Preparing Students for the Multistate Bar Exam

The trend has been fewer applications for law school and smaller graduating classes. Now we see a drop in bar exam performance. The ABA Journal reports that, according to Above the Law, “Nationwide, scores on the Multistate Bar Exam are nearly three points lower than the national mean for the July 2013 exam, the largest year-to-year drop since the start of the test.” Why? The National Conference of Bar Examiners points to “less able” test takers to explain the drop in scores on the Multistate Bar Exam. What does that mean?

Lawyers don’t need multiple choice test-taking skills to be effective in their work, but law graduates must master this form of test-taking to gain a professional license. So law schools, and their curriculum committees, must consider the extent to which they will shoulder the responsibility for preparing students for the bar exam – including improving their ability to succeed on multiple choice tests. Even before this marked decline in scores, many schools had already changed their bar preparation efforts from subtle to overt.

But at a time when law schools are focusing on teaching integrated doctrine, skills, and values, an already ambitious undertaking, is it backtracking to reconsider the multiple choice test – like LSAT prep all over again – instead of progressively developing knowledge and true professional competence? Or is it appropriate to simultaneously develop the skills students need to pass the (often criticized) bar exam?

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4 Responses

  1. A law school’s job is not to prepare students for the MBE. It is to prepare students for practice. Maybe, it is the MBE that needs to be redesigned.

  2. Maybe law schools’ increase in clinical and other experiential learning coincide with the drop in bar example performance. If so, would that signal a success for law schools?

    Perhaps the decrease in bar exam performance should draw our attention to the question: does the bar exam measure the competencies required to practice law, or does it measure irrelevant competencies?

    As legal educators, we need to concern ourselves with defining competencies required to practice law effectively and developing valid ways to measure them. It could be that multiple choice tests are not the best way to measure those competencies, and measures designed to such tests may be counter-productive when it comes to preparing students for the practice of law.

    Legal educators should rest assured we are not alone in our dilemma of what to teach. Should we concern ourselves with developing a curriculum that includes test-taking strategies to pass the bar, or should we use our professional judgment to teach skills we think necessary to practice law well? The dilemma is one shared by most educators and professional schools.

    Maybe now is the right time, considering the shrinking number of people entering the profession, to focus on making our profession’s entrance exams, education, and exit exams compatible with our ultimate learning goals.

  3. […] 16, 2014 Update: Another point of view.  And, another.November 20, 2014 Update:  Story about dip in bar pass rates at all Texas […]

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