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Special notice: I've been contacted by a 2009 July bar exam candidate who is not taking BarBri but would be interested in getting together with study partners. If you are similiarly situated, or are interested in adding a diligent student to your study group, shoot me an email and I will put you in touch.
THE TEXAS BAR EXAM
There is much misinformation floating around about the Texas bar exam, so the goal of this section of our web site is to (i) set expectations about the bar exam appropriately; (ii) give you a heads-up on things you can do early on; (iii) suggest study methods that worked for us; (iv) advise on study practices to avoid; and (v) provide a little reassurance. I've subheaded this page in a way that I hope makes sense; here are the sub-sections:
1. Myths and urban legends about the
2. Overview of what the bar exam consists of, where it's held, etc.
3. The BarBri bar prep course
4. The PMBR multi-state prep course
5. Studying: how to study, when to start, what you can do now
6. Specifics on the Texas Procedure and Evidence portion of the exam
7. Specifics on the MPT - Multistate Performance Test
8. Specifics on the MBE - Multistate Bar Exam
9. Specifics on the Texas Essay portion of the bar exam
11. Study habits of a Feb 2009 bar candidate who did NOT take BarBri and passed first time! added 06-22-2009
1. Myths and urban legends about the bar exam
Probably one of the most persistent myths about the bar exam is that it will chew you up and spit you out. I spoke to more than a few first year lawyers while I was a 3L who made it seem pretty hellish. The bar exam will not kill you, but it will worry you, you will probably obsess over it, it will turn you into a very boring person who talks about little else, and it will test your endurance and study ethic arguably as it has never been tested before.
We were told by the president of BarBri Texas that the 675 out of 1000 points required to pass the Texas bar exam translates to about a C or C- in letter grade terms, so there's your goal. That being said, smart people have and continue to fail, not because they aren't smart enough to pass but because they didn't take it seriously enough or put in the study time. By the same token, people who didn't do that well in law school pass the bar first time.
There are of course the fokeloric exceptions: people who made relatively little effort have passed first time. A sectionmate of mine from UHLC passed the Feb '05 bar first time and didn't even take BarBri...he bought some BarBri books off eBay, studied them at home for about 3 weeks before the exam and he made it. True story. He told me that for the oil and gas essay question he had no idea what they were asking, so he just made up some laws. He also scored a 134 scaled on the MBE, which is 1 point lower than passing (more about what that means below). And he passed. I wouldn't recommend you try the eBay route, but he was able to pull it off (he may not have been a great law student, but he is a very bright guy).
Don't make the assumption that doing well in law school translates to a guaranteed pass on the bar exam. You'll be tested on all that stuff from 1L that you've long since forgotten and some topics that you didn't take in law school and are learning for the first time in BarBri (commercial paper or consumer law anyone?).
Unlike law school, there really isn't such a thing as getting an A on the bar exam. Whomever gets the highest score in the state gets a call from the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, so I suppose you could put that on your resume, but otherwise whether you score 675 or 999, you get to be Joe Somebody, Attorney at Law.
Oh, and here's one for the perfectionists/gunners: on the MBE (day two of the bar exam, 200 multiple choice questions), the highest score ever recorded by anyone is 194 correct out of 200. So in the words of Texas' BarBri president "There are six questions that even God doesn't know the answer to."
For those of you who like to know how the odds stack up, here are some nifty statistics on the July '04 bar lifted from the Texas Board of Law Examiner's web site:
|FIRST TIME EXAMINEES||REPEATERS|
|U OF HOUSTON||85.65%||223||191||32||40.00%||10||4||6|
|U OF TEXAS||92.04%||339||312||27||53.33%||15||8||7|
2. Overview of what the bar exam consists of, where its held, etc
The official version of this material is available at the Texas Board of Law Examiner's web site.
The bar exam is offered twice each year, February and July, on the last Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday of the month. It is a 2 1/2 day exam, with the 1/2 day being on the Tuesday morning. Here is how your 2 1/2 days of fun will be spent:
Tuesday: Texas criminal and civil procedure and evidence exams (100 points) and the "MPT" which stands for Mutli-state Performance Test (100 points); 90 minutes will be allocated to each 100 point section
Wednesday: the "MBE" which stands for Mutli-state Bar Exam (400 points); 3 hours to complete 100 multiple choice questions in the morning, then about 1 1/2 hours to eat lunch, then back in the afternoon for another 100 multiple choice questions.
Thursday: Texas essay day (400 points); 3 hours to complete 6 essays in the morning, about 1 1/2 hours to eat lunch, then back again to knock out another 6 essays in 1 1/2 hours and guess what? You're done with the bar exam. The topics covered in the essay portion of the bar are:
When I took the bar (July '05) the exam was held in the George R. Brown Convention Center in an enormous exhibit hall. We were seated two candidates to a 6 foot table. Seating is pre-assigned by number. Everyone faces a stage at the front of the hall where a representative from the state bar calls the shots, reads the instructions, tells you when to stop writing, etc. During the exam they maintain what they call a "secure area" which you may not leave for any reason; if you do, your exam will be cancelled. The "secure area" is essentially the exhibit hall. There are bathrooms at the front and rear of the hall. You can go to the bathroom as much or as little as you like during the exam, but not during the first 30 minutes of the exam or the last 15 minutes; if you go to the bathroom you need to scoop up your exam materials and hand them to a proctor before you go (presumably to avoid copying/tampering issues). Pregnant bar candidates were assigned seating nearer the bathrooms (as I write this my wife is 7 months pregnant...I can totally see why they do that).
There were, at a rough guess, 1,000 people taking the exam in the George R. Brown when I was there, and the hall was only about half full. There is lots of empty space in the back of the room...handy for pacing off your nervous energy before the exam starts. My study group and I found the hall to be totally fine - the chairs were about as comfortable as law school chairs, the temperature was cool but not chronically so and the hall stayed pretty quiet. A handful of the proctors work for the state bar, but the majority are private individuals who (I suppose) are doing it to earn a little extra dough. When you get your admission ticket in the mail it gives a list of prohibited items, but you can probably figure it out already: cell phones are not even allowed in the room, so leave it in your car. Parking in and around the convention center is very adequate - you may have to pay a little more to park close-in, but you won't have any trouble finding parking. Food is another issue: there isn't much by way of places to eat other than the nearby Hilton (expensive), but you can bring a brown bag lunch and leave it outside the exam room without a problem. Do a drive-by the day before the exam to make sure your mapquest map is reliable, there's no detours, construction, closed roads, etc.
If you opt to type your exam rather than write, you'll be sent off to a test center in Pasadena. Being a writer, I don't know anything about what it was like, but I have friends who typed and they didn't share any complaints about the test center with me.
3. The BarBri Prep Course
The BarBri prep course, which virtually everyone takes, is held in the Shriner's temple on North Braeswood. You and about 500 of your closest friends will spend about 6 weeks in the large, very chilly, windowless room pictured below:
The room is actually quite comfortable and the sound system worked fine, but they really do keep it cool in there so bring a long-sleeved something with you (particularly for the practice MBE day, where you don't want any distractions). Classes typically run from 9am to 12.30pm (see the schedule below for how BarBri structured our July '05 classes). Here's an insider tip: the lobby area immediately outside the main course room has comfortable chairs, couches, etc - the sound system pipes what the speaker is saying into the foyer, so if you want a comfortable seat, you can hang out in the lobby.
BarBri costs about $2,100 though current pricing is available on their web site, www.barbri.com Good news for big firm folks - in all probability your firm will pick up the tab. While it is possible to pass the bar without taking BarBri (and I know someone who did), I have to imagine that taking it makes the whole experience much, much easier. I strongly recommend you take BarBri. If it's a shoot-out between PMBR and BarBri and you have to pick one, take BarBri.
On the schedule below I've also marked when the PMBR 6 day review course takes place (PMBR is an entirely separate company from BarBri); I included it because the 6 day course, in my opinion, is the most valuable offering PMBR has. If you opt to take it, you'll be giving up the week off you would have otherwise had after graduation. I graduated Friday May 13th and started PMBR on Monday May 16th...not much time to rest and celebrate. More about PMBR later.
The "workshop" I circled on July 6th and 7th is an optional Texas Procedure and Evidence specific workshop offered by BarBri that was an additional $175. I hadn't heard about it until we got a flyer on it during the main BarBri class, so I signed up for it thinking "everyone else is taking it so I guess I should too." This optional workshop was, in my opinion (and the opinion of my study group), a waste of both time and money and I would not recommend it, but more about that later in the section on the procedure and evidence exam.
Here's the BarBri make-up class schedule. If you miss a class, these make-up sessions are your chance to catch it later. Classes are actually offered three times. Once in the morning with a live instructor, again that same evening as a video replay of the morning's session, then a third time under the make-up schedule below. I strongly advise you to use these make-ups only as a last resort rather than as an excuse to take a day off. By far the best approach is to attend the live lecture in the morning.
4. The PMBR Prep Course
PMBR is useful and I would recommend you take it, but it is expensive when compared to BarBri on a dollar-per-hour basis. The 3 day PMBR review costs $395 (or $325 if you are a member of the ABA). The 6 day PMBR review costs $795 (or $695 if you are an ABA member). It's possible to buy the materials only and not go to the live class, but the price difference is so negligible you might as well pay the extra and attend it live.
