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Understanding Scoring on the Multistate Bar Examination

Understanding Scoring on the Multistate Bar Examination - Quimbee

Understanding Scoring on the Multistate Bar Examination

Whether you love them or hate them, multiple-choice questions will likely appear on your bar exam. Nearly all states administer the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), which serves up 200 multiple-choice questions testing 7 key areas of law. This guide unpacks how the MBE is scored and helps you maximize your scaled MBE score.

What MBE Score Do I Need to Pass?

The short answer

On the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), the MBE is worth 50% of your score. The written components— the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test—make up the remainder of your score. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll need to answer about 66% of the graded MBE questions correctly to pass the bar exam, assuming you perform reasonably well on the other components. 

Graded questions count

The MBE contains 200 questions, but only 175 are graded. The remaining 25 are experimental questions. These are questions the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is considering including as graded questions in future MBE administrations, depending on their effectiveness. 

Experimental questions will not count toward your score, but when you take the exam, you’ll have no way to distinguish between experimental and graded questions. Do your best to answer each question correctly. 

Raw score is the starting point

Performance on the graded questions determines your raw score. Even though the questions vary broadly in difficulty, each correct answer is worth 1 point, for a maximum score of 175 points. It’s in your best interest to answer each question because the MBE does not penalize guessing.

Scaled scores

Your raw MBE score isn’t your final score. Once the bar examiners determine your raw score, they will adjust it (likely upward) using a statistical process called equating. 

Fundamentally, equating is about producing fair scores across different administrations of the MBE. The difficulty of the MBE varies with each administration. It wouldn’t be fair to reward those who take an easy administration of the MBE with higher scores or to punish examinees taking a difficult administration with lower scores. Equating is designed to ensure that a 135 on the current exam reflects the same level of mastery as a 135 on the MBE administered last July or years ago.

No curve

Equating isn’t curving. Many of us are familiar with curves from law school courses. Grades are adjusted so that the scores are distributed on a bell curve. The bulk of the class receives a B or C, and a select few receive an A or D.

The equating process is different. It isn’t meant to produce a bell-curve distribution of scores. Rather, equating is meant to ensure that MBE scores have equivalent meanings across different versions of the exam. It allows scores from the current year to be used interchangeably with scores from years past.

MBE score charts

As explained above, MBE scaled scores are calculated based on a statistical process known as equating. The equating process varies with each administration of the MBE. The equating process commonly produces scaled scores that are higher than raw scores. Thus, the examiners add points to an examinee’s raw score in order to produce a scaled score.

Are you wondering how the conversion looks? Although the NCBE and state examiners do not typically release raw-to-scaled score data, California released such information for the February 2011 administration of the MBE. Based on this data, the chart below demonstrates the conversion from a raw score to a scaled score. Note that for the February 2011 administration, the MBE contained 190 scored questions and 10 ungraded, experimental questions. When you face the MBE, it will contain 175 scored questions.

MBE raw-to-scaled score conversion (February 2011 administration)


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MBE scaled score chart

The following chart, also based on data from the February 2011 MBE, can help you interpret your performance on practice exams. The first column shows the minimum passing scores adopted by different jurisdictions. You can find your jurisdiction’s minimum passing score here.

The second column shows the MBE scaled score you need to achieve to be on track to pass in your jurisdiction. This score is calculated by taking one-half of the jurisdiction’s minimum passing score (the MBE accounts for 50% of your total score on the UBE). Of course, especially strong performance on the written portion of the exam can help you make up lost ground. But it’s a good idea to aim for an MBE score that is at least 50% of the total minimum passing score.

The third column shows the estimated raw MBE score required to achieve an on-track scaled score. Raw scores on the real MBE are expressed as a number out of 175, owing to the 25 unscored experimental questions. However, practice tests you’ll take during bar preparation won’t contain unscored, experimental questions. Thus, the chart expresses raw scores as a number out of 200. Finally, the fourth column shows the estimated percentage correct required.

This chart can help you interpret your performance on practice exams, but remember that it’s merely a rough estimate based on a single administration of the MBE. Ultimately, because the raw-to-scaled conversion varies with each administration, your best bet is to aim for 66% correct.

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The bottom line

The higher your raw score is, the higher your final or scaled score will be, and the more likely you’ll conquer the bar exam. Remember, shooting to answer 66% of the questions correctly is a good rule of thumb.

How Can I Improve My Scaled MBE Score?

Master your approach

Know how to attack an MBE question. MBE questions are composed of a fact pattern, a question prompt, and 4 answer options. It’s counterintuitive, but reading the question from top to bottom isn’t the best plan of attack. Instead, read the question prompt first. You’ll immediately glean clues on what is being tested, and you can mentally pull up applicable rules before diving into the facts and answer options. This thought process helps you zero in on the right answer.

Mastering your approach comes through practice. Quimbee provides free MBE practice questions, so take advantage.

Go for quality practice, not just quantity

You’ve probably heard bar takers boast about how many practice MBE questions they’ve attempted. You’ll hear estimates that number into the thousands. Familiarizing yourself with MBE questions is a great idea, but quantity of practice doesn’t guarantee success on the exam.

Prioritize quality practice. Review and self-assess after each practice session. Take the time to read the answer explanations. The answer explanations thoroughly articulate the governing law and apply it to the facts, helping you correct any gaps or misconceptions in your understanding. Even if you know the law well, reading the explanations will reinforce your knowledge. 

Self-assess to boost performance

Don’t dupe yourself into thinking you can’t improve. If you bomb a practice session, don’t get discouraged. Review your performance with an eye to improvement. Look for patterns in your mistakes, and develop a plan to shore up weaknesses. Try to discern the reason you answered the question wrong. Were you unsure of the law? That’s a cue to go back and review the subtopic tested. But many times, knowledge of the law isn’t the issue. Consider whether misreading the facts, selecting an answer based on gut, or test anxiety led you down the wrong path.

What Are the Benefits of Taking a Simulated MBE?

A simulated MBE is a full-length practice test taken under the same conditions as the real MBE. The MBE is administered during 2 testing sessions. Examinees complete 100 questions during a 3-hour morning session. Then, examinees face an additional 100 questions during a 3-hour afternoon session.

If your bar course offers a simulated MBE, consider it a must-do in your study schedule. Plan ahead. Mark the simulated MBE in your calendar, and plan on taking it in an environment where you won’t be interrupted. If you’re not sure where to take the simulated MBE, check with your law school. Some schools set aside quiet rooms for bar takers.

Taking a simulated MBE offers many benefits:
  • Endurance. The MBE requires mental stamina. It isn’t easy to maintain focus through 100-question sets. Taking a simulated MBE gives you a feel for the endurance required and helps you scale up your ability to focus.
  • Mixed question sets. On the real MBE, questions are drawn from 7 subject areas, and no question will be labeled with its subject-matter area. Early in bar preparation, students typically practice with questions that test single subjects at a time (for example, contracts or evidence). Mixed question sets are harder because it takes additional mental energy to spot issues, recall rules, and apply them when you are moving from subject to subject. The simulated MBE prepares you for this reality.
  • Timing. To stay on pace during the MBE, you’ll need to complete each question in 1.8 minutes. You can use the simulated MBE to practice your timing and ensure that you’re accurately transferring your answers to a scantron sheet.
  • Performance data. The simulated MBE provides valuable insights into your bar preparation efforts. You’ll be able to see which topics you have mastered and which need remediation before the exam. With your performance data, you can prioritize what to study and maximize your score on the real exam.
Many see the MBE as something to fear. It’s a rigorous exam, but with the right preparation and strategy, success is within reach.

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%.

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