Hello all you beautiful law school students:
Leslie here reporting to you my most recent law school experience. This time, I'm sharing with you my MPRE exam study and test taking experience.
What is the MPRE?
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice examination that is administered three times per year. The MPRE is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
If you plan on becoming licensed in your state as a lawyer, you'll need to take the MPRE exam sometime around your second or third year of law school. However, because I go to an online, California state accredited law school with a part-time program, I prepared for and took the MPRE during the first half of my fourth year.
MPRE tests your knowledge of professional responsibility
It is most desirable to have taken the professional responsibility course in your law school. This way, you've had time to work through the rules and the logic with your professor and on your papers. I don't necessarily believe you'll need to have taken professional responsibility to pass this exam, that is - do all the course work - but you will need to study the rules and their relevant scenarios in which the rules are commonly tested and applied.
In California, professional responsibility is always tested on the bar exam. Professional responsibility is obviously the most important subject next to probably civil procedure because the State wants to assure the public that you won't mishandle their money, enter into bad contracts with clients, or provide legal assistance to clients whose interests are materially adverse to your existing clients. In short, you need to know ahead of time how to recognize a bad situation that will not only hurt your clients, but subject you to malpractice claims, discipline, or disbarment.
Unfortunately, the MPRE as an exam is not intuitive. You will not be able to read the question and understand, at first glance, what they're even asking you. Here's what I think from my experience...
MPRE Exam Questions Are Intentionally Confusing
Upon first glance, you will read a question and not understand what the examiner is even asking you. After the confusing fact pattern, the question is generally vague. In fact, there is practically no call of the question to consider what the point of the problem to be solved is.
Why is this?
Here are my theories:
First, the legal issue that they're testing you on is hidden in the question. This means that they're not telling you, "This is a commingling funds issue." Or, "This is a conflicts issue."
You will need to identify the legal issue that is hidden in question.
You will need to learn the common scenarios that arise from the rules. The only way to do this is to study and remember what scenario matches with what rule. It's a simple process, but it's time consuming and a skill you'll never use again in your life. You just have to do it.
Second, the sentence structure is not plain English. The sentences are arguably not run-on, but they're so long that you could come to the conclusion that they have the essence of a run-on sentence.
Currently, the legal industry is aiming to get lawyers to draft legalese in plain language that could be easily understood by the average person (with an 8th grade reading level). The MPRE does not help advance this cause. The syntax, or sentence structure, of the fact patterns are written at a 11th or 12th grade reading level.
Lawyers are supposed to read at a 12th grade reading level, but cognitively it takes time to break down what you read and then put what you grasp into a concept that you, as the reader, understand. Which leads me to the next issue.
Prepare Psychologically For The MPRE Time Constraints
The MPRE is a 2 hour exam with 60 questions. The questions, as I discussed above are written in a complex syntax. The test writer buries the professional responsibility issue in vague language that challenges you to determine for yourself what that is. Next, you have to go through a process of elimination to determine which answers do not match the fact pattern. Finally, you then have to determine which of the remaining answers best applies to the situation.
It takes time to read, understand, digest, and respond to a question intelligently. You must prepare beforehand to face the time constraints of the MPRE exam.
It's absurd to believe that to be a lawyer you have to think a million miles a minute and be able to breakdown, analyze, and type at 120 words per minute in order to complete an essay exam (specifically the present Bar Exam format). This is not how the real world works.
In the real world, people slowly read thousands of pages, take notes, brain storm, digest the information, sit with that information, dig into their intuition to finally pull out inspired ideas over a lengthy period of time to accomplish a goal for their client. There is a reason why litigation takes time - not just procedurally - but in terms of preparation. If every lawyer in America could grab the facts from their client, get a general law, slap together an IRAC, and present it to the court after just an hour of absorbing the law and the facts then law suits would be done within a matter weeks. Good lawyering takes time, patience, and careful - not rushed - thinking.
With this said:
Do not be hard on yourself if you read questions slowly.
Do not be impatient with yourself it takes you time to even comprehend what you just read.
Do not be frustrated because you're having a hard time spotting the right answer.
This was my issue. Timing always stressed me out when it came to making an argument. As a writer, I have to strike when the iron is hot. That means, I have to walk away when I don't feel inspired. After I sit with my thoughts for a while and feel I have a solid grasp of the concepts, I can finally sit down and hammer out my ideas. I can't produce an argument with a gun to my head. I have to consider things carefully and within my natural processes.
