Law School Discussion

Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass

Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« on: May 24, 2008, 06:42:07 AM »
I have heard this.  Is there any truth to this? 

VA for instance won't release your MBE score.  I have a hunch its because this rumor is largely true but they want to quash it.  I have heard some people go as far as to say that if you do excellent on the MBE they may not even look in depth at your state portion, because there is such a high correlation between high MBE scores and high state scores that they just look at it as a way to cut corners. 

I can imagine them doing something like that.  If they know that 99% of people who get X number of questions right on the MBE will pass the combined exam, is it cost effective to spend time scrutinizing their state essays?

Thanks for any input.


Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2008, 08:48:22 AM »
The part about doing well on your MBE and passing easily is true.  However, the part of not reading/scoring the essays is not likely true  as I will explain.

Basically, most states score their bar exam using the MBE score, and an essay score and then weight each by a certain percentage.  The essay score is typically calculated using a statistical method which converts essay scores into an MBE score equivalent that represents the same percentile rank as the MBE score.

Typically in most states, 70 to 80 percent  of people pass the bar exam, so a "cut score" (The minimum score you need to pass)  of around a 135 MBE equvalent is typical.

How did I come up with this 135 number?

Here for example, is the Connecticut score distribution for July 2007 where a 135 is about the 77th percentile.

So, say you score near the top 10% of all bar takers and get a score around a 162. Lets assume you take the exam in a state where the MBE and essays are weighted equally.  In this case, if you need a 135 overall average of your MBE and essay scores to pass, you would only need an essay score equivalent of about 108.  From the Connecticut data on this exam, that means you only need to be above the bottom 17% of all examinees to pass.  This is ultimately why ALL bar takers should spend A LOT of time on the MBE preparation.  The closer you can get to performing well on  this standardized test, the less concern a bad essay question will have on your overall score.

So if someone got a 170 or higher on the MBE, does a state need to read this essay? ABSOLUTELY.  Why?  Because even if this particular person is super likely to have passed overall, they need to read and score ALL of the examinee essay exams in order to create the overall scale.  The ability to create the MBE-like scale requires that all of the examinees that are in the pool of MBE takers to be in the pool of essay takers so the essay scale will represent the statistical equivalent.  You can't do it otherwise.  If you remove those who got above a certain MBE score, you then have just the pool of poor MBE test takers, but some of them might actually have an essay score well above their MBE percentile rank. 

Could a state just ignore essays above a certain MBE score and just grade everyone in the lower score range? Yes.  But it would likely result in it being a statistically less reliable process. 

Many states don't release MBE scores, simply because the bar exam is a minimum standards test, and the thought is that all attorneys who pass are deemed "qualified".  States may wish to avoid ranking systems whereby the public then might ask prospective attorney's how they did on the bar exam before hiring them. 

Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2008, 09:25:51 AM »
Thanks for the insight Gambi.

Do you think its possible that a certain state may not create an MBE equivalent, but rather just take a percentage?

For instance, in VA there are 200 available points on the MBE and the State section.  They could do a raw score and scaled score approach, such as the MBE, wherein they would need the pool that you describe in order to accurately adjust the scaled score.  Or they could just use a raw score, thus someone who got 70% of the available points would always have a 140. 

FYI, this is merely a curiousity for me.  I am not contemplating only studying for the MBE. 


Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2008, 09:45:18 AM »
I doubt any state uses the method you describe, simply because the raw scores for the essays would lack meaning, and be very arbitratry from year to year.  If this year, the graders were just very difficult, and the year before they were very lenient, it would lack any credibility.

I do agree, studying for the MBE alone isn't a good strategy, but for anyone who has historically been a strong standardized test taker, it is still  could be a sound strategy to spend a significant amount of time on it...maybe 60 to 70% of ones study time.  Every point on your MBE can get you closer to making the essays less of a concern, but it doesn't work the other way around, since your essays are usually graded on a holistic scale. 

Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2008, 10:33:34 AM »
The only way the MBE will get you an "auto-in" on a bar is in the states/jurisdictions that allow you to motion for admittance based on prior MBE scores. Otherwise, a high MBE means you don't need to do as well on the essays, but don't expect to be waived in on a rumor.

Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2008, 10:37:31 AM »
Its particularly a bad strategy for me, because the MBE is only 40% of my score.  Thus if 70% is passing, I could get 85% on the MBE and still have to get 60% on the essays.

Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2008, 10:40:08 AM »
For those with bar exam experience, if someone is a good test taker and studies harder than most, would it be possible to get 90% or so on the MBE?

what scores were you getting on your practice tests?  I haven't started any practice tests yet.


Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2008, 12:42:01 PM »
You need to practice questions and take practice tests and realize a 90% raw is nearly impossible but for a handful of test takers.

Here is info from California that shows the raw score to scaled score conversion for one administration:

A 165 SCALED score usually required only about 80% correct raw, and that already puts you at the 95th percentile of all test takers. Those few people who got a 180 scaled probably only got about 85% correct.  

So to answer your question, 75 to 80% correct for a top test taker is a more realistic goal, with 90% being possible but not really a target you need to do very, very well.

By the way, even with the MBE being only 40%, its still worth putting in a TONS of effort and I wouldn't suggest its much of a difference whether the MBE is 40 or 50 percent of the scaled score.  Assume once again a 135 passing average needed and you get a 162 on the MBE.  Then you'd need a 117 on the essays.  Thats still a really low threshold to get.  I made an error before.  A 108 for Connecticut isnt the bottom 17 percent, its the bottom 17 TESTTAKERS.And only another 10 got a score between 108 and 117.

The main point remains the same: MBE, MBE, MBE.  It will be a lot harder to make up ground on the essays, but the MBE scale rises faster than the raw score total.  So each question makes a difference, and a bigger difference at the higher end.


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Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2008, 01:54:22 PM »
You people need to cool out.  Save your bar freak out paranoia for after July 4th, when it matters.

The MBE is unlike most standardized tests in that the MBE (and the essay section as well) is essentially a memorization test.  Most standardized tests have more application involved.  So, just because you do well on standardized tests isn't a guarantee.  But, if you are a good test-taker in general, in that you don't freeze up, freak out, or waste time, you'll be fine.  If you study and don't completely freak out the day of the exam, you will pass.

But, that is a long time away.  Just go to bar class and keep your materials organized now, and try to have some fun and not work all night.  Then, after July 4, turn into a raving lunatic for 3 weeks.


Re: Bar Exam Rumor - Do well on the MBE and you will pass
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2008, 09:07:07 PM »
First off, nobody is freaking out.  Second of all, I already passed a bar exam.

TBut putting aside your impression of the amount of application necessary, the MBE correlates strongly to ones LSAT score.  One of the reason too many people panic after July 4 is that they don't spend enough time on the MBE.  The number one reason cited by most unsuccessful bar takers isn't the essays, its the MBE.  The best way to avoid post July 4th panic is to realize its significance. 

Bar course dedication will get you through the essays, but only serious and regular practice of MBE questions will improve your MBE score.  So quite honestly, for the mainstream average bar examinee who wants to avoid post July 4 panic (which isn't a good method), practice , practice, practice those MBE questions.