I recommend that you take the 6 day rather than the 3 day, but do not take both. In my opinion the 6 day is more valuable because before you even set foot in the door at the BarBri classes, you've had 6 days worth of testing and instruction on the MBE (i.e. the multiple choice question) topics, those being criminal law, constitutional law, contracts, torts, property and evidence. This gives you a head start psychologically, but perhaps most important of all, it gives you a good impression very early on of what's required to do well on the MBE and PMBR also gives you some very valuable study aids...literally hundreds of multiple choice practice questions to help you learn the material over the coming 8 weeks leading up to the bar exam. You'll also get some audio CDs with outlines on them...I didn't listen to them myself, but I know people who did that found them helpful.
I can't overstate the value you get out of having these materials early on and getting in a habit of doing X amount of practice questions per day (I did 50 per day). If you didn't go to the PMBR 6 day before BarBri started, I would encourage you to start doing 50/day using the BarBri sample MBE questions. You probably won't run out, but just in case, record your answers on a piece of paper rather than in the book, that way you can go back and do the same questions a second time.
The format for the PMBR class is: arrive at the hotel in the morning, go to the classroom, and take 50 practice questions in whatever the subject area happens to be for that day. You can then score your own answers, and then its time for lunch. In the afternoon session, the instructor will go over each question, explain why the right is the right answer, explain away the wrong answers, and give you a mini tutorial on the law. You don't technically need to go in before lunch, because all you're doing is taking the 50 practice questions, so if you wanted to you could do the exam at home then show up around 1pm. Given the relatively short amount of time, they can't teach you everything in one afternoon about contracts, criminal law or whatever, but they did do a very good job of giving you the basics.
My experience was that the instructors/instruction was good quality. For the first 3 of the 6 days, we had a judge from Colorado teaching the class, for the last 3 we had the co-founder of PMBR himself. In addition to teaching substantive law, the latter instructor also gave us some statistics on pass rates, how points from the MBE carry-over to the essay portion, what you need to pass, etc. His catchphrase was "It's all about the multistate" (which stands to reason...his business is founded on the multistate), the argument being that a great performance on the MBE can compensate for a so-so job on the essays, but its very difficult to recover from a so-so job on the MBE with some great essays. I think what he says is true for the most part, though of course some of it is marketing.
The PMBR 3 day review takes place after the BarBri class has finished; in our case it was held July 11th, 12th and 13th. Please note that this is a little over 2 weeks before the first day of the bar exam! You will either buy my reasoning on this or you won't, but I think it is far preferable to invest 6 days early on when you are relatively stress-free rather than 3 days when you are (a) already tired from 6 weeks of BarBri and (b) starting to feel a little overwhelmed at the amount of material you need to know and (c) feeling like the 2 weeks you have left before the bar isn't enough time.
I know $795 is a lot of money, but I think taking the PMBR 6 day significantly elevates your chances of passing first time. Good news for big law firm people: in all probability your firm will pick up the tab for PMBR just like they did for BarBri.
As a parting shot, the co-founder of PMBR told us that your odds of passing the bar first time if you take both PMBR and BarBri are in the 90%+ range. Overall first time pass rate for all law schools combined in the state of Texas was 80.63% in July 2004.
PMBR's web site is www.pmbr.com
Update added 06-22-2009 The following italicized information was kindly sent to me by a 2009 bar candidate and speaks to an apparent schedule conflict between BarBri and PMBR.
Thanks for the detailed BAR advice you have
on Carter-Sahadi. I'm currently prepping for the July Bar, and
I'm enrolled in both PMBR (6-day course) and Barbri. I
just wanted to add that BarBri now starts on the same day as
PMBR, the Monday after graduation. I guess Barbri's trying to get
more competitive with their MBE enrollments.
Barbri released their new start date much later than PMBR so student enrolled in PMBR were locked in and forced to balance the two classes. Essentially, my study partner and I are "forced" to attend both Barbri classes (9a.m. - 3p.m.) and PMBR (4p.m. to 9:30p.m.). Also, it doesn't help that Barbri is in Town and Country, off I-10 and Beltway 8, while PMBR is in the JW Marriott by the Galleria.
I wanted to point out the new conflicting schedules so future BAR takers can take it into consideration. FYI - PMBR classes are also viewable online, but who wants to spend 3 hours doing that.
5. Studying: How to do it, when to start and what you can do now
What's 25 inches tall and weighs 56lbs?
A. Gary Coleman
B. The bar review materials PMBR and BarBri dumps in your lap
C. A keg
D. Rosie O'Donnell's lunchbox
The right answer, at least in this context, is B. Check out the pictures below, which I took just for kicks, of the bar prep materials I accumulated from BarBri and PMBR (the picture was taken in my garage, where I have contemptuously but cautiously stowed my materials pending the bar results):
Do not be discouraged. Neither I, nor the majority of the people who sat the bar, cracked open several of these books. I mean in no way to suggest that all of these materials aren't valuable, I'm sure they are, but even the earliest bird doesn't start studying for the July bar until May 16th, and with the best will in the world you couldn't get through all that material if you tried. By the way, the registration day (when you go to their offices to collect your ID badge and books) for BarBri happened to fall on Friday May 20th for us, which was day 5 of the 6 day PMBR review class. If you are taking the PMBR 6 day, you can send a girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever to register for you and collect your stuff. Make sure they understand that 1,000 other people will be doing the same thing, and that they need to be ready to lug a 40lb box of books back to the car.
