How To Study With MBE Questions: Active Learning

Many first time bar takers work with MBE questions incorrectly, resulting in ineffective study and stagnant MBE scores. There’s one big mistake you SHOULD NOT make: practice MBE questions and then passively read the answers. This post describes how you should be practicing and studying with MBE questions in a way that is effective!

First thing’s first:

  • Always remember that the golden standard for MBE practice is quality and NOT quantity. When you’re first practicing MBE questions to increase your practice and performance, start with small sets. Do a set of 15 questions – then study them. When you’re first starting with with bar study, there’s no use in doing a large set and getting a large number of questions wrong and feeling discouraged. Start small, learn from your questions, and then increase your number over time.
  • So, how do you learn from questions? After each question you do, you should be able to dictate the following: (1) why the answer is correct; (2) why the other three answers are wrong; (3) why you got the question wrong or right; and (4) what take-away can you learn from this question. Write down why you’re getting questions wrong or law you’re missing. Use an MBE tracker chart to help you with this (find an MBE tracker chart in the Dropbox).
  • What are the most common reasons students get MBE questions wrong? This usually falls into the following categories: (1) did not know the law; (2) reading comprehension issue, i.e., missed an important sentence or read something incorrectly; (3) tricked by the facts; (4) assumed a fact not present; (5) missed an important detail; or (6) down to two choices but picked the wrong one.

Let’s play this out with an MBE question and an example:

A defendant was arrested and charged with murder. The victim, who resided in Los Angeles, was found shot to death in San Diego, where the defendant lived. During the defendant’s murder trial, the prosecution called the victim’s wife to testify. She proposed to testify that the day before the victim was killed, he told her, “I intend to go to San Diego tomorrow and pay the defendant the money I owe him.” Is the wife’s testimony admissible?

A. Yes, to show the victim’s intent.

B. Yes, as a verbal act.

C. No, because the victim is not subject to cross-examination.

D. No, as hearsay not within any recognized exception.

Say Student chose (D), which is the incorrect answer. Student chose (D) because they thought that the statement was offered for its truth – that the victim went to San Diego to see the defendant and was shot by the defendant. Student likely further thought that no exception or exemption applied. When looking at the correct answer, Student saw the answer was (A).

  • First, Student should write down why (A) is correct: The hearsay exception of then-existing state of mind applies to this fact pattern. Such statements (intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, etc.) are admissible substantively to prove the declarant’s state of mind when that state of mind is at issue. Thus, the victim’s statement will be admissible to show his state of mind – that he was going to San Diego to pay the defendant – the day before he was killed.
  • Second, Student should note and understand why the other answers are wrong. Choice (B)is wrong because verbal acts are words which have legal significance apart from their truth (usually tortious words and transactional words). The statement by the victim has no legal significance. Choice (C) is incorrect because the exception of then-existing state of mind does not require the declarant to be available for cross-examination. Choice (D), Student’s choice, is incorrect because a hearsay exception did in fact apply to the fact pattern.
  • Finally, the most important step, Student should figure out WHY they got the answer wrong. With this question, Student likely did not know the law. Thus, Student should write the law they missed, and the fact scenario that triggered this law – the hearsay exception – so they can later study it and not miss it again.

Although going through questions in this way seems a bit time consuming and daunting – it is the most effective way to study with MBE questions. Remember that even if you get questions correct, make sure you’re getting them correct for the right reasons. You do not want to guess on these questions – you want to understand them.

Keep plugging along, one MBE question at a time!

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