Friday, April 18, 2008

I Passed the MPRE & You Can, Too

I'm halfway to lawyerland, in terms of the dumb exams you have to take to get licensed. Regular readers--if there are any--you might not care about this. But since there's a lot of confusion surrounding the MPRE and a lot of people do online searches for more information, I decided to try and help as much as possible based on my experience and other info I found/had been given.

The MPRE is the exam nobody ever talks about. You hear all about the Bar exam far before you enter law school or even if you're not a lawyer. You think that's the last and only hurdle before practicing and after you get through, at least, your second year of law school. The MPRE is this test with 60 questions, only 50 of which count, that is as essential as the Bar exam...because you're not practicing law until you pass it. The score you need is jurisdiction-specific. Since I decided to take the NY Bar, I needed an 85. Had I decided to take the Illinois Bar like I want(ed) to, I would have needed an 80. The state of my law school and the state that I'm from only need a 75, and the consensus around getting that score is you only need to get half the questions right on the exam. Now, that's kind of sad to me, as well as makes me question the point of the exam in the first place, but whatever.

However, no one really knows how many questions you need right to get any other score, regardless of what you find on the internet. Unfortunately, there just aren't any clearcut guidelines. Honestly, are you surprised? I mean, those of you who have been through two or three years of law school? The fact that the organization administering the exam won't let you know anything other than you need to take this exam and there are 60 questions on it but only 50 count falls right in line with everything else regarding law school and the legal profession, i.e. downright nonsensical and unnecessarily complicated/mysterious/scary. That, my friends, is the one thing that makes the "easiest test ever" induce anxiety attacks...well, aside from the fact that many people DO fail this exam...some MANY times.

I'll do a Q & A for you, based on stuff people tend to want to know:

Q: How easy is this exam?

A: Honestly, I didn't think it was as easy as most people say. The key might be that it's easy to pass. But the material is not easy--it's convoluted (which is probably why most jurisdictions make it so easy to pass). To that end (the next two Qs)...

Q: How long should I study?
What should I use/do to help me study?

A: Depends on you. A lot of people say they studied too much for this test, and oftentimes those people studied for a week, maybe a little bit less time than that. I studied for close to a week and don't feel it was too much. Don't let anyone tell you their story about how they studied in the car on the way to the exam only and got a 141 out of 150 as evidence of how easy this thing is, unless perhaps you're a white male. I say that because I've been noticing that the people who get the highest scores on this test of ethics and professional responsibility and/or do the least amount of work and get a great score...are often crazy, extremely unethical and unprofessional (online) white males. Or so they say, i.e. I don't believe their stories to begin with and just think they are messing with everyone's heads when they get online and write about how they went into the test with a hangover from partying the night before and got a near-perfect score without studying at all.

Don't let them succeed in freaking you out or making you think you don't really need to study. My theory is these are those borderline serial killer-looking kids you see in class with glasses who have really lame "friends," got picked on in high school and either do nothing but study or study most of the time with study breaks that consist of them behaving like an alkie because they don't know any other definition for the word "fun" but that. If you see a calm, logical-looking post that discusses studying for a week a few hours a day or maybe three days for about 8 hours a day, pay more attention to what those people have to say.

To me, this is how you answer the question of how long you should study (and, for the record, this is basically what I did): before you study at all, get the Barbri Professional Responsibility study guide (if you're not taking the prep course, buy the book off eBay or something like that, which is what I did) and do one of those practice tests cold. If you were smart, you did this with the LSAT--the MPRE is not to be handled any differently. Do a practice test and see how many you miss. Obviously, if you're missing half or more, you need to study more than one day, which a lot of people claim they only studied that long (and I know someone who really did only study for one day). If you're missing, I'd say, 10, maybe 15 (out of 60), you're good to study for one day just to be on the safe side (i.e. maybe read over the short outline in the Barbri book and explanations for the questions you missed).