Anway, before getting into the nitty-gritty of the 2 months building up to the bar exam, what if anything can you do as a 2L or 3L in preparation for the bar exam? When I was a 2L, a 3L told me not to worry about taking any "bar classes" in law school because BarBri will take care of all that stuff. Not very good advice. There are some topics that I felt very glad I had taken in law school, because a familiarity with the terminology and concepts goes a long way. Two very good examples are secured transactions which I took with Nimmer in my 2nd semester of 3L year, and trusts and wills with Buchanan, which I took in the same semester. Because the bar exam followed so hot on the heels of that semester, I pretty much knew all of that stuff already which made studying it a lot less stressful. My study group felt the same way.
I don't mean to advocate that you take nothing but bar courses, but there are some you can take that while not very glamorous or interesting will really pay dividends on the bar. Classes I took that I was glad I'd had exposure prior to the bar would be secured transactions and trusts and wills, as noted above. Business Organizations with Raggazzo also proved to be time very well spent in law school. You might give some thought to taking consumer law with Alderman (it has been tested on every single bar exam since it was introduced as a new essay topic in '99), commercial paper (also with Alderman), and family law (the only person who teaches it at UHLC is Oldham, about whom I have heard mixed reviews).
You definitely can learn this stuff totally afresh for the bar just by taking BarBri, but familiarity will be to your advantage.
Something my study group did that we found extremely helpful was a 5 day study retreat. We called it "Camp Kill Yourself" because that's what you felt like doing after 5 days of studying non-stop, but it really paid off. We stayed at a group member's parents' 2nd home in Austin, did our 50 practice MBE questions separately in the morning, then got together in the afternoon/evening to review essay topics. We agreed it was a whole lot better studying together than sitting at home wondering it we were studying "enough" or studying the "right material". We'd run hypos by each other, ask each other questions, clarify...all that good stuff. We were there July 11th-16th, which was just far enough out from the bar that we could go home afterward and review the material by ourselves one more time. If you can plan something like this I highly recommend it.
6. Specifics on the Texas Procedure and Evidence portion of the exam
The picture below shows the key to this part of the bar exam...past procedure and evidence exams.
This is one of those things that you hope someone tells you in plenty of time so you can act on it: whatever you do in preparation for the procedure and evidence (hereafter "P&E") portion of the bar, for goodness sakes make sure you go over all of the old exams because the questions repeat themselves more than Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. For the July '05 bar, I recognized as repeats 15/20 questions on the civil procedure exam and 16/20 on the criminal procedure exam. This isn't wishful thinking on my part, you can verify it for yourself...just go look through the old exams which are available online as .pdf files at the Texas Board of Law Examiner's web site.
While you still have access to free use of a laser printer in law school, go to the link provided above and print out all of the past P&E exams that are available online, stick them in a binder, then put them away and don't think about them again until BarBri rolls around. Once you start studying for the bar, work your way through the old P&E exams and fill-in the model answer provided in the yellow colored BarBri book with "Texas Testing" written on the cover (see 2nd to last picture below). This yellow book has model answers for every bar exam essay question, and also all the P&E exams. Once you've completed all of the old exams, you've got a study folder that you can use to learn the model answers.
When I say questions repeat themselves, I mean they really repeat themselves...essentially verbatim. The facts change, but the law and the answer stays the same. You'll see when you review them. I reviewed by working through one criminal and one civil procedure exam each day, covering up the answers I'd written-in with a sheet of paper, and trying to answer the questions from memory. Some questions (for example, Batson challenges, qualifying an expert, due order of pleading rules) come up very frequently and you'll learn them in no time. Others are what my study group called "outliers" - questions that have only come up once in the past. I'd suggest you go ahead and learn them all.
Studying the old P&E exams only (which is how I studied for this part of the bar) means that on the actual exam you're going to be asked some questions that you just don't know the answer to because they haven't been asked before. I was comfortable with this, though not everyone would be. You will have to take an educated guess on some of the questions, but I think the amount of time studying old exams (versus reading outlines) saves you is worth missing a few points. The BarBri president told us that to pass we're shooting for a scaled score of 70% correct on the P&E portion. So doing the math, if you've seen 15/20 questions before on an old exam, hence know the model answers to those questions, you should get full points on at least those 15/20 questions, which translates to a raw score of 75% correct (thus you've met or bettered the 70% scaled score BarBri says you need to pass the P&E portion).
