The Smart Guide to the MPT
A Guide to Mastering the Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
A Step-by-Step Approach on How to Read, Organize, & Draft Your Answer to an MPT Question
What You’ll Learn:
- How to Allocate Your Time Per MPT Question
- Our 7-Step Approach on How to Read the MPT Question Materials & Draft Your Answer
- Tips on How to Best Review the File & Library
- How to Outline the File & Library Materials
- How to Format an MPT Answer
Managing your time is the key to doing well on the MPT.
To do that properly, it’s best to have a pre-determined approach on how to tackle an MPT question… specifically how you will review the File & Library and draft your answer all within 90-minutes.
Having an approach will make the exam much less stressful, and you can practice it prior to the exam so it will be second nature when taking the actual test.
MPT Timing – How to Effectively Allocate Your Time
45 minutes: Reading the MPT File & Library + Organizing your answer.
45 minutes: Drafting your answer.
The NCBE (the drafters of the exam) even recommend this time allocation in the MPT Directions.10
You should keep yourself on track, and NOT spend more than 90-minutes per MPT question. Otherwise, you’ll never finish this section of the exam.
We will further breakdown how to manage your time in the steps below.
MPT Step-by-Step Approach – How to Review the File & Library, Outline the Assignment, and Draft Your Answer
Here is our recommended step-by-step approach to tackle an MPT question within 90-minutes.
Step # 1: Read the Task Memorandum & Drafting Instructions – (3 minutes).
Step # 2: Skim the File – (2 minutes).
Step # 3: Read the Library & Outline the Law – (20 minutes).
Step # 4: Read the File & Outline the Facts – (15 minutes).
Step # 5: Read the Task Memorandum AGAIN – (2 minutes).
Step # 6: Organize Your Answer QUICKLY – (3 minutes).
Step # 7: Draft Your Answer – (45 minutes).
We recommend that you use this as a checklist when you start practicing past MPT’s. Below is a detailed overview of each step.
Step # 1: Read the Task Memorandum & Drafting Instructions
Read the Task Memorandum
The “Task Memorandum” is the first document in the File, and it explains the assignment you are to complete.
While reading the Task Memorandum, identify the writing assignment (by underlining or circling the assigned task). This way you will know exactly what to look for when reading the materials in the File & Library.
REMOTE EXAM TIP
You will be graded on your responsiveness to these instructions, so read them carefully. You may even want to make notes in the margins so important items can be easily referenced.
The Task Memorandum instructions provide key information about the assignment, including:
- Task assigned – the writing assignment to complete.
- Tone – whether to use an objective or persuasive tone.
- Audience – who you are writing the document for (e.g. client, court, adversary, etc.).
- Formatting instructions – specific formatting instructions & what sections to include. The Task Memorandum may even provide (or point to) a sample or guidelines typically used by the law firm.
- Materials included to complete the task – a quick overview of some or all the materials provided in File & Library.
- Other specific instructions – any other specific instructions related to the assignment (e.g. legal issues to not discuss).
Read the Drafting Guidelines Memo (if provided)
Sometimes a separate memorandum is provided with drafting guidelines and instructions.11 This memo may specify what sections to include, formatting instructions, and other guidelines for the type of assignment (e.g. how to draft headings for a persuasive brief).
If included, read this Drafting Guidelines Memo directly after the Task Memorandum.
Don’t worry if a separate Drafting Guidelines Memo isn’t provided. In that case, the Task Memorandum will contain all the directions needed to complete the task (including what sections to include or not include).
Step # 2: Skim the File
Next, quickly skim through the remaining documents in the File.
Skimming through the File will give you a good sense of the factual information for the assignment. Even more importantly, it will shift your focus to the key rules of law needed for the assignment when reading the Library (which tends to contain irrelevant legal authority).
Keep in mind to only skim the File right now, as you will review the factual information in detail after reading the Library.
Step # 3: Read the Library & Outline the Law
Next, carefully read the Library and outline the rule(s) of Law.