For the score I needed, based on materials I read online, my rough guideline was I needed to be getting 32 out of 50 correct and/or 39 out of 60, i.e. roughly 64% if I'm remembering correctly and have all the numbers right (I think I am/do). Although one guide I found during an internet search indicated that 64% was needed for an 85 one year (I think 2005), another guide indicated that only 53% was needed another year (I think 2003). Thus, I went with 64%. For me, no matter how much I studied or what I did, that's roughly what I was making on nearly every practice test--whether it was the first test I took cold or the last one I took before the exam. On one practice exam, I did extremely well and on another I did beneath what I needed (not all my exams were from the Barbri book, and I honestly did at least 6 or 7 of them). So, on average, I was hitting somewhere around 32/50 or 39/60. Since I got a 91, I'm guessing this was good enough for NY, CA and any other jurisdiction if this is what you're getting on practice tests.

If you do a practice test and don't care for how many you're missing, I suggest reading the explanations given for the ones you missed and then reading through the big outline in the Barbri book. Then do another practice test after you've finished that. Note what you're having problems with most and go back to those sections in the guideline and/or maybe take note of what kinds of questions tend to pop up the most so that you can get that material down. The good thing about emphasizing practice exams a little more than reading/memorizing the material is you get familiarity with what kinds of stuff pops up a lot on the test--how questions are asked and what kinds of answers are correct for those questions. Again, this was how I found the LSAT to be (although I did better on the LSAT than the MPRE). But if you're GOOD at memorizing or remembering what you read, studying the outlines more will probably be best for you. I, unfortunately, just don't remember things that I read all that well, unless I'm really interested in it.

Q: Do I need to take a legal ethics course?

A: I took one, and I would say no. That class helped me only with issues that were crammed down our throats during class and/or weren't convoluted to begin with. Then again, as I hinted at before, I'm not that nerdy kind of student who takes class, school or studying seriously (unless it's for an exam like the LSAT, MPRE and--coming up--the Bar exam). I pass/failed that class and went about my business (it's required at my school, so I didn't take it trying to learn for the I somewhat indicated, I didn't even know about the MPRE when I took that class, not that that would have made me work harder--it wouldn't have) you can question how much I learned in that class to begin with, not through the fault of the instructor.

If you're going to take the class and take it seriously, it might help...but I don't think it's necessary. It's not hard to sit down with the outlines in Barbri's book and/or learn from the explanations to the practice tests in that book, even if you're taking the exam while school is in session. The material was convoluted in Legal Ethics, and it will still be convoluted when you open the Barbri book...regardless.

Q: Did you feel you failed right after the exam, or did you know you did well?

A: Neither. Had no idea how I did. I just felt that if I were taking the MPRE for Illinois or any state needing a score lower than that, then hell yeah I passed. For NY? Not too sure about that one. Indeed, it seems that the majority of people who fail...were taking the test for a jurisdiction needing one of the higher scores. I just told myself that, hey, the test cost me $60 and they're offering it again in August. I won't have my Bar exam results that soon anyways and since I'm not going to a law firm that hires people to start in September, I don't need to be licensed before August.

Q: Does the Barbri study guide/course prepare you?

A: I didn't take the course, but I have friends who did and have read about it. I suspect the course is a waste of time. The Barbri book...I can't put my finger on it, but I don't feel like those questions are exactly like the ones on the real MPRE. It's not like studying from the book will steer you wrong. But if I had to say anything, I'd actually probably say the MPRE is a tad easier than the Barbri questions. Some people feel the opposite. To me, while I was taking the exam, there were simply more questions that I felt like either had obvious correct answers--even to the point of your knowing the answer before reading the choices--or obviously incorrect answers to the point where you could get it down to two choices. There were just some questions that if you read the outline, you were going to get those questions right because they were so straightforward. Others were a little too off-the-wall from what I'd seen on practice tests or discussed in the outlines to the point where I figured they had to be among the questions that don't count towards your score. As with most other standardized tests, the MPRE just has levels of difficulty, it seems, for all the questions.