Bottom line on the P&E portion of the bar exam is this: you can either spend a significant amount of time reading the criminal and civil procedure outlines BarBri gives you and trying to memorize all the rules, or you can focus your studying on what has been asked in the past and rely on the bar examiners' well-established habit of repeating questions.
Finally: BarBri offered (and I signed up for) a $175 two day optional workshop on P&E. Both days were full days, 9am-4pm. I found this workshop to be disappointing and not worth the money. It essentially repeated what had already been covered in the criminal law and civil procedure lectures, the instructors did little more than read their outlines, and the session could have been much more productive if they'd spent more time focussing on what has been asked in the past. The workshop was July 6th-7th, so a little more than 2 weeks away from the bar exam. I think there are much more productive ways to spend two days this close to the exam. I do not recommend you sign up for this workshop. My study group and I stuck it out for the first day hoping it might improve; we left early on the 2nd day and went home to study old exams instead.
7. Specifics on the MPT - Multistate Performance Test
There is good news and bad news about the MPT. The good news is that you can't really study for it, so it won't eat up too much of your time. The bad news is that you can't really study for it, and it's worth 100 points (i.e. 1/10th of your bar exam, and the same amount of points as the P&E portion, which you'll spend considerable time studying for).
The MPT is intended to simulate a real-life lawyering task of the type that a brand new lawyer might reasonably be expected to perform in her first year on the job, so common forms include writing a memo to a partner, writing an opinion letter to a client (we got this one in July '05) or writing a closing or opening argument for use at a trial. There are others, but those are the main forms. There is no substantive law to learn for this part of the exam, what it's really testing is your ability to follow instructions, organize material, and sort through relevant and irrelevant facts.
There are 90 minutes allotted to complete the MPT, of which it is recommended you spend 45 minutes reading the materials provided and outlining your answer before you start writing. Carefully reading the instructions and doing exactly what is asked of you is key; in all probability you will be asked not to write about a given issue, so if you do so, you'll either lose points, waste valuable time, or both. You'll be given a packet of information which includes some background on the fictitious case or matter you're working on, an instruction (probably from a pretend senior partner at your firm) and then a "library". The library is the pretend case law you're to use in formulating your answer. On our MPT there were two cases, each about 3 pages long (in two column digest format); the cases are easy to read quickly, and the relevant law is not very hard to find.
BarBri will give you an entire book filled with old MPT's for you to practice on, but my study group didn't do any. We met on the Sunday before the bar and talked about strategy...how to approach the MPT question...but that was it. Such is the nature of the MPT. I suppose we could have made time to practice, but if you've worked at a law firm or done legal research before, you probably have the basic skills needed. The BarBri lecture on the MPT was quite good, and the instructor did a decent job of explaining how to handle the MPT. Just follow what he says and you'll be fine.
Do take the MPT seriously though; the BarBri president told us that as part of his job, he counsels people who have failed the bar. Apparently if you fail you can ask for a copy of your answers, because on reviewing one failing candidate's MPT, which happened to be a letter to a client, this particular candidate had opened up with "Dear Client, I am sitting in the bar exam right now and I am very scared..." Don't do stuff like that. If they say write an opinion letter, then pretend you really are writing an opinion letter and attempt to make it as professional as possible.
If you remember nothing else about how to approach the MPT, then remember this: remember your audience, and watch your tone. Think about your audience: if the work product is for a client then you avoid legalese, but if its for a senior partner then legalese is fine. Watch your tone: if its a closing argument, you want to be as persuasive as possible, but if its a memo to a partner, you'll want to be objective and present both sides.
8. Specifics on the MBE - Multistate Bar Exam
When it comes to the MBE, "practice makes decent." The more practice questions you do, within reason, the more likely you are to spot question types on the bar exam. As discussed above, I signed up for the PMBR 6 day review course in mid-May, and they gave me plenty of practice questions to keep me going. From late May through several days before the bar exam, I did 50 practice questions each day (missing a day here or there, but I was pretty consistent). I would not recommend doing more than 50 per day, there really isn't enough time. Of course, you don't just do the questions, score them, then move on. You'll want to read the explanatory answers provided in the back of the book to make sure you were right for the right reasons, and to understand why you missed questions you got wrong. To answer and review 50 questions took me about 2 1/2 hours: 90 minutes or thereabouts to answer, and another 60 minutes to review the answers.
Because I am a dork, I kept data on how I scored on each set of 50 practice questions. I'm pasting that data in below because I think its important for bar candidates to realize some painful truths: unless you are very, very good at these types of tests/questions, it's unlikely you'll get 50/50 even once. Its also unlikely that you'll see a significant improvement in your score over time, which can be discouraging and a little hard to accept.
