The Smart Guide to the MBE

A Guide to Mastering the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)


5 MBE Test Day Tips & Strategies to Maximize Your Score

What You’ll Learn:

  • Why you must bubble-in an answer for all 200 questions – even if it’s a complete guess.
  • Why spending too much time on any one question can be disastrous.
  • The question number you should have completed at important exam intervals.
  • The ideal system for transferring your answers from the test booklet to the answer sheet.
  • How to approach and read an MBE question.

1. Bubble-in one answer for EVERY question on the Answer Sheet even if it’s a complete guess.

Scores are calculated only by the number of questions answered correctly – points will NOT be subtracted for incorrect answers. Thus, make sure you answer EVERY question, even if it’s a complete guess.

If you are almost out-of-time and still have questions left, you are better off bubbling-in random selections for the questions you have left (rather than leaving them blank). Even by randomly guessing, you still have a 1-of-4 chance statistically of getting the question correct.

Don’t leave potential points on the table… make sure every question on the answer sheet has an answer bubbled-in!

This may sound obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of test takers that don’t do this and loose valuable points.

2. Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Any One Question – Pick an Answer Choice, and Move On

Pick an answer choice within the 1.8-minute time limit, and keep moving! It’s important to not spend too much time on any particular MBE question – even the most difficult ones. One question will not dictate whether you pass or fail, so don’t dwell on it. Examinees that usually struggle with time have a tendency to get stuck and spend 5-6 minutes per question a number of times on the exam. This wastes valuable time, and can mess with your confidence as you get further into the exam. DON’T fall into this trap!

Read through the question and answer choices carefully, pick one answer, and then move on. Don’t second guess yourself – you need complete focus for the next MBE question. Understanding and keeping myself aware of this simple fact played a big part in cutting down my overall time per question so I could finish all questions within the allotted time.

3. Be Aware of Your Timing & Pace

To complete 100 MBE questions within each 3-hour session, you have 1.8 minutes (1 minute 48 seconds) per question.

This will put you on pace to complete at least 33-34 questions per hour during each session.

On exam day, it is recommended that you use a timer to keep track of the point you should be at while taking the exam. You can use the following intervals as your guide:


Question # Completed
Question 1730 minutes
Question 341 hour
Question 501 hour 30 minutes
Question 672 hours
Question 842 hours 30 minutes
Question 1003 hours

Just make sure the timer/watch complies with your state’s bar exam guidelines for acceptable items in the exam room – some jurisdictions do not allow watches or timers, but will have a clock clearly visible in the exam room that you should take advantage of.

4. Have a System for Bubbling-In the Answer Sheet

Have a System for WHEN and HOW you will transfer answers to the Answer Sheet. DO NOT bubble in your answers at the end of each session…this is a recipe for disaster. What if you run out of time, and then get no credit! Plus, transferring at the end is likely to result in you rushing when bubbling in your answer choices, possibly leading to mistakes.

Since only the answers marked on the Answer Sheet will be scored, you should have a pre-determined system of how/when you’ll transfer your answers from the test booklet to the Answer Sheet. Here is ours!

SmartBarPrep’s Answer Sheet Technique

We recommend that you take two (2) full pages of questions – or an open booklet – at a time (noting your answers in the test booklet). Once finished, then transfer those answers to the Answer Sheet.

When 30-minitues is remaining in the exam session, then switch to transferring 1 page of answers at a time. When 10-15 minutes is left, transfer 1 question at a time.

This will ensure you have all of your answers bubbled-in on the Answer Sheet when time is up.

Below is the only foolproof way that we have found to make sure the right answer gets put into the right line of the Answer Sheet.

When bubbling in the Answer Sheet, transfer only 1 answer at a time while saying the question number and answer letter in your head while transferring (e.g. 38 is C, look at Answer Sheet line 38, and then say C as you bubble it in). Although this sounds tedious, this technique will prevent you from inadvertently bubbling an answer on the wrong question line.

Be careful and do not rush when transferring answers.


Develop a system for taking remote MBE exam questions

For the remote exam, having a “bubbling-in” system is not important.  However, you should still have a pre-determined way of working through an MBE question.  Specifically, you should think about whether you will be using (1) the “strike through” feature to strike out unwanted answers you believe to be incorrect; (2) using the “flag” feature for multiple choice questions you would like to return to later in that session; and (3) using the “notes” or “virtual scratch paper” feature. 

First, whether to use to the “strike through” feature is up to your personal preference.  Just make sure you still select the best answer (and not just strike through purported incorrect answers) … otherwise you will not receive credit for the question.

Second, flagging questions to come back to later on can be a good strategy, especially if you have some extra time at the end of the session.  However, we suggest using this feature for only a limited number of questions; you don’t want to flag too many questions, as you likely will not have time to go back to them.  Additionally, we also suggest selecting an answer before moving onto another question (even if you flagged it to come back to later).  That way you’ll have an answer selected just in case you don’t have time later on in the exam.  Don’t leave potential points on the table… make sure every question has an answer choice selected!  If you have time later on to review it, you can always change the answer then if needed.

Third, we suggest NOT using the “notes” or “virtual scratch paper” feature for the MBE.  This is a waste of your valuable time for the MBE section.

5. How to Approach & Read an MBE Question

There are three schools of thought on how to read an MBE question.
Method # 1 – Linear Approach:
Very simply, read the ENTIRE question and all the answer choices carefully from top to bottom before selecting an answer. (Facts → Call → Choices). If needed, look back at the facts to verify, clarify, or eliminate an answer choice.
Method # 2 – Call-First Approach:
This approach is similar to the Linear Approach, except that you read the Call of the question first – the call is the short statement/question that follows the fact pattern. This helps you identify the subject and the issue being tested before reading the fact pattern.
Method # 3 – Jump-Around Approach:   For this approach follow these 4-Steps:
  • Step # 1: Read the Call of the question first. The call is the short statement/question that follows the fact pattern. This helps you identify the subject and the issue being tested before reading the fact pattern.
  • Step # 2: Read the answer choices. Reviewing the answer choices will ALSO help you identify the issues tested, so you know what to look for when reading the fact pattern.
  • Step # 3: Read the entire fact pattern, and mark it up as needed.
  • Step # 4: Select the best answer choice.
Under any method, it is usually easy to eliminate two of the answer choices. If you’re undecided or stuck on two choices, make sure you have identified the legal issue being tested. This is key to determining the correct answer.

We generally recommend using Method # 1 (the Linear Method) for two reasons. First, we believe more time is expended in Methods # 2 and 3 by jumping back and forth to different parts of the question. Second, in some instances we have seen an examinee’s view of the facts to be skewed as to what the question is really asking because they read the call and/or answer choices first.

However, different methods work for different people. If you have time, it’s best to test each method separately under timed conditions, and see what works best for you (considering timing, number of correct answers, and which method you find easier to use). Knowing yourself and how you think, and trusting in that, is what will make the difference in your score.

No matter which method you use, DO NOT try to choose an answer while reading the question. Instead, focus on reading everything carefully, and then (and only then) choose the best answer choice. This includes reading ALL of the answer choices before choosing an answer, as the bar examiners may try to trick you in choosing one of the first answers listed.

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