Fully reading the Library after skimming the File is a great approach because you will know the applicable legal standards before fully reviewing the factual information. This will make it easier to determine the important facts, as well as filter relevant facts from irrelevant ones.
Reading the Library
The legal authorities provided are different for each MPT question. Typical items included are cases, statutes, regulations, treatises, and/or code provisions.
As we mentioned earlier, some of the information in the Library may not be relevant. Be prepared to extract the legal principles necessary to analyze the problem and complete the task assigned. Again, these should be readily apparent after skimming the File.
While reading all of the legal authorities carefully, it’s encouraged to note key items (e.g. key elements to a statute, legal rules in cases, etc.) in the margins or by marking up the documents.
To help streamline your review of the Library, below are our tips and best practices.
Statutes, Regulations, or Codes
- Read statutes, regulations, and code provisions first. When statutes, regulations, or codes are included, read them first before other items in the Library. Why?… Because they provide the basic elements for the rules of law at issue, and usually cases in the Library will apply the statute/regulation/code to the facts of that case. It’s better to first know the applicable law, and then see how a court analyzes or builds upon it (e.g. a court may introduce a two-part test to determine if the statute applies).
- Pay careful attention to Official Comments. Official comments may be included for a statute, regulation, or code provision. If included, pay attention to them, as they may provide guidance or clarification of the law (or even provide an example), which can be great to use in your legal analysis or to bolster a legal argument.
- Read cases from oldest to newest. If multiple cases are included, it’s best to read cases in chronological order (oldest to newest). Newer cases typically will expand, narrow, overrule, or clarify earlier cases. Using this reading order will make any changes easier to follow and will save you time going back and forth between cases.
- Pay attention to the Court. For each case, the first thing you should note is whether it is binding or persuasive. The court rendering the decision is important and determines how much weight the case must be given.
- The State of Franklin includes 3 different courts: Supreme Court (highest court); Court of Appeal (intermediate appellate court); District Court (trial court). Understanding this hierarchy is critical because cases of a higher court are controlling and must be followed by a lower court (unless the facts can be distinguished).
- For Columbia & Olympia cases, Franklin courts are NOT bound by their case law since it’s from a different state. However, these cases can be used as advisory authority – to argue that a Franklin court should take a similar view. For an overview of the different courts, see Chapter 3 of this guide.
- Determine the purpose and use of each case. One article summarized this point perfectly: “[R]emember that the bar examiners have carefully crafted or selected each case. This means that each one has something specific to tell you and is designed to be of use in your particular task. A case may give you the rule, provide an exception to the rule, or furnish you with a factual distinction from your problem. While being cognizant of your issue from the [task] memo, and, therefore, of the type of argument you will need to make, ask yourself these questions as you read each case: 1) ‘Why is this case in my library?’ and 2) ‘How do I use this case?’”12
- Don’t ignore footnotes. Everything in the Library is carefully constructed by the bar examiners. As such, pay careful attention to footnotes because they were intentionally included and may contain key items for the assignment.
- Look for case citations and quotes, especially to other cases in the Library. A quote or citation within a case will often be to another case in the Library, which is why we suggest reading cases in chronological order. Noticing these connections is important to understanding how the law is analyzed by other cases in the Library. Additionally, if a case quotes another case not in the Library, you can still use that quote in your legal analysis or argument.
Outline the Rule(s) of Law
For an assignment with legal analysis or argument, you should quickly outline the applicable legal rule(s) before reading the File. Your job is to find the relevant rule(s) of law in the Library, and then outline the components or elements of each.
- Organize your outline by how you plan to draft your answer. Typically, the organizational structure is provided (or can be inferred) from the Task Memorandum instructions. Use that organization when outlining the rules of law.
- To outline the rules efficiently, go through one legal authority at a time.
- Start your outline with the “key” legal source. Usually one legal source provides the framework for discussing the rules of law (this is the “key” legal source), and the other sources in the Library build on this foundation. If the Library contains a statute, start there. If the Library contains only cases, then pull the elements of the rule from the case that articulates the rule most clearly (or is the primary case cited to by other cases in Library)… usually this is the oldest case or the case from the highest court. It should be somewhat obvious what the key legal source is after reading the Library.
