The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is a critical portion of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). It’s made up of multiple-choice questions and designed to measure examinees’ understanding of key concepts of U.S. law. Given its importance in passing the bar, many students are curious about how the MBE is graded, and what score they will need to pass. Neither answer, however, is simple.
The MBE is an exam developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), a nationally recognized organization committed to developing standardized ways of measuring the competence of prospective lawyers. It's taken in two, three-hour sessions on the last Wednesday of February and July, and consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering seven important subjects of U.S. law:
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Real Property
How is the MBE graded?
The MBE, as stated above, is made up of multiple-choice questions. Each question has four options: one that is objectively correct and three that are objectively incorrect. Of the 200 questions, only 175 are graded and factored into your score. The remaining 25, called “Pretest Questions,” are indistinguishable from the others, and used to collect data for potential use in future exams.
Once the test is administered, the individual jurisdictions send the tests out to the NCBE, where they are given a score between 0 and 200.
This, though, is where it starts getting more complicated.
Your MBE score is not a simple total of how many questions you answered correctly. This is because every administration of the MBE is different. Therefore, some rounds of the test will be more or less difficult than those of the past. To equalize results, the raw scores of each exam are adjusted depending on difficulty. That way, tests are scored on an equal footing, and can be graded fairly.
What score do I need to pass?
Much like the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), there is no true passing or failing grade for the MBE. Instead, the score is combined with those from the other exams comprising the UBE, which then determines whether you pass the bar as a whole.
The minimum passing UBE score will vary, depending on the jurisdiction in which it's administered. For example, Minnesota requires a minimum total score of 260, while Alaska requires a minimum total score of 280. Examinees should aim to achieve at least a score of 133 on their MBEs to maintain a healthy grade for the entire UBE. When one considers that their MBE results count for as much as half of their total UBE score, though, striving to achieve the highest possible becomes crucial.
Since it's unclear how the NCBE will weigh the difficulty of each exam in advance, it’s impossible for examinees to know how many questions they need to answer correctly to achieve their desired score. It's instead encouraged to focus less on the number of questions you need and more on developing strong study skills so that you are prepared for any questions that come your way on test day. This, of course, is no small task, but it can be done through a lot of work and dedication.