The Smart Guide to the MBE

A Guide to Mastering the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)


A Step-by-Step Approach on How to
Study & Prepare for the MBE

(with 10 MBE Study Tips)

What You’ll Learn:

  • Our 6-Step Approach to Effectively Prepare for the MBE
  • 10 MBE Study Tips to Master the MBE

How to Study & Prepare for the MBE

A high MBE score is the KEY to passing the bar exam for three reasons.

  • First, if your MBE score is high enough it can compensate for weaknesses in other sections of the exam (e.g. essays, performance test).
  • Second, the MBE is worth the most of any section on the bar exam (50% in UBE states and normally between 40-50% in other states).
  • Third, studying for the MBE pays double dividends because there is usually a substantial overlap in the subjects tested on the MBE and essay portions of the exam (especially in UBE states).

Since there are now only 175 scored questions4, gaining every point is crucial to passing. That is why having a great strategy is essential to your bar preparation.

Below you will find OUR Smart Study Strategy to excel on the MBE. This is the same strategy the creator of SmartBarPrep used to score in the top 5% on the MBE (a 171.1 scaled score – see here).

Go ahead and try it out for yourself!

Step 1: Set the Foundation – Learn the law for a subject thoroughly BEFORE attempting to do practice questions.

Taking practice MBE questions prior to developing a good grasp of the law for a subject area is a waste of time and serves no purpose because you don’t know the law yet. Don’t make this mistake. Instead, you should have a good working knowledge of the law before attempting MBE questions for the subject area. That way you can make the most productive use of your time, and review those questions to build on your knowledge of the subject matter.

You can learn the subjects by bar review classes/lectures, books, or outlines. Keep in mind, you don’t need to have everything memorized perfectly – you just need a good working knowledge of the subject (a.k.a. a good grasp of the law or reviewed the subject in some way). It’s your choice what to use to learn the law, but make it fast and then start your MBE practice.

If possible, it’s best to learn the MBE subjects first (before the essay subjects) when preparing for the bar exam. This way you can start practice questions sooner, as you will be learning the MBE material earlier in the study cycle.

Step 2: Breakdown each subject into a condensed outline or document.

After learning the law for a subject, you should condense that subject into something you can use for future review (outline, mini-outline, attack sheets, flashcards, etc.). This is essential for breaking down and committing the legal rules tested to memory, and will be your go-to document while studying. You can then add to this document later on as you continue your studying and taking MBE practice questions.

If you don’t have time to create your own document, you can also use an outline from a friend or bar review company and then add your notes to it.

Step 3: Take a lot of practice MBE questions!

Practice makes perfect, and for the MBE taking a lot of practice questions must be a priority. Once you learn a subject area, you can start taking questions for that subject – this is why prioritizing learning the MBE subjects first is important. Then, as you learn more subjects you can start taking mixed question sets. Taking 25-30 practice questions per day gives you enough practice, while also allowing you time to review your answers that same day. Closer to the exam, and after you have built up your mental stamina and focus, you should increase the amount of questions you take in each sitting, eventually building up to simulated half and full exams.

Only take MBE practice questions that have explanations. After you take practice questions, you MUST review your answers to see why you got a question correct/incorrect. This is KEY, and why question sets with explanations should always be taken. You CANNOT waste your valuable time researching why you got a question wrong because no explanations were provided, or simply not review why you got the question wrong and moving on.
Exception: There is one notable exception to the above rule… the new MBE questions released by the NCBE in December 2017 (called the “MBE Study Aid”).

The NCBE released 210 questions drawn from previous MBE’s, with 30 questions for each of the seven MBE subject areas (including Civil Procedure). An answer key is included, but not explanations.*

Why should the MBE Study Aid be used even without explanations? It includes 210 very recent questions released by the drafters of the exam, which is the closest thing to the actual MBE questions still used on the test today. Plus, it includes the first ever actual used Civil Procedure questions released – 30 in total (previously, only 10 sample Civil Procedure questions were released in the past by the NCBE).

*Note:  In 2019, the NCBE released detailed explanations for the 30 Civil Procedure questions.

Take MBE practice questions from multiple sources. You should strive to take practice questions from as many different sources as possible (official released NCBE questions, BarBri, Kaplan, AdaptiBar, etc.). This will get you acclimated to different styles and difficulty of questions, so you’ll be prepared for anything on exam day. See Chapter 07 of this guide for an overview of the different sources of MBE practice questions.


Practice like it’s the ACTUAL exam. You want to simulate actual test day conditions as much as possible to minimize any surprise on exam day. As such, you should take MBE questions under timed conditions using paper, a pencil, and an Answer Sheet (to bubble in your answers). The MBE is still administered in paper format, so it’s best to practice in that medium.

For timing, remember you must keep a pace of 1.8 minutes (1 minute 48 seconds) per question. Practicing while timed may be uncomfortable at first, but it will condition you for the actual exam setting. Likely your timing will be longer than 1.8 minutes per question in the beginning …and that’s ok. It’s still good to keep track so you know your baseline average time, and then you can track for improvement as you take more questions.

Track Your Progress. Create a spreadsheet to track your MBE practice, including the number of questions answered correctly, the subject area(s), and your time and pace. Tracking this data keeps you accountable, and can help you spot your problem areas or if you have an issue finishing questions in the allotted time.

