Bar Exam

The 5 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making on Multiple-Choice Questions

By February 11, 2021 January 5th, 2023 4 Comments
5 biggest mistakes you're making on multiple-choice questions

Preparing for the MBE involves two main aspects: (i) knowledge of the substantive law concepts that are tested, and (ii) the ability to analyze multiple-choice questions. Both of these are equally as important to scoring well on the MBE. This is also what makes the MBE so difficult. But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips for you! Below we’ve put together a list of the top five biggest mistakes we see examinees making while answering MBE multiple-choice questions.

You should always start by learning the black letter law before you jump into answering questions. This will give you a good base and help you feel more confident. Once you’ve learned the law, answering questions is how you can practice applying it. If you’ve started to notice yourself burning out on questions or if your score is not improving, take some time to analyze if you’re struggling with your legal knowledge or your test-taking skills. Do you need to go back to the book and study the concepts more or do you need to work on your multiple-choice strategy?

Taking time to review these common pitfalls might be just the boost you need to see your MBE score skyrocket!

You are picking answer choices that are legally correct but wrong.

The MBE is not just a straightforward application of the rules you memorized. The examiners make it harder by adding in distractors and red herrings. Often a question will have several answers that look appealing, and even if you narrow down the choices, you might still find yourself picking the wrong answer over and over. Here’s how to narrow in on the correct choice.

First, make sure you eliminate answer choices that do not match up with the facts. If you are reading a battery question, make sure you eliminate answer choices that discuss assault or negligence. But even doing this may leave you with two choices. One trick to help you in these situations is to look for answer choices that are legally correct statements but do not apply to the fact pattern. These answers will look extremely appealing because they are true statements of law or fact, but that does not make them correct. Taking this extra step will take seconds and will stop you from blindly picking between two choices.

You are tricking yourself.

This exam is not easy, but you don’t need to make it harder on yourself. Remember these questions are meant for you to answer in 1.8 minutes. The questions are usually focused on one rule or exception. Search for the issue, and when you find it, move on. Many examinees go wrong here by overanalyzing a question. If you find something ambiguous, go for the simplest explanation. At the end of the day, don’t forget to use your common sense, and save the analysis for the essay section!

Don’t try to be smarter than the question. Try not to let your own experience or expertise become a hindrance. Sometimes, examinees who have had work experience or a special depth of knowledge in one subject area find themselves scoring poorly in that area. This is because they are analyzing the question too much, and they probably have a greater depth of knowledge in that area than the examiners are testing on.

You are jumping to apply a defense or exception.

Never pick an answer choice about a defense or exception unless the facts tell you that is what the question is about. If you are answering a torts question, and the answer choices present you with defenses, but the fact pattern does not give you any facts that suggest the defendant would have a defense, then eliminate those answer choices. Similarly, when you see a hearsay question, don’t immediately look for an exception. Start with the hearsay definition first.

Sometimes this will be frustrating. You may not always “agree” with the correct answer. You may even think that there is potentially a better, more correct answer that is not one of the answer choices given. For example, you may think that a certain hearsay exception might apply, but it is not included in the answer choices. Don’t waste your time asking yourself “hypothetical” questions. Pick the best choice available and move on.

You’re not reading closely.

You may be missing several easy questions based on simple reading comprehension. For example, you may be reading too quickly and missing important facts or keywords. Sometimes the entire question will turn on one word in the call. Look for trigger words that change the application of the facts. Some examples of key directions in the call are “most likely to succeed,” “best defense,” most likely basis for the judgment,” and “least sufficient basis for admission.” These types of calls require a step past knowing the law. They require deeper analysis and often a process of elimination strategy. Try rewording these calls to make them clearer. Also, pay attention to key modifiers like “if,” “unless,” or “because” which may change the entire meaning of the call or answer choice.

Make sure you are listening to the questions. Don’t assume facts that you haven’t been given, and always follow the facts you are given. This may mean sometimes ignoring your instincts or the common law rules. If the question gives you a rule or statute to follow, make sure you are following it to the letter. Eliminate answer choices that would be correct under the common law but not the given statute.

You are panicking and rushing through questions.

Did you know that it’s been proven that severe anxiety prohibits memory? One of the worst things you can do on the MBE is panic. We know that you have a lot riding on the exam and that it can easily feel overwhelming. But remember when that panic sets in, it’s all in your head. When you start to panic, your mind will be preoccupied. You will skip important details when reading fact patterns and make mistakes while you rush.

Learning how to quiet your nerves will actually help your performance. Take a few deep breaths, and focus on selecting quality answers over rushing to get through the questions as quickly as possible. Focus on the questions you know you can get right. Remember, you aren’t penalized for incorrect or unmarked answers, so be sure to bubble in every answer.

With these five strategy tips, and AdaptiBar on your side, you still have plenty of time to correct the mistakes that are holding you back. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you will walk into the MBE more confident than ever. That extra confidence will keep your anxiety at bay and boost your memory retention and performance. Remember, you got this!

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • David says:

    “Remember, you aren’t penalized for incorrect or unmarked answers, so be sure to bubble in every answer.”

    If you leave a question unanswered, I.e. leaving answers unmarked, then it is counted as wrong, and you do not receive any points for that question.
    So, yes – technically, you aren’t PENALIZED for leaving a question unanswered (they do not deduct points from your raw score).. but you don’t receive any points at all, either (they don’t add points to your raw score). It’s a distinction without a difference..

    The overall takeaway is, don’t leave any question unanswered.

    • Hi David,

      That is correct, it is only correct answers that receive points towards your raw score.
      Incorrect or unmarked answers do not yield you any points toward your overall score, but are also not counted against you.
      So be sure to bubble in every answer!

  • Daniel de Vera says:

    I have a rusty knowledge of law. You state we should not jump doing questions without first memorizing law. What Outlines do. you recommend ? Do you have materials aligned with Adaptibar MBE questions for learning and memorizing black letter law before purchasing Adaptibar questions ?

    • Hi Daniel! We recommend referencing any other comprehensive materials you may have. If you do not have other materials, AdaptiBar also offers our Smart Online Flashcards and Video Lectures. Both of these are great tools for learning and understanding the black letter law being applied in MBE questions. Our video lectures also come with outlines so you can follow along and take notes.

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