By: Jill Garabedian, Manager, Helix Bar Review Communications and Experience
When it’s time to study for the bar exam, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) — two tests you must pass to become licensed in most jurisdictions (check your state’s specific requirements) — are both comprised entirely of multiple-choice questions. So, even if you haven’t had to decide between (a), (b), (c), and (d) since the LSAT, you will need to hone your ability to answer “bar style” multiple-choice questions before you take your first licensing exam. Follow these three tips, and you’ll be a master at multiple-choice by test day!
1) Know the Question Format.
The first step to demystifying multiple-choice questions is to understand their basic structure. They start with a fact pattern (typically one or two paragraphs), followed by a question (commonly referred to as the call of the question or question stem), with four answer choices after the question prompt. The beauty of this style of question is that, even if you are stuck on the law, you have a one in four chance of selecting the correct answer. And, once you’re familiar with the multiple-choice format (after lots of practice — see tip #3), you can often narrow the options down to give yourself an even better chance at making an educated guess at the right answer.
For example, answer choices often have three parts — the result, the modifier, and the reasoning. The result is the short answer to the question, like yes or no, or guilty or not guilty. The modifier ties the result and the reasoning together — typically by using “because.” Finally, the reasoning is the relevant law or facts that cause the result. The right answer must ultimately include the correct result and the right reasoning to support it. So, if the result and reasoning do not agree, you can eliminate that answer choice! (Check out these sample MBE and MPRE test questions for examples.)
2) Approach Multiple-Choice Questions Strategically.
Once you understand how the questions and answer choices are structured, use this knowledge to your advantage and approach every multiple-choice prompt with the same steps. (Note: your mileage may vary on whether the strategy we suggest works for you. If you’d rather skip a step, combine a couple, or reorder them, that’s fine. Just make sure you have an approach when answering multiple-choice questions and stick to it.) Here’s one proven method:
First, read the call of the question. Before even looking at the fact pattern, read the call of the question. Unlike your law school exams, where you generally know the subject you’re being tested on, each question on the MBE could be assessing your understanding of one of seven subjects. The call of the question is your first clue as to what area of law the question is targeting. It can also give you a sense of the key parties involved and some context for what details to look for in the fact pattern.
Scan the answer choices. If you don’t get enough context clues from the call of the question, quickly scan the answer choices for key buzzwords and phrases that provide details about the issue being tested. No need to thoroughly read each answer choice here — this is just another opportunity to do some reconnaissance to allow for a more focused reading of the facts.
Actively read the fact pattern. Once you have a better idea of the area of law the question is testing, read the fact pattern carefully and methodically. Timing is key, so your goal should be to read through the facts once. Use visual cues to stay engaged while reading and to note key details — for example, circle parties and dates, underline important facts, write notes in the margins — whatever method works best for you to identify the legal issue and how to resolve the call of the question.
Read the call of the question again. Now that you’re familiar with the facts, reread the call of the question to refresh your understanding of the question you are being asked to answer.
Formulate an answer in your head. Before reading the four options, come up with your own answer. While your response may not match one of the given answer choices exactly, this step will help you to more quickly select the “best” answer and eliminate false choices.
Read the answer options again. Read each answer choice again carefully, this time with your own answer to the question in mind. Even if you think you’ve found the right option, keep reading. You’re looking for the “best” answer, which means a better response may be provided in C or D. It also means that you may not find a choice that matches what you think the answer should be. Sometimes, the “best” answer is the most right of four imperfect options.
Select the best answer. By using the process of elimination and crossing off answer choices as you go that are definitely wrong, you can narrow it down to the right answer. A false answer choice — also referred to as a distractor — may be wrong for various reasons. Similarly, answers can be almost right but not quite there. As you become more familiar with this question format, you will start to recognize the tricks employed by test takers to distract you from the correct answer.
3. Practice, Review, Practice, Review …
Practicing your strategy will help you become more comfortable with the multiple-choice format, but you will learn and improve the most by reviewing your performance. This means reading the answer explanation for each question, whether you got it right or wrong, to understand the reasoning for why each response was correct or incorrect and why you were on or off track. Keep a journal (or utilize this worksheet) to help you identify common mistakes and testing errors and devise a strategy to disrupt those patterns. (Create your free account on Ask EDNA! — the powerhouse platform with free resources for your entire law school journey — to get started!)
With multiple-choice questions, practice makes passing, so the more you practice your strategy for answering these questions, the more efficient and effective you will become at answering them! When it’s time to study for the bar exam, a comprehensive prep course like Helix Bar Review will provide all the practice you need to be ready for test day.
But don’t wait until you’re preparing for the bar exam to start your practice! Answering multiple-choice questions throughout the semester can help you synthesize and solidify your understanding of a subject. You’ll encounter examples of how the nuances of the rules can be applied and start to see patterns in how facts can be manipulated to test these rules, all while you’re committing the rules to memory through repeat exposure. Mastering multiple-choice will lead to success in law school and on the bar exam!
For more about multiple-choice questions, check out this lesson on Ask EDNA! For additional information on the types of multiple-choice exams you may be required to take to become licensed, check out free Helix Bar Review webinars on the bar exam and MPRE.