple choice questions administered by the NCBE). But, in many states a passing score is much lower than what is required in California or New York (typically the two most difficult bar exams in the country).

Over the years, bar prep companies have de-emphasized the practice of the exam. But, you should not underestimate the value of completing practice MBEs, essays and pts.

One of my students, who previously took a national bar prep course the first time she took the bar and failed, was told by her law school and her bar prep course that if she was getting 64% on her practice MBEs on Adaptibar (love their product, by the way) that she “was fine” because that was higher than the national average on Adaptibar.

Well, I can tell you that 64% in practice is not nearly enough. Her bar prep course told her she was fine and her law school told her she was fine. And, she went to a great law school and achieved high grades (made the dean’s list, law review, etc.) and yet she failed on her first attempt. I truly believe that she failed because she was misguided. Incidentally, she passed on her second time under my tutelage. She was bright before I met her. She simply needed the right information. Being told that getting a “D” is acceptable on your practice MBEs is very bad advice – at least for the California bar exam. On her first attempt she spent way too much time memorizing and reading and way too little time on the actual practice of the MBEs and of the written portion of the bar exam.

So what gives? Do I think her bar prep provider and law school intentionally mislead her and lulled her into a false sense of security? Of course not. But, neither of these resources (both of which she paid a lot of money for) had the right answers or the right directions. That is a problem.

Here is what I tell my students regarding the MBEs:

First, you need to utilize the right practice MBES.  Second, you need to achieve 85% in your practice. Yep, 85%! (More on achieving that 85% below).

How do I know whether I am using the right resource for MBE practice?

Use ONLY National Conference of Bar Examiner’s (NCBE) MBE questions. The reason why this is so important is because you want to get really good at the MBEs that are written by the authors who draft the real MBEs (the NCBE). This is incredibly important. You want to know what the National Conference of Bar Examiners deem is a “taking by force” such that a robbery has occurred. What facts do the authors of the MBEs say amounts to a taking by force? This is critical for you to know because, while the questions do change, what facts give rise to a taking by force do not change. If you are spending time on non-NCBE MBEs, you are not going to learn this.

Sources for real NCBE MBEs are:

1) the National Conference of Bar Examiners (the NCBE). The NCBE writes the MBE questions and also provides practice tests from actual released NCBE MBEs that you can purchase for a very reasonable price from their website at:  2) Strategies and Tactics for the MBE – this invaluable book uses only released NCBE MBE questions, has the best answer explanations available and includes an introduction to each MBE topic that explains things like how to interpret a “modifier” like: unless (and so many other modifiers). Also this book provides approaches to the MBE (appropriately named Strategies and Tactics) that go far beyond the substantive review that most examinees confine their studies to. 3) Adaptibar – I like Adaptibar. Like Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, Adaptibar utilizes released NCBE MBEs. Adaptibar can be a great way to supplement your MBE prep. Just remember, it is online and you will be filling in bubbles on the actual exam. So if you decide to utilize Adaptibar be sure to use it as a supplement to the Strategies and Tactics for the MBE book (they will have mostly the same questions, but the Strategy and Tactics book has much better answer explanations and that is how you will make permanent corrections on your MBEs). The two sources work well together.

Note: I do not have any financial interest in the above resources. Further, these are not the only resources available for the National Conference of Bar Examiner’s questions (other courses have a license to use the NCBE questions). But, these are the sources I trust and know the most about and can, without a doubt, recommend to you.

What else should you know?

1) Do NOT take the MBE portion of the bar exam without first using The Strategies and Tactics Book for the MBE. Of all available resources, this is the one that I think no examinee should ever attempt the bar exam without: Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, Volume I, by Walton and Emanuel, 6th Edition,

Note: I do not care too much for Strategies and Tactics for the MBE Volume II. This is one of those instances where less is definitely more. Instead, get Volume I and work through it multiple times (2 – 3 times). You can do this because the questions are limited to the released questions and there are only so many. Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, Volume I is a goldmine for examinees. It is why I was able to pass the bar exam on my first try (I read every line of it, completed every question and studied every answer) and it is why my students who use it and follow our instructions on how to use it, do so well. You can achieve 85% on the practice MBEs. And, in my opinion, you have to do this in order to have a good chance of passing the California bar exam. *I do not have any financial interest in any of the above resources.

2) Practice MBEs five to six days a week. If you are working full time, complete five MBEs  every morning. You can complete more on the weekends, but don’t wait until the weekend to work on MBEs. Even 3 – 5 MBEs in the morning before work, will keep you in the mindset for the MBEs. Then on the weekends, complete more. But, never abandon the MBEs because you have to go to work. Not able to compete MBEs in the morning? Then complete five or ten MBEs on your lunch break. It truly makes a difference doing even just a few MBEs each day because it keeps your head in the game.

4) Read all of the introductions to each topic in the Strategies and Tactics book and complete all of the MBEs in this book at least twice. Many of my students complete the book a third time and reach scores above 90%. I never see these students again – at least not for bar review.

5. A few words about the national bar prep companies and why I think they are partially to blame for examinees lack of success on the MBE section: 1) while courses like Barbri may include released MBEs from the NCBE (I know for a fact that they do), they also mix these up with MBEs that they have written – so you have no idea which MBEs are the released MBEs from the NCBE or which ones were made up by Barbri. 2) Some courses, even big ones, do not include any real, NCBE questions because they have either failed or been denied the license to use the real NCBE MBEs. Stay clear.

In my opinion, you simply will have little chance of passing the California bar exam without a very thorough practice of the actual, real NCBE MBEs.

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