How I Prepared Myself For MPRE Time Constraints
During the preparation period leading up to the exam, I did not give myself a time crunch at first.
I just learned how to:
Understand what the question was asking me by identifying which legal issue was buried in question.
Be able to picture the factual scenario in my head (like literally imagining a lawyer with a corporate client and seeing a fax with confidential information come in from the adversary)
Learn to read the answers carefully without skipping over or disregarding words.
I had to take the time to breakdown every sentence carefully. I focused on breathing. I focused on staying calm and concentrated. And, I worked on being patient with myself and the material.
These factors may seem neglible, but that's how performance psychology works: it's the process of priming you to physiologically be present and organized for the task at hand. You're preparing yourself to be totally concentrated on what is in front of you.
You have to go slow in order to go fast.
At first, I just made sure that I fully understood the question. That meant reading the questions several times and reading the answers several times. I focused on this first, not worrying about my quiz scores. I focused on getting comfortable with the way the exam is presented.
Eventually, after the process of physiologically priming myself and systematically going through the steps of carefully reading the questions and anwers, I allowed myself to get answers wrong and correct my gaps in knowledge. Then, I gave my self less and less time until I could move quickly and accurately.
Don't Be Afraid To Get Wrong Answers
Like I mentioned before, I don't necessarily believe that taking a professional responsibility course is required to prepare for the MPRE. But, having taken a professional responsibility course does help. You can learn the rules before and during quiz practice.
If you have a habit of trying to get things right on the first time, I suggest you drop it. You may frustrate yourself if you find that, at first, you keep getting wrong answers or that you fall below your target score.
Be comfortable with getting the questions wrong. This is the only effective method for identifying your knowledge gaps. When you revisit material that you generally knew in order to get more specific understanding, you are acting like a heat seeking missle. You keep course correcting until you hit your target.
A tip for testing your knowledge and seeing how much you actually know:
If you find that, after a process of elimination, you have two answers the seem right, but you are not sure, first write down the answer that feels the strongest with a quick note on why and then follow that with the second best answer with a quick note on why.
You will see that even if you get the first best answer wrong, you are likely to have been close with your second best answer. It's worth noting that while testing your knowledge. It also helps you to see which subjects have you feeling most conflicted. And, it will help you to identify which factual scenarios go with certain rules.
Beat The Odds: The MPRE Is A Numbers Game
At my school, we have a general rule of thumb for success in exam preparation: If you can successfully do 1000 questions and get a majority of those right, you will pass the MBE portion of the bar exam. If you do at least 20 written exams in a given subject matter and get most of those right, you will pass your written exams.
I looked it my chances like this:
If I could find and do as many questions as possible and get at least, in the beginning, 80% of those right and then, but the end of those questions get 90% right, I knew I could pass the first time.
I would find which areas I got less than 80% and go back and study those areas until I could raise my average score. I kept looking for my knowledge gaps and worked towards closing them. The process is that basic. Which again, I emphasize with getting comfortable with getting things wrong the first time, and several times after that. Keep course correcting and you will hit your target.
I knew that I would have to do at least 400 questions to pass. Which is why I chose the two following tools to get me to my goal. In total, I did 464 questions to prepare for the MPRE exam.
What Material Did I Use To Study For The MPRE?
I like to mix up my test taking materials. I used a mix of digital and printed.
One tool I used was the 2020 MPRE Study Guide published by AmeriBar.
This is what I liked about the MPRE Study Guide.
There are 254 questions in this book.
The only way that you'll be able to test your progress and gain exposure is by working on hundreds of different questions. Having many questions at my disposal was essential.
The answers are expanded with their logical conclusions and clarification of the substantive law. I highly suggest reading every single answer - even the wrong answers - to know why an answer is wrong and why an answer is right. It is time consuming, but you do learn through this process.
2. I could use the book when I didn't have WIFI
Sometimes, I like I go outside and sit in nature. I'll practice a while and take a quick nap in my gazebo with birds chirpping and water fountains babbling. Having this book with me was a nice way to get away from a phone, computer, and other people.
I also took my family on a vacation to the Yucatan peninsula and Cancun. I studied for three hours on the plane and while sitting between flights. I also was able to do twenty questions a day using this book while sipping pina coladas and lounging poolside when my kids were napping or playing in the pool. I then did more questions at night right before bed using the Quimby app in my resort room when I had strong wifi.
3. The print was large and the size of the book is large.
I get screen fatigue and can't look at a screen sometimes for days on end. I have to rest my eyes. For those with sensitve or tired eyes, having a large book with large print is very helpful to allow you to make progress without having to sacrifice your comfort and wellbeing.