- Include the court’s reasoning. When outlining, don’t just include the rules of law… you should also include the court’s reasoning (the facts that support the holding). The court’s reasoning is important for your legal analysis when distinguishing or noting similarities to the client’s factual situation.
- Connect the legal sources. The goal is to connect the legal sources to create a complete outline of each rule, along with each court’s reasoning (the facts that support the holding). Making this outline will make your subsequent review of the File much more productive because you’ll have a good idea of the facts to look for.
There are multiple ways to outline the File & Library, so use a way that you’re efficient and comfortable with (our suggested method can be found below).
Remember, your time is precious so don’t waste too much time outlining. We recommend hand writing this outline on scrap paper. DON’T write this outline on the computer because most people have a tendency to write more than they would on paper, which is a waste of time (writing your outline on paper forces you to keep it short and write it quickly).
How to Create an Outline of the Law and Facts
(from the File & Library)
Here is our recommended approach to outline the law and facts (from the File & Library) efficiently.
- Create 3 Columns. On a piece of scrap paper, draw lines on the page to separate it into three columns.
- In Column 1, outline each legal rule. In column 1, outline the relevant legal rules (and their elements) from the legal authorities in the Library.
- In Column 2, outline the court’s reasoning. For each case (or legal authority) in the Library, outline the court’s reasoning in column 2. Specifically, write the facts that support the holding next to the corresponding rule/element along with a quick note of the source (e.g. case name).
- In Column 3, add important facts from the File. In Column 3 of your outline, you should add important facts from the File that correspond to the elements of each rule of law.
To illustrate this process, here is the format:
When drafting your answer, you should use your outline as follows:
- Use Column 1 for reciting the rules of law.
- Use Columns 2 & 3 for legal analysis.
Step # 4: Read the File & Outline the Facts
Next, read the documents in the File.
While reading the File, you should look for facts to use in your legal analysis. To do this, you should be asking yourself “How can the facts in this document be used for the assignment?” and “How does this particular fact impact the legal analysis or argument?”.
While reading you should mark up the File to note key items (e.g. facts, issues, dates, names of parties, legal relationships). Marking up the documents in the File will make the important items easy to reference later on when drafting your answer.
Then, add any important facts from the File to your outline, especially those facts that correspond to the legal rules previously outlined.
Alternative Method Instead of Creating an Outline
(of the Law & Facts)
If you find outlining too time-consuming or cumbersome, then here’s an alternative method.
- Assign each point (issue or rule element) to be discussed a reference number. Specifically, assign a separate number for each rule, and a different letter for each sub-rule / rule element (e.g. 1(a), 1(b), 2, 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), etc.).
- When reading the Library, place the corresponding number next to each point for that respective issue/element.
- Repeat when reading the File.
Now when drafting each point of your answer, you’ll easily be able to find the corresponding facts or law in the File & Library.
Some examinees find this method easier and more streamlined… especially when they have trouble reviewing + outlining the File & Library in 45-minutes. We suggest that you test this alternative method if you still cannot finish within 45-minutes after some practice.
Step # 5: Read the Task Memorandum AGAIN
Reading the Task Memorandum a second time will make sure you are doing the required task and understand the issues the bar examiners want you to discuss. It will also confirm that you didn’t overlook anything.
If a separate Drafting Guidelines Memo is provided, you should also review that again quickly.
Step # 6: Organize Your Answer QUICKLY
The goal here is to make a short of list the topics/issues that you’ll be able to reference when drafting (and so you don’t forget to hit anything).
It’s best to organize your answer by making a very short list (or checklist) of the items you will discuss & the general order.
First, check if the Task Memorandum provides the organizational structure for your answer. If it does, then follow that structure. It depends on the assignment, but the Task Memorandum usually will provide the structure to use when drafting.