The most pertinent data is in the columns marked "time" (which gives the time in hours and minutes it took me to do 50 questions that day) and "total" which gives my score correct out of 50 for that day:
|Source||Date||Contracts||Torts||Con Law||Property||Evidence||Crim Law||Crim Pro||Time||Total|
|Released Qs||7-18||8/9||7||7||8||9/9||7||n/a||1 17||46/50|
|Released Qs||7-19||9/9||8||7/9||7||8||6||n/a||1 15||45/50|
The highest score I ever got was 46/50, the lowest was 28/50. I was doing practice questions from the PMBR "red book" (the book of practice questions I got in the PMBR 6 day review with a red cover), the PMBR "blue book" (also from the PMBR 6 day review), questions provided by BarBri (which were either basic questions, indicated above as "BarBri(bas)" or intermediate, indicated above as "BarBri(med)"), and finally released questions, which are actual MBE questions that have been released by the board of law examiners and were on a past MBE. The baseline score in the first row is what I scored each morning of the PMBR 6 day review, when we did 50 questions on one of the 6 topics totally cold without the benefit of any lectures.
Before I sat the bar exam I had taken two simulated, full-length MBE exams. One was with BarBri on June 27th, and I scored 144 correct out of 200, which BarBri says is top 96th percentile. I did another one at home using PMBR questions and scored 145 correct out of 200, which PMBR said was top 100th percentile. I'm not including that information because I want anyone to think I'm a smart guy, I think its useful to know what qualifies as a decent score.
Looking at the numbers I pulled in the table above you'd never guess I'd make a decent score...over time my score didn't improve much at all, but look at the scores on the released questions...much higher. Here comes some good news: that's because the actual MBE questions on the bar exam are easier than the practice questions BarBri and PMBR provides. I did very poorly on the LSAT (the games questions killed me) so I was kinda worried about the MBE, but it turns out the MBE is nothing like the LSAT and through practice you can learn the material and begin to spot question forms. Shoot, I'll just tell y'all...standardized tests are really not my thing. I got a 152 on the LSAT the first try, spent $1,000 on the LSAT Princeton Review course then took it a second time and cancelled my score because I was sure I tanked it, then on the third LSAT attempt I got a 151! If I can score well on the MBE with a standardized test record like that, so can you.
The June 27th simulated MBE with BarBri was a real jolt for some folks, because they scored in or around 100/200 and immediately became worried about how they would do on the real thing; BarBri did a good job of calming a lot of nerves. BarBri told us that the average score on the 2004 BarBri practice exam was around 106/200, but the median score on the actual July '04 MBE was 142. Do not freak out if you don't do as well on the BarBri practice exam as you had hoped. BarBri told us that a passing score in Texas on the MBE is 135/200 scaled. That doesn't mean that if you score less than 135 scaled you won't pass, but ideally you'll score at least that. So if passing is 135 scaled, and the median score in July '04 was 142 scaled, that means the majority of people who took the July '04 got a passing score on the MBE. That's good news.
The scaling thing is some kind of mysterious statistical voodoo that is performed on MBE scores so that different administrations of the MBE are all scored on a level playing field. Let's say the July '04 administration of the MBE had more tough multiple choice questions that the Feb '05 administration: the scaling is used to balance the two out. I don't really get it either, but as BarBri explained it to us, you can add somewhere between 10 and 20 points to your raw score to get your scaled score, so a raw score of 130/200 is probably about a 145/200 scaled. Don't worry too much about the scaling.
There are different ways to handle doing 50 (or less if you prefer) practice questions each day. One way is to do all 50 without stopping, then go back and review. Another is to do 10, then stop the clock and review your answers before you forget whatever reasoning you used in arriving at your answer. Which method you choose is really a matter of personal preference, I don't think one is particularly better than the other.
Another issue is whether you will mix subjects from the very start, or whether you'll only do practice questions for subjects you have covered in a lecture. My preference was to do questions from all 6 subjects from the outset; I felt that it kept me fresh on all subject areas. There are 6 topics (contracts, criminal law, con law, torts, property and evidence), so you can do 8 questions from each to get 48 practice questions per day (or if like me, you prefer round numbers, pick two more questions from any subject area to get 50 per day).
In terms of how the practice questions PMBR and BarBri provided reflected the actual questions on the exam, I'd say that the practice questions were typically more difficult than on the bar exam. I think the PMBR questions were slightly more difficult than the BarBri practice questions, but not by much. Either way, they were good practice.
Timing seems to be more of an issue than you might think; I heard about people who ran out of time during the bar exam and were frantically bubbling in guessed answers when time was called. Don't be one of those people. A simple but effective method to monitor your time is to check where you are at set intervals. I didn't really have timing issues, so I would check my progress at one hour intervals: 1 hour into 100 questions, I should be around question 33, 2 hours I should be around question 66, and of course at 3 hours I should be wrapping up the 100 questions. A more frequent interval some people used was 17 questions every 30 minutes. Anyway...develop your own method of monitoring your time and have it down before the bar exam.
Update: My scaled MBE score on the July '05 bar exam was 165, so make of that what you will in light of the above advice on doing practice questions. I really couldn't tell how I did after the MBE was over, but it turned out I did fine.
9. Specifics on the Texas Essay portion of the bar exam
Your most valuable resource in studying for the day three essay portion of the bar are the green and yellow books pictured below. The green book is the one you'll bring with you to BarBri class each day. Its like the game of MadLibs that never ends - for each lecture/subject area the instructor works through the material and you fill in blanks as you go. You might wonder why they don't just give you the outline in full, but the filling-in-the-the-blanks makes sense...it gives you something to do beyond just listening and reduces the tendency to tune-out. In a 3 hour lecture we typically covered between 30 and 40 pages. Generally the outlines, presumably prepared by the instructors teaching the class, were good quality and understandable.
BarBri provides you with something called a "Conviser Mini Review" book, which is a more extensive outline for each of the essay topics. I never opened mine. I just used the green lecture handout book in the picture, and I think the great majority of other people did too. The conviser outline is very nice I'm sure, and it has more material, but the green lecture handout book is plenty enough to remember and covers the essentials.
The yellow book in the picture includes all past Texas bar exam questions, and model answers for each. Don't allow yourself to be psyched-out by the model answers...keep in mind that they were written by law professors who are experts in their given subject areas, in their quiet, comfortable, stress-free offices, with unlimited time. They were not written by stressed-out bar candidates in the George R. Brown convention center in 30 minutes! Some of the model answers are ridiculously long; I can appreciate the professors' need to answer the question thoroughly, but some are so long that I doubt you could even physically write that much in an hour, never mind 30 minutes (the consumer law model answers are a prime example).
Before sitting the bar exam, you'll definitely want to have looked at some old essay questions just to get comfortable with how the questions are asked, how long the fact patterns are, etc. The BarBri president recommended we write out answers to at least 3 essays on each subject. My preference was to read essay questions, either think about my answer or make an outline of an answer (but not write it out in full), then read the model answer to see how I did. I don't know that essay questions really repeat themselves as such, but having a familiarity with how they are written was definitely an advantage.
You're not going to be able to write an awful lot in a 30 minute essay question, so its not a time to prove what a fabulous writer you are, or to rigorously use C.R.E.A.C. (or IRAC, or whatever acronym the legal research and writing professors are teaching lately). Some of the essay subjects will be ones that very few people will have taken in law school (commercial paper was a prime example), so you'll be learning it for the first time when you take BarBri. This is totally do-able, hundreds if not thousands do it every year.
There is a better than average chance that on at least one essay question they are going to throw a question at you where your first response is "What the heck are they talking about?" Don't panic. You can rest assured that 99% of the people in the exam room with you are thinking the exact same thing, and y'all are all probably going to pass just fine. This happened to us during the July '05 bar on the oil and gas question; we were asked about something called the Relinquishment Act, which was not covered in the live BarBri lecture and received only a couple of sentences in the conviser mini-review that BarBri gave us. If this happens to you, and it probably will, here's what you do. Make a careful reading of the facts, because they might clue you in enough to make an educated guess as to what they're asking you about. I had to punt on the Relinquishment Act question because I didn't know what it was, but by reading the facts I felt I had a sense of what it was...turns out I guessed right. If I can do that, so can you. Either way, write something because you'll likely get partial credit. They can't give you points for a blank page, so just take your best crack at it and move on...everyone else is in the same boat, and one (or even two) shaky essays is not going to sink your chances of passing.
If you put in the time, stay on top of the material and don't skip out on BarBri classes, there is a very high probability you will pass the Texas bar exam. The exam itself is truly not the difficult part, what's hard is the 8 weeks of studying before the exam...all the times you'd rather go watch a movie with your wife than read a secured transactions outline, etc. Please give serious consideration to adopting my preferred approach through law school (and subsequently the bar exam): "slow and steady". A lot of people adopted July 5th as the date they were going to turn up the heat and get serious about studying for the bar. To each their own, and everybody has their own level of risk tolerance, but I was very glad I started studying early. I never studied past 8.30pm, and I only studied about 2 hours per day for the 4-5 days immediately before the bar exam, but I started earlier than most and was consistent. I think it made for a less stressful bar experience than the alternatives.
Good luck to anyone who has read this far! Here's a picture of me (left) with my study group (Kyle Harris, center, Reagan Sahadi, right). My wife took it when we walked out of the George R. Brown at 4pm-ish on July 28th 2005, the last day of the bar. Hey, if we can do it so can you.
Anyone reading this is welcome to email me with specific bar exam questions or concerns, or to contribute additional advice for this page: DJMCarter@aol.com - Good luck y'all.