4. The MPRE study guide contains the substantive law
There is nothing worse than having to quiz yourself and wanting to go back to check the substantive law, then realizing that you have to use a totally different book to do that.
This MPRE study guide contains the substantive law in the front so that you can easily reference the appropriate law identified in the answers.
The second tool I used was the Quimbee App/Website MPRE study program
Membership is about $29 per month. I use Quimbee for school work and to learn substantive laws for my classes. I saw that they had an MPRE section and I used 69% of the materials.
Here is what I liked about Quimbee's MPRE prep course:
Lots of VIDEOS of Profssional Responsibility Substantive Law and MPRE test taking strategies
The Quimbee folks know how to put together a visual explaination of substantive law. They also know how to make videos with tips on how to ace the exams.
I watched many of the substantive rule videos several times. There is a narrator voice, too, who explains the concepts that are visually organized for you to understand the concepts.
I preferred watching the substantive law videos on a laptop or desktop because of my vision. But, you can watch them on the app, too.
2. There are plenty of MPRE style quizzes and two diagnostic exams
There are 19 different quizzes on each substantive section of professional responsibility with five questions each. I did all the quizzes. That's 95 questions.
There are two diagnostic exams that have 60 questions so you can pretend you are taking a real life MPRE exam. There are stats on the dashboard to show you how many you got right and what you did not get right. The diagnostic exam will show you where you place in a total of all the test takers on the website. For example, I placed 362nd out of 1217 test takers on one diagnostic exam.
I do wish that there were more questions on the Quimbee program. In total, there are 215 questions. There are two more diagnostic exams (licensed questions) that you can take, but you have to pay $49 for each of them. I know that I could afford that, but I felt it was kind of unfair especially if you have a monthly membership and that they didn't have as many questions that I felt I needed to do to feel totally comfortable. But, I guess that's the raw deal since the NBCE sells the same thing for $50 on their website.
3. The App is handy to use on your phone
It was nice to lay in bed after a long day of traveling and do a quiz. The interface is easy to use and navigate. And, you can save your spot in a diagnostic exam or quiz and come back later.
Sometimes, I played a substantive video while doing chores around the house. I didn't feel stuck to a chair or a location. I could use the app using WIFI or 5G.
How Much Time Did I Take To Study For The MPRE in Total?
I started off easy, no pressure. Then, I pushed my self a little more and more. Getting comfortable with things being confusing at first. Then, I demanded myself to work towards statistical goals of getting so many questions right in one group of questions. And then, getting as many right within a short time period.
Starting at about two and a half months before the exam, I studied one day per week for a few hours by revisiting the substantive rules of professional responsibility. I did little quizzes that the book provided immediately following the substantive chapters.
Then, once I finished the substantive review, I worked on quizzes, focusing on doing just 40 questions in a block while closing my knowledge gaps. Taking it slow. No time constraints.
For the three weeks leading up to the exam - from Monday to Friday - I worked exclusively on quizzes and continuing to narrow my knowledge gaps. As each day passed, I gave myself less and less time.
I remember having to calendar my other big assignments well around exam day to make sure my study schedule was totally clear.
I also took a 9 day vacation with my husband and children to Mexico. I had a blast mountain biking through the jungle, rappelling into a pitch black sink hole, exploring ancient sites, and relaxing with my family and making new, wonderful Mexican friends who helped me improve my Spanish skills. I studied just about every single day of my vacation. And, if I didn't then I doubled up on those rest days next to the pool and festivities.
In total, I would say, spanning a little over two and a half months, I prepared for about 200 hours. I really don't think it's about the quanity of time. But I do think it's about how much you grasp during each prep session without pressuring yourself to cram. It's better to study for two hours in a day with plenty of breaks for walks, naps, snacks, and social time while giving yourself mental space to ponder the issues that you're not totally clear on.
What Was My MPRE Exam Day Like?
TIP BEFORE EXAM DAY: The MPRE examiners send you a link to learn how to use the navigation for the MPRE exam. I highly recommend playing with that so that you can get a feel of the interface.
I got plenty of sleep the night before. I worked out my usual 40 minutes in the morning. I got showered, dressed and relaxed my mind. I did not do any school work that day. I reserved exam day as the only goal for the day. I did not study on this day. I figured, if I didn't know it by now, I wouldn't know it enough for today.
I went to the testing center to take my exam. Th testing professional must have noticed by eagerness, because she said, "Wow, you look ready to take this exam!"
