What States Are Included in the Multistate Bar Exam?
New law students often hear about the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and think that their dreams of becoming a lawyer are as simple as passing the MBE and practicing law across the United States. Future Bar takers need to know that the Multistate Bar Exam is only a part of the complete test and does not span all fifty states.
The MBE is administered annually by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) on the last Wednesday in February and July.
The MBE is one component of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). The NCBE designed the test to “…assess the extent to which an examinee can apply fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze given fact patterns.”
In other words, the exam tests the student’s knowledge of core legal principles and how the examinee applies those principles to the questions given on the test.
Every U.S. jurisdiction administers the MBE, except Louisiana and Puerto Rico, which follow different civil law systems.
Table of Contents
The Multistate Bar Exam is a standardized test made up of 200 multiple-choice questions. Test takers have six hours to complete the questions. The exam is divided into two, three-hour-long sections: 100 questions administered in the morning and the additional 100 questions given in the afternoon. Every person in every state takes the same MBE.
The MBE tests a total of 7 subjects:
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Contracts and Sales
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Real Property
The MBE does not test state-specific laws, but focuses on majority law and federal rules. To get a high score, it helps to focus on areas most likely to appear within a topic. Past tests have shown that the most highly tested MBE topics include:
- Torte: Negligence
- Evidence: Relevancy and Reasons for Excluding Relevant Evidence; Hearsay and Circumstances of its Admissibility; Presentation of Evidence
- Contracts and Sales: Formation of Contracts; Performance, Breach, and Discharge
- Civil Procedures: Jurisdiction and Venue; Pretrial Procedures; Motions
- Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure: Constitutional Protections of Accused Persons
- Constitutional Law: Individual Rights
As an additional resource, the NCBE puts out a guide that lists the scope of coverage. The 2020 MBE Subject Matter Outline offers a look at what kinds of questions test takers can expect.
Scoring the MBE
The MBE is scored on a scale from 0 (low) to 200 (high) and is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. 175 questions are scored in total, and 25 questions, covering any subject, are not scored. The number of questions you answer correctly out of the 175 scored is called the “raw” MBE score.
You cannot lose points for incorrect answers, which means it’s better to answer a question wrong than leaving it blank.
In most states, the Uniform Bar Exam’s MBE portion is worth 50% of the total Bar taker’s score. Some jurisdictions put less weight on the MBE.
Here’s an overview of how much the MBE portion is worth in specific states:
MBE is worth 50%
All states not listed below
MBE is worth 45%
MBE is worth 40%
Texas (changes in 2021)
MBE is worth 33%
There’s no clear-cut score that defines a passing grade on the MBE. Instead, the overall score you receive on the Uniform Bar Exam is what determines whether you make the cut or not.
It doesn’t hurt to look into average MBE scores for your jurisdiction since scores vary from state to state. The ABA Journal noted that February’s average score for test-takers dropped to 132.6.
Many states accept MBE score transfers from other jurisdictions, which is great news for anyone who wants to obtain a law license in multiple states, but doesn’t want to take numerous tests. D.C. and Minnesota are two such states that waive the Bar entirely for those who receive a 133 (D.C.) or 145 (Minnesota) on the MBE.
Preparing and Studying for the MBE
When it comes to acing something as crucial as the Multistate Bar Exam, practice makes perfect. Preparing to take the MBE isn’t like prepping for other multiple-choice tests, though. Bar takers shouldn’t assume that underlying knowledge of the subject material will easily guide them to the correct answers.
Study Practice Questions
Knowledge is power, but practicing and repeating MBE questions will give you a more significant advantage. Go over as many MBE practice questions as possible over eight to ten weeks, and your mind will be primed for what’s to come.
The NCBE provides sample test questions on their website, but you can also look at our list of the 6 Best MBE Bar Exam Prep Books and find a study aid that suits your needs. Pour over the information in these books and spend quality time with the questions.
Enroll in Workshops and Prep Courses
Additionally, you can prepare for the MBE by participating in Bar prep workshops or courses offered at your school or online. Look for programs that include MBE diagnostic testing to help you understand where you fall on the scoring scale.
Understand the Time Constraints
Begin your MBE study regime as soon as possible and stick with a daily practice to ensure that you master the material and know how to apply your knowledge on the test. Set a goal to answer 30-50 practice questions per day, and review your answers carefully to understand what you got both right and wrong — and, more importantly, why.
Also, try not to focus on timing yourself during test prep sessions – at least not at first. Comprehension is the most important factor in the beginning. After several weeks of studying, your speed should naturally increase. Only begin to time yourself in the last weeks of test prep.
The Multistate Bar Exam is an integral part of any law student’s future, so it’s essential to know the details of this portion of the Uniform Bar Exam.
As you’ve learned, all jurisdictions, except for Louisiana and Puerto Rico, administer the MBE. You’ve also learned that the exam doesn’t cover specific state laws in its questions, but focuses on federal rules and majority law. There’s also not one score to rule them all, but instead an overall score (decided by the total UBE score) defines a passing or failing grade.