DO NOT take a full 200 question Simulated Practice MBE until 1 month before the exam. Taking a full simulated MBE (6 hours in one day – broken up into two 3-hour sessions) is an exhausting and mind-bending experience, so taking only one should be enough. Ideally, the full simulated exam should be taken within 1 month of the MBE exam because you will be better prepared to take a full 200 mixed-question set then, and you want to simulate exam conditions closer to the actual test. If possible try to make it the simulated exam from a bar review course. BarBri offers this in many states and usually holds the simulated exam in the same testing center where you will actually take the bar exam.

Take the NCBE Practice Exams, but not until the final 2-3 weeks before the exam.  Between 2014 and 2021, the NCBE has released 810 real MBE questions.  You can find these questions in the NCBE Study Aid Store or from a bar exam company that has licensed them (including us!).  These are the closest example of the real questions you’ll see on exam day, and are often easier than the practice questions released by the big bar review companies.  Taking these right before the exam can give you a much-needed confidence boost.

Step 4: “Actively Review” the Practice Questions Taken.

The quality of your review is more important than the quantity of questions taken. If you do 1000’s of questions, but never review explanations of why your answer was correct or incorrect, then you’re missing the point of doing the practice questions in the first place.

The main goal of taking practice questions is to figure out your weak spots and correct them – to learn why you got a question wrong so it doesn’t happen in the future. Passively checking your answers and reading the explanations just DOESN’T help you do that effectively. Instead, you MUST perform what we call “Active Review”.

To perform “Active Review”, you should draft a short rule statement for any MBE question you: (a) got wrong; or (b) got correct but was unsure of the answer. Draft these rules from the explanations provided. These rule statements should be sorted by subject and compiled into your personalized MBE rule sheet (place this at the end of your condensed outline for each subject). Then, add to this document as you take more practice questions.

If you don’t prefer a rule sheet, you can always make flash cards for these rules OR add the rule statements into the body of your subject outlines.

Your choice. Pick one and go!

Example of How to Draft a Rule Statement from MBE Explanations

Sample MBE Answer Explanation

Sample Rule Statement

Subject matter jurisdiction is proper in a federal-question action (e.g. federal trademark infringement claim).

By performing active review, you will also become familiar with the type of questions asked and what they are REALLY asking. Understanding the questions and how the law is tested is key to working faster as well. This is a tactic of studying the test itself, not just studying the law. Scoring high on the MBE depends upon not only knowing the law tested cold, but also recognizing which rule or issue is being tested.


Don’t Just Review only the Questions You Got Wrong. Even if time is limited, at minimum we suggest that you review: (1) the questions you got wrong; AND (2) the questions you got right but were unsure about (see below for how to keep track of these). This will prevent you from skipping over questions you got right, but didn’t fully understand why.

How to note questions you’re not sure of: While answering questions, we recommend making a “dash” next to the question number that you’re not 100% sure of – or you can make any mark that’s quick and easy. After the practice session, review the questions you got wrong ALONG WITH those “dashed” questions you were unsure of (even if you got them correct).

If you have the time, you should even review the answer explanations for every question you take.

Step 5: Keep Studying the Law & Taking Practice Questions to Master the MBE Subjects.

You should be constantly reviewing your Outlines and Personalized MBE Rule Statement Sheets (or flashcards) during the entire course of the bar exam review period. During your “active review” you should be adding notes and rules to these documents as well. This way you are constantly reinforcing your knowledge of the law and reviewing what tripped you up in the past.

Optimize your MBE performance by focusing on the HIGHLY tested MBE topics. Remember the topic categories within each subject are NOT created equal as some are tested in a higher percentage than others. You can use the chart we made in Chapter 02 of this guide to prioritize your studying – it shows the percentage each topic is tested for a subject and how many questions to expect for that topic.

For the MBE, focus on recalling the law and applying it to factual situations, unlike the essay section where you need to recite a rule word-for-word in your answer. What’s important here is knowing the rule internally (grasp of the law) and how that rule relates to factual situations (application). This can be achieved through taking a lot of practice questions over the course of the MBE study period to hone your skills in applying the rules to specific factual situations (the goal is after a while, this will just click).

Step 6: Analyze Your Progress to Spot Bad Habits or Weak Areas, and Then Fix Them.

After taking a lot of MBE questions and reviewing your answers, you should start noticing patterns in how you answer questions. Try to recognize and diagnose any weak areas or bad patterns. Once diagnosed, you should fix that weak spot or implement a “default strategy” – a strategy you will always adhere to when answering questions – to correct the problem pattern.

For example, I noticed that whenever I changed my answer choice, I usually got the question wrong and my first choice was correct. To fix this, I implemented this default strategy: I would read all answer choices, and decide on an answer. Once decided, my default strategy was to never change an answer choice unless I was 100% positive of the new changed answer choice. If there was any doubt (even a .001% chance), I was not allowed to change the answer. This strategy limited my bad habit of changing answer choices when my first choice was usually correct.

Default Strategies also set the stage for automating things you should not be spending time on when taking the exam (e.g. having a system for bubbling the answer sheet). Knowing yourself and developing strategies to address your problem areas is KEY to obtaining a high score on the bar exam.

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4Prior to the July 2017 bar exam, the MBE consisted of 190 scored questions and 10 unscored pretest questions.