Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,600+ real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.
Bar Exam Success

How to Attack an MBE-Style Question

How to Attack an MBE-Style Question

Introduction to the MBE


The Multistate Bar Exam, or MBE, is a part of the bar exam in all states and territories except Puerto Rico and Louisiana. The MBE comprises 200 multiple-choice questions divided equally between civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts.

Examinees answer 100 questions in morning and afternoon sessions of three hours each. That leaves just about 1 minute and 48 seconds for each question. That can sound like a tall order, especially for examinees who didn’t work with multiple-choice questions during law school. But with consistent practice available through Quimbee Bar Review, you too can conquer the MBE.
 

Understanding MBE Questions


Most MBE questions test an examinee’s ability to identify and address one core legal issue in one subject. Each question consists of a fact pattern followed by a prompt and four answer options. The task in each question is to apply general legal principles to select the best answer among the four options provided. Note that the goal is to select the best answer provided, not the most perfect answer possible.

There are three keys to getting an MBE question right. First, read the question prompt, answer options, and fact pattern carefully (and preferably in that order). Second, know the law. Third, eliminate as many incorrect answer options as possible.

To get there, practice is key. Let’s walk through a Quimbee-authored MBE-style question to begin sharpening bar exam skills. Take a look at this question, which students encounter in one of 40 mixed-subject MBE-style quizzes in Quimbee Bar Review.

Sample Question

A retailer sued a manufacturer in federal district court for breach of contract. The retailer claimed damages of $70,000. The retailer was incorporated in State A and its principal place of business was in State B. The manufacturer was incorporated in State C and its principal place of business was located in State D. The retailer alleged in its complaint that the manufacturer had breached the contract by (1) delivering the wrong goods, (2) delivering goods of subpar quality, and (3) delivering goods that did not comply with regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as required by the parties’ contract. The manufacturer alleged in its answer that it had delivered the correct goods of appropriate quality, which complied with the EPA standard. The manufacturer admitted that the retailer’s interpretation of the standard was correct, and instead denied the retailer’s characterizations of the condition of the delivered goods.

Is a federal district court likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction over the retailer’s breach-of-contract claim?

A. Yes, because the parties are completely diverse. 
B. Yes, because the retailer’s claim requires interpretation of federal law. 
C. No, because the parties do not dispute the correct interpretation of the EPA standard. 
D. No, because the retailer has claimed less than $100,000 in damages. 

It probably took you at least 30 seconds just to read through from the beginning of the fact pattern to the end of option D. To move more efficiently, examinees should take each question apart. Read the prompt first, then the answer options, and finally the fact pattern. At each stage, rule out as many incorrect answer options as possible.

Taking Apart an MBE Question, Piece-by-Piece


 1. The Prompt 


The prompt asks: Is a federal district court likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction over the retailer’s breach-of-contract claim?

Reading the prompt first gives an examinee vital information about the issue the question is testing. Here for example, an examinee learns that this is a civil procedure question about the subject-matter jurisdiction of federal courts. A prepared examinee will be already thinking about all of the rules he or she remembers about subject-matter jurisdiction. 

The prompt also gives some factual detail, by telling examinees that the claim at issue is one for breach of contract. Breach-of-contract claims arise under state, not federal law, so that’s a clue this is a question about diversity jurisdiction.

The prompt also tells examinees what they need to do. Here, the prompt is asking students to predict an outcome. Is the court likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction or not?

 2. The Four Answer Options 


The four answer options provided are:

A. Yes, because the parties are completely diverse. 
B. Yes, because the retailer’s claim requires interpretation of federal law. 
C. No, because the parties do not dispute the correct interpretation of the EPA standard. 
D. No, because the retailer has claimed less than $100,000 in damages. 

Each answer option does two things. First, it provides an outcome, yes or no, on whether the federal district court is likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction. Second, it provides a reason for that outcome.

When reading through the answer options, examinees should eliminate any answer options that are obviously legally incorrect. For example, answer option D states that the court isn’t likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction because the retailer has claimed less than $100,000 in damages. However, diversity jurisdiction only requires an amount in controversy of at least $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. A court could have diversity jurisdiction over claims alleging damages of at least $75,000 but less than $100,000. Therefore, answer option D is wrong on the law and can be eliminated.

Reviewing the remaining three answer options helps examinees to be careful readers of the fact pattern in the next step. Each of the rationales in options A, B, and C is making an assertion about the facts. Examinees will want to read the facts closely to see if each answer option is in accordance with the facts provided in the pattern. If an option incorrectly states the facts, then it’s wrong.

The remaining answer options also help further define the legal issue. Answer option A is talking about the citizenship of the parties, which is one required element for diversity jurisdiction. Answer options B and C are talking about interpreting federal law, which is relevant to federal-question jurisdiction. 

 3. The Fact Pattern 


After reading the prompt and answer options, an examinee reading the fact pattern knows to focus on facts pertinent to diversity and subject-matter jurisdiction. Here’s the pattern one more time:

A retailer sued a manufacturer in federal district court for breach of contract. The retailer claimed damages of $70,000. The retailer was incorporated in State A and its principal place of business was in State B. The manufacturer was incorporated in State C and its principal place of business was located in State D. The retailer alleged in its complaint that the manufacturer had breached the contract by (1) delivering the wrong goods, (2) delivering goods of subpar quality, and (3) delivering goods that did not comply with regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as required by the parties’ contract. The manufacturer alleged in its answer that it had delivered the correct goods of appropriate quality, which complied with the EPA standard. The manufacturer admitted that the retailer’s interpretation of the standard was correct, and instead denied the retailer’s characterizations of the condition of the delivered goods.

Examinees should work through the fact pattern to eliminate as many remaining answer options as possible. The second sentence of the pattern indicates that the retailer is claiming damages of $70,000. This is less than the amount-in-controversy required for diversity jurisdiction of $75,000. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether the parties are completely diverse or not, because the claim doesn’t fall within a federal court’s diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, answer option A is incorrect.

That leaves options B and C, both of which focus on the court’s federal-question jurisdiction. The two answer options’ conclusions and rationales directly contradict one another. Either the court has federal-question jurisdiction because the retailer’s claim requires an interpretation of federal law (answer option B) or the court doesn’t have federal-question jurisdiction because the parties do not dispute the correct interpretation of the EPA standard.

The fact pattern here makes clear that the parties agree on the EPA standard’s interpretation. Therefore, no interpretation of federal law is required to rule on the retailer’s breach-of-contract claim. The real dispute isn’t about the meaning of the federal regulation, but on the condition of the delivered goods. Therefore, a district court isn’t likely to conclude that it has subject-matter jurisdiction over the retailer’s claim because the dispute hinges on a question of state contract law. Answer option C is correct.

That’s just one example of how to take apart an MBE question and drill down to the correct answer. To reiterate, it’s all about practice. The more of these you do, the more tactics you’ll pick up, and the more quickly you’ll arrive at the right answer. Quimbee Bar Review+ provides students with loads of daily practice opportunities, including both Quimbee-authored MBE-style questions and licensed questions used in previous bar exams, all organized into an easy-to-follow study schedule.

Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,600+ real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.

You also might be interested in: