If you passed . . .

If your name ends up being on the big list of those who passed the Bar Exam in Arkansas, I extend to you a hearty congratulations. Studying was hard, the test was hard, but you did it. When you get your scores in the mail on Saturday or Monday, feel free to brag about them with your friends or, perhaps, secretly wonder if they happened to score the wrong test because you couldn’t have possibly done that well on a Commercial Paper essay.

Whatever you do, it doesn’t matter—your scores don’t matter. Whether you got a combined score of 270.1 (just barely passed) or 360 (super Bar-exam genius), you can still be a lawyer provided you’ve got $125 laying around and can find someone to swear you in. And that was the point.

Other interesting blogs on topic:

My First Pro Bono Case

3 Lessons on Life and Lawyering from My Beard

4 (good) Christmas Ideas for a Lawyer

If you didn’t pass . . .

But if your name is not on the list of those who passed, your scores do matter—a great deal. Now, the Arkansas Bar Examiner’s formula for scoring the test is admittedly voodoo and nearly incomprehensible (because, frankly, if you could do high-level math you would have been a doctor to make some real money and wear the white coat.) Let’s walk through the score report.

What do my scores mean?

On your score report, there will be two numbers that, when added together, determine your score on the Bar exam. If this number is over 270, you probably stopped reading at the top of the page because you passed. If the score is below 270, you did not pass the Arkansas Bar Exam and you’d like to know why.

One of the numbers is your “MBE scale score,” which is probably the most important part of your score. This score is your raw score (the actual number of MBE questions that you answered correctly) that is adjusted to account for the difficulty of this particular test. Basically, the scores are scaled so that a 150 means the same today as it did in 2010 as it did in 2008. (If this scaled score is above 135, you can transfer this score onto the next Bar exam, which means you’ll only have to study for the MEE.)

The other number is your Written Scale Score, which is the combination of your essays and your MPT. The essays make up two-thirds of this score and the MPT makes up one-third. This score is scaled according to the MBE distribution.

The Takeaway: MBE is 50% of your score, MPT is 17% of your score, MEE is 33% of your score. The MBE is scaled nationally and the your combined written (MPT & MEE) is scaled with Arkansas test takers. If the average MBE nationally is 140, then the average written exam in Arkansas will be given a score of 140.

Don’t worry too much about all this scaling; all it means is that the powers-that-be adjusted the score to reflect how well your particular testing group performed. If you took the test with a bunch of SCOTUS clerks, well, then, you’re likely to have a relatively low relative rank, but your testing pool doesn’t affect your actual score. Thus, you might have the worst score among your erudite peers, but had you taken the same test with a group of lesser individuals then you’d (theoretically) have the same score on your test because you wouldn’t have gotten any bump.

No, seriously. What do I do with my scores?

First, a little bit on strategy. For those of who may not have put any pre-test thought into strategy, you may need to reevaluate that choice. Nearly everyone uses Barbri or Kaplan, right? That means that they are tailored to benefit the most number of people, but you may not be one of those people. It may be time that you leave Bar prep companies to their own fear-mongering, money-making devices, initial investment notwithstanding.

If you got over a 135 on the MBE, keep that score and spend all your studying for the essays, especially the ones that you are most certain to see (family law, civil procedure, etc.). Unless you bombed the MPT, I would not spend one second studying for it specifically.

If you didn’t pass the MBE, you have a hard choice to make. If you made a schedule and stuck to your schedule throughout bar prep, it may be that you simply cannot study for both the MBE and MEE at the same time. There’s no shame in that, mind you: the Bar exam is stupid. People who have no business practicing law routinely pass the Bar and the test often excludes people who will be fantastic attorneys.

So as unpleasant as it sounds, you have to seriously think about breaking your studying up into two parts: beating the MBE first, and then moving on to the MEE. The MBE is much harder than the MEE, mind you, but it is also in some sense more straightforward: If you do 4,000 MBE questions, you’ve seen everything under the sun.

As far as what is the most beneficial way to spend your time studying, I think it depends on the person. But you’ve got to understand that the Bar exam—no matter how overwhelming it may seem—draws upon information from a limited universe. And, frankly, one that is fairly easy to understand.

For the MBE, it’s simply a matter of doing as many questions as you can get your hands on. And think about them when you’re done. And don’t focus on the fringy subjects—as far as I’m concerned, it’s foolish to even study the Rule Against Perpetuities. Instead, spend that time on understanding mortgages or the different levels of scrutiny for constitutional questions. You know that you will see those things, and you know that you will see multiple questions on them.

Improving your MBE score by 10 points is an astronomical amount, but you’ve got to focus on the stuff that matters most. Everything matters, but not everything matters most. If you know the most heavily tested stuff really well, you can easily raise your score by 10 points.

As for the MEE, well, you’ve also got to focus on the stuff that matters most. I always found reading model essays to be the most helpful thing. By doing that you’ll see pretty quick that every subject has concepts that are recycled pretty frequently. Go there first.

Does taking the Bar another two times sounds really unpleasant? Yes, yes I’m sure it does. But it doesn’t sound as unpleasant as putting in the effort again and not having anything to show for it because you didn’t pass the MBE.

Again, leave the MPT alone unless you bombed it.