Organizational Structure Provided in the Task Memorandum
(from July 2017 MPT-2)
“Please prepare an objective memorandum for me analyzing these questions:
- Is the Zimmers’ bird rescue operation permitted under the county zoning ordinance?
- Are the Zimmers’ festivals permitted under the county zoning ordinance?
- How, if at all, does FRFA affect the county’s ability to enforce its zoning ordinance with respect to the bird rescue operation and the festivals?”
NOTE: In the example above, you should organize your answer into three main points based on the three questions. Sub-points should also be added if there are sub-issues within each question.
- When discussing legal principles, your writing should typically be organized according to those legal principles or rule elements.
- For other types of drafting assignments (such as drafting a contract or interrogatories), it’s typically best to organize your writing by the different items discussed in the Task Memorandum. For example, a contract drafting assignment will usually ask you to draft certain contractual provisions… in that case you should organize your answer by the different contract provisions. For interrogatories (written questions to an opposing party), each question will typically be a separate item.
Remember your topics list should be short… and MUST be done quickly. We recommend hand writing this list on scrap paper, ideally on the same page as your outline.
Below is an example for the July 2017 MPT-2.14
Step # 7: Draft Your Answer
Last, start drafting your answer using your outline and topics list as a guide.
This is the step where you’ll spend the most time… at least 45 minutes! Ideally, if you can finish the other steps quicker and spend 50 minutes that would be even better, especially if you’re a slow writer.
Drafting an MPT assignment (e.g. memo, brief, letter) is similar to what you learned in your law school legal writing class. You’ll need to draw upon those skills to draft a high-scoring (lawyerly type) answer.
However, there is one slight distinction… the MPT answer format. Please see below to see what the MPT requires in that area.
Many examinees ask: “What is the correct format to use on the MPT?” We always say that “it depends”… on both on the Task assigned and any specific instructions. Below is a general overview.
MPT Answer – General Format
- Top Formatting (if applicable) – The formatting at the top of your document for the type of assignment (e.g. a memo heading, case caption, letter heading, etc.).
- Introduction – The introductory paragraph of your answer (e.g. general intro paragraph, statement of the case, statement of issues, purpose of a letter, etc.).
- Statement of Facts (only include when instructed) – A short statement of the relevant facts.
- Discussion (with headings) – The legal analysis or argument with point headings.
- Conclusion – A short conclusion.
- Bottom Formatting (if applicable) – The formatting at the bottom of your document for the type of assignment (e.g. signature line of a letter).
When using the format above, you MUST always keep two principles in mind:
- First, and most importantly, always follow any specific formatting and drafting instructions on your exam. These instructions are found in Task Memorandum and Drafting Guidelines Memo… and you MUST follow them exactly. Your instructions could always be different from past exams, so you may have to adjust the formatting or structure to comply with the instructions.
- Second, each Task has its own specific formatting rules you should follow (unless otherwise instructed).
Since writing an answer for each Task is slightly different, we will cover drafting an MPT answer in more detail in the following chapters:
- How to Write a High Scoring MPT Answer: Tips & Best Practices (see Chapter 10).
- MPT Template: Objective Memorandum (see Chapter 11).
- MPT Template: Persuasive Brief / Memorandum (see Chapter 12).
- MPT Template: Opinion Letter (see Chapter 13).
- MPT Template: Persuasive / Demand Letters (see Chapter 14).
- How to Format the Other “Uncommon” MPT Tasks (see Chapter 15).
This way you’ll have a plan of action for any MPT assignment thrown at you on exam day.
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11Typically, a Drafting Guidelines Memo is provided for Persuasive Briefs and lesser tested MPT Tasks (e.g. drafting interrogatories or will provisions). However, it’s almost never provided for an Objective Memorandum assignment.
12Incorporating Bar Pass Strategies into Routine Teaching Practices, by Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus, 37 Gonz. L. Rev. 17 (2001), at pg. 30.
13 See, February 2013 MPT-2 (In re Guardianship of Will Fox), Point Sheet, at § II.
14 See, July 2017 MPT-2 (In re Zimmer Farm).