All I could say was, "I prepared alot for it!"
There were many people in the testing room. I hoped that was not a distraction and it wasn't. I liked how I could zoom in the screen so I could see the questions in a large font.
I took my time and read each question twice. I flagged those questions I had a hard time on. I had fifteen minutes to spare because I had trained myself for timed test taking.
In total, the flagged questions that confused me were 6 questions in all. I went over them over and over again until I felt that I got the best possible answer. I did this with my remaining time.
What was my score on the MPRE exam?
It's no surprise that the California Bar Exam is one of the hardest bar exams in the nation. And, it's no surprise that the MPRE minimum score would be the highest in the nation.
To pass the MPRE in California, you must have a minimum score of 86.
Old me wanted to get the highest score possible. Maybe it's because I was born with an impossible to please Filipino mother. That Asian excellence pressure is a real thing.
I remember when I was in undergraduate, I did everything I could just to increase my GPA enough so that I could graduate with honors. I didn't need a 4.0 - but just enough to graduate with honors. Not that anyone really cares. I don't even care, but there was fun in it at the time. Think of Cher Horrowitz in Clueless negotiating with her professors to increase her grades.
Anyway, I knew that if I could hit that percentage target over a large number of questions, I'd pass. I didn't care what score I got. I just wanted to pass.
I got my scaled score 26 days later.
For your reference, this is what a scaled score means according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners:
How Is the MPRE Scored?
The performance information provided for the MPRE is a scaled score which ranges from 50 (low) to 150 (high). MPRE scaled scores are calculated by NCBE based on a statistical process known as equating that is commonly used on standardized examinations. This statistical process adjusts raw scores on the current examination to account for differences in difficulty as compared with past examinations. Equating makes it possible to compare scaled scores across test administrations because any particular scaled score will represent the same level of knowledge/performance from one test date to another. Equating helps to ensure that no examinee is unfairly penalized or rewarded for taking a more or less difficult form of the test. Because the adjustment of scores during equating is examination-specific (i.e., based on the level of difficulty of the current examination as compared to previous examinations), it is not possible to determine in advance of the test how many questions an examinee must answer correctly to achieve a specific scaled score.
I got a scaled score of 99.
In 2022, the mean score amongt all three MPRE exams was 96.3. So I guess I got a few points higher than the mean. I was essentially right on target for what they expect the average student to get.
For one split second, I almost could hear myself entertain the question, "Why wasn't my score higher?"
Then, I shut down that thought and took the win.
I passed. That was the end of that.
I can see myself using this approach with the MBE portion of the California Bar Exam. Just take it slow and add conditions that you must be comfortable with on exam day.
My MPRE Preparation Checklist
In summary, these are the elements or conditions you must master ahead of time:
Study the format of the MPRE exam
Identify what the question is asking (comprehending the entire fact pattern which is a question in and of itself)
Learn to comprehend the complex syntax written at a 12th grade reading level
Recognize bad answers to immediately eliminate, thus shaving time off my selection process
Learn to spot the two best potential answers and how to choose the very best possible answer
Get used to reading, thinking, and making a decision within a specific time constraint
Use the exam interface ahead of time to be sure you don't get confused on exam day
Revisit the substantive law and closing knowledge gaps
Recognize typical fact patterns/scenarios that match the substantive rule
Sleeping, eating, and exercising. Keep yourself in peak physical and mental form. Be zen.
Stay consistent and be patient with yourself. You are learning, afterall.
Final Words of Encouragement for The MPRE Exam
I hope the lessons from my experience help you prepare and pass the MPRE on the first try.
You may ask yourself, "What if I fail the first time?"
I asked myself that. And, it's OK to ask yourself this question.
This was my answer to myself:
And so what? It says nothing about me as a person. I'm doing something that a tiny percentage of Americans do each day. There are 39.24 MILLION people in California. There are only195,000 active and licensed lawyers in California. That's less than 1/2 of one percent of Californians. I'm doing something challenging. If it was something you could do without self-discipline, there'd be a lot more people doing it. Little by little, line by line. And, if I fail; I know the process. Do it again. Close the knowledge gaps and do it again. I have plenty of time to get it right.
I've heard it said that plenty of people have the will to succeed, but only a few people have the will to prepare to succeed.
Train yourself to be an expert in preparation. You got this!
Your Turn! I want to hear from you.
Are you going to take the MPRE any time soon? What concerns or fears do you have?
Have you taken the MPRE? What tools have you used? What advice do you have to offer?
Let me know in the comments!