Kyle, Reagan and Daragh all passed the bar! It's a great relief
to see your name on the list on the Board of Law Examiners web
page, believe me. Results were released on Thursday November 3rd,
2005; I watched the Texas Board of Law Examiners web page hit
counter with some interest the day the July '05 bar results were
At 8.54am the web page showed 350,897 hits
At 1.00pm the web page showed 392,556 hits
At 2.38pm the web page showed 444,427 hits
I guess people were pretty interested to see how they did. I scored 826/1,000.
MAY 2006 UPDATE: I've been receiving a few questions from people studying for the July '06 bar who have read this page. The most common question is what study schedule I kept leading up to the bar exam. Here's the answer to that question, cribbed from an email I sent to an '06 bar exam candidate:
"I'd usually do my 50 practice MBE questions in the morning before I went to BarBri. I'd do 50 all in a row without stopping (timing myself) then go back and check my answers. I didn't always bother reviewing the model answers for questions I got right, just the ones I missed (expect to miss a lot early on, that is totally normal). It wouldn't hurt to keep track of your scores like I did just in case you're particularly weak on one topic (then you can focus more on it). In the afternoons/evenings once BarBri class was over I would pick 2 or 3 essay topics and read over the outlines in the lecture book (the one where they have you fill in the blanks). I never cracked open the Conviser mini-review book...I figured the material they give you in the live lecture is probably the most likely to be on the bar exam. I made a list of the essay topics and each time I read over the outline for that topic I made a check mark next to it so I didn't forget to review any given topic. It would take me about 45-60 minutes to read through one essay topic outline, but I may be a slow reader. Each day I would also do one criminal and one civil procedure and evidence exam. I have something written up on the web site about printing out the old exams then learning the answers. It is ridiculous how much they repeat the questions from one exam to the next. Once you've gone through all the old exams and written in all the answers (you can get the model answers from the BarBri book that has old bar exams in it), go back to the beginning again and work through...cover up the answer with a piece of paper and see if you can answer from memory. Hope that makes sense. I think it took me about 15 minutes each day per procedure exam. Getting closer to the bar exam (around late June) I started looking at some old essay questions in the evenings instead of reading outlines. I didn't write out an answer, I just issued spotted and thought about how I'd approach the question, then I would read through the model answer BarBri provides. I never followed BarBri's suggested study schedule and I never read the outline for the next day's lecture topic...I figured it wouldn't stick, so what's the point. I think that about covers it. If you think the web page was helpful, please share it with other folks at BarBri who may not know about...not knowing what to expect is probably the scariest part of the bar exam, so my goal with the web page was to try and eliminate some of the mystery."
11. Study habits of a Feb 2009 bar candidate who did NOT take BarBri and passed first time!
The following italicized information was kindly sent to me by a lawyer who took the February 2009 bar exam without taking BarBri and passed:
Here's my story:
I took the Bar at the Dallas Convention Center and used my laptop. I am 31 and spent 8 years working before I started my undergraduate degree. I took the Bar during my final quarter of law school.
Based on (1) Baylor's passage rate; (2) my strength as a test taker; and (3) my good grades, I figured that I would give the Bar a shot and see how I could do without really studying for it. I figured that if I failed, I would be in the same position as the rest of my class. Because we finished practice court at the end of January, I didn't do much before then.
Here's my "method".
After Practice Court was over, I sat down with a really smart girl and looked at the essay subjects on the bar and decided what class(es) covered that material. Then, I got an outline from a bright student (usually her) that had done well in that class. After that, I found some old BarBri stuff in the Law Review office and reviewed the Conviser (sp?) outlines for each of the 8 essay subjects. Each weeknight, after class, I would read all the material I had for one subject. Then on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the Bar, I reread the Conviser outlines.
For the MBE, I took two practice tests from the MBE's website. After each test, I read all of the answers and explanations. Both times I got above 75%, so I didn't do anything else. I took a BarBri MBE test to Dallas with me, but never got around to opening it. On weekends, I drove back to Abilene to be with my wife and daughter. I did the MBE practices one of those weekends.
I didn't do anything. I figured there wasn't any good way to study for it.
I studied class outlines from Criminal Procedure and Practice Court I. I did these weekday nights before I started the essay subjects. I also reread them on Monday night before the Bar.
During the exam, I felt really good about the MPT and the MBE. About the Civil P&E, I felt good, but not great. There were a couple of questions on the Criminal section of the P&E that I was hesitant about. The morning essays weren't too bad. Most of them asked question to which there was a clear answer (e.g. What is the maximum number of acres included in a homestead?). The afternoon essays were awful. I had no idea on the secured transaction question (I also never took the class). The questions seemed very nebulous (e.g. Did the court make a just and right division of marital property?). I'm interested to see what the comments are when they are put on the BLE website.
If there's anything else you want to know, just ask. Feel free to refer nervous people to me if you wish.