That said, I did say that no matter how much I studied I just could not get my score to go up to a point where I felt safe. This might have more to do with me than the study guide, being that, as I said, I have problems retaining what I read (auditory learner, part of the reason why my grades suck in law school since they don't just tell you in class what they want you to spit back out on exams/papers like they do k-12 and college).

Q: Is it normal to finish early?

A: Absolutely. I finished all my practice exams in about an hour & 1/2 and finished the actual exam in that amount of time, as well (the exam is 2 hours, 5 mins long). I was one of the first to finish, though, so I don't know how long it took others.

One more thing I found about this exam--if you read the directions, they try to make it seem as if you can't bring anything in the exam except pencils and your admission ticket. But people came into my center with drinks, cell phones, hats and all kinds of stuff that was expressly prohibited. The only thing the proctors said was that you couldn't have drinks at the desk and cell phones needed to be off. In addition, you probably don't even need pencils, because the proctors came with a whole bunch of those.

As far as timing, you don't need to be there super-early. It seems like they will basically close doors right at 9am on the dot (which they did to us), but you don't have to be there at 8:30. The test won't start until 9:30am anyway, thanks to all that bubbling-in crap for your name, address, etc. So you will have time to go use the restroom and everything.

Also, don't be like some of the dweebs I saw at my center, i.e. don't study right up until the exam. If you don't know the material by the morning of, you're not going to know those white-boy stories I mentioned. Plus, I figure it just makes you more nervous. You have to let go of the exam at some point and except it's out of your hands. There were people out there at 8:30am cramming, 8:45am cramming, 8:55am cramming. The worst part is I was probably the only person there who needed a high score--the rest needed a 75, I would bet (based on the state we were in, the kind of law schools people in that state attend, the kind of states they tend to end up working in and the kind of states that will even consider hiring people from the law schools they attend). Seriously, I'm not going to say the test is easy or serious, but it's not that serious, especially if you need a 75. On the day of the test, let it go. Go take it, and then forget about it because there's nothing you can do anymore.

While you're taking the exam, as well as while you're taking practice exams, I advise that you mark questions where you don't feel like you know the answer or you're unsure (if you're worried about how you'll do). This helps on practice tests because it allows you to match your feelings up with reality when you go to check your answers. You can see how many from the ones you marked were actually incorrect and how many you didn't mark that turned out to be incorrect, and get some sense of how often you do these things. When you do it while taking the test, it allows you to utilize time you have left over to go back and count up how many you marked and compare that to your experience taking practice exams. This way, you can do some rough math leaving out of the exam, knowing that you probably missed a certain percentage of the ones you marked and a few of the ones you didn't mark.

During the exam, I marked about 15 questions. Therefore, figuring that I probably missed 15 out of 60 and maybe a few more just from ones that slipped past me, I did feel a little more like maybe I at least got an 85 on the dot. Considering that I figured out of 60 I'd be able to miss around 21 and get the score I needed, plus the fact that I came out with a 91 from marking 15 questions, this seems like a good task to help you feel better when you leave the exam or at least somewhat accurately measure how you did on the exam before you get your score.

Finally, don't let anyone tell you you're a complete idiot for failing this test. For certain jurisdictions, I can totally see how someone could fail. Needing a 75, I don't get it...but, as I have said repeatedly, I find the legal ethics rules to be convoluted. Even seasoned lawyers have to go to other lawyers sometimes for help interpreting those damn rules--my Legal Ethics professor told us about how he gets calls from former students who are practicing regarding the rules. Plus, my experience with the practice tests on which I did worse than others were little mistakes, when corrected, make a big enough difference to get you where you need to be. Don't rush and read carefully are huge. Probably on every practice test, I missed some questions for silly reasons like not reading carefully just because--despite the fact that I always finished early--I felt I had spent too much time gazing about the room because I was mentally tired, thinking or quibbling between two answers on other questions, causing me to read faster or skip over words in the passage on subsequent questions.

So, no, if you fail, don't feel bad about it--just suit up again and figure out what type of study style works best for you. Consider what I've written here and you probably won't fail, especially if you don't let others play with your mind.