Bar Exam: Multistate Performance Test Guide

by bvest

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What is the MPT?
The MPT is a skills-based exam created and distributed by National Conference of Bar Examiners (the same folks who do the MBE, MEE, UBE, and MPRE). NCBE produces two for each exam administration. State bar examiners, however, may administer two exams, only one exam, or zero. Each MPT is a 90-minute exam that includes a memo from your fictional partner or judge giving you an assignment, general instructions for completing such an assignment, a "case file" with relevant facts about your case, and a library of two or three authorities (fake statutes or short judicial opinions).

Note: Discussion of grading below looks at a Texas perspective. It is unclear the extent to which the details of Texas's scoring (e.g. 0-6 raw score) translates to other states, but regardless of how other states calculate their own raw scores, every state scales the exam to the MBE scale. Therefore, those details should not affect the end result.

What Kind of Assignments Are There?
Here are the tasks for the past few years of MPTs:
July 2021 - #1 Bench Memo to judge (i.e. as court staff) #2 Opinion letter to client
February 2021 - #1 Objective Memo #2 Argument section of motion
October* 2020 - #1 Objective Memo
Feb 2020 - #1 Internal memo to firm #2 Closing Argument
July 2019 - #1 Objective Memo #2 Objective Memo

Is There a Source for Past MPTs?
Some of the more recent past MPTs are available from the Texas Board of Law Examiners on the BLE's Selected Answers page, but since Texas only administered one MPT per exam until it recently became a UBE state, that only covers some of them. Older exams and official NCBE summaries of newer exams can be found on the NCBE's Preparing for the MPT page.

Is There a Source for Sample Answers?
The Texas BLE's Selected Answers page provides actual selected answers from some exams and brief summaries of answers from others; more recently, they've stopped providing anything for MPTs. Again, because Texas only administered one MPT per exam until recently, this only captures half the MPTs, but that is still nearly 20 of them.

UPDATE: NY has an excellent collection of sample answers that appears to be up to date through at least the second-most-recent exam:

What should I do prepare for the MPT?
There's really not too much to this. (1) Practice, and (2) Familiarize.

Do at least one past MPT untimed and then at least one timed.

As you can see above, there are a number of different types of assignments. Look through sample answers from past exams to see what the format, structure, style, and tone should look like for various tasks that might be assigned. It's still possible for NCBE to surprise you, but for most assignments, you'll know what they should look like.

What should I do to perform well on Exam day?
First, let's look at the grading rubric. Here's what the examiners (at least in Texas, and I think all states use the same grading rubric if not the same raw score) look for:

[quote=""]The MPT requires examinees to: (1) sort detailed factual materials and separate relevant from irrelevant facts; (2) analyze statutes, cases, and administrative materials for principles of law; (3) apply the law to the relevant facts in a manner likely to resolve a client’s problem; (4) identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, when present; (5) communicate effectively in writing; and (6) complete a lawyering task within time constraints. The MPT is graded on a scale where a 6 is the highest possible score and 0 is the lowest possible score. These grades are converted to the same scale of measurement as that used for the MBE.[/quote]
Much of the rubric (items 1, 2, 3, 4, and at least some of 5) looks at how you are doing what you learned to do over and over again in law school -- identifying relevant facts, researching (here reading) and analyzing the law, applying the facts to the law, and organizing your document so it makes sense. I'm not going to go into detail on all of that. You can either do that or not by now.

However, there are a few things that, if you remember to do them, will help you (a) stay out of trouble and (b) cover up for any trouble you do have.

Watch Your Time
Having taken at least one practice MPT during your exam prep, you should have some idea what your time breakdown should look like, but a good rule of thumb is 45 minutes to read the assignment, casefile, and law, and to organize your thoughts, and 45 minutes to write. But whatever your personal division of time is, be sure you're writing when you should be. On a 45/45 division, start writing in minute 46, even if you don't feel quite ready. Otherwise you will run out of time.

First and Foremost, Finish
As you'll see, completing it is one of the 6 things they look for. You'll also notice that they look for 6 things and they grade on a (ridiculous, IMO) 6-point raw scale. So giving the appearance of completing your task is not only one of the six most important things you can do, it's also the least subjective.

The easiest way to finish is to do it before you even start. That is, write the conclusion first because your MPT will look finished, even if you don't end up including all the arguments/analysis that you intend to include.[/quote]

After talking with people who didn't perform well about what they did, I think this is even more critical.

Format Properly According to the Task
While the grading rubric not list it here explicitly, formatting falls under Numbers 5 and 6 (communicate effectively / complete lawyering task). It is very important that if they ask you to write a client letter, that it start with the date and Dear Mr. Jones and end with Sincerely, Jane Partner and otherwise be written as a letter would be. If they ask for a memo, include a memo header, etc. If they ask for the arguments section of a brief, obviously you do not need the cover page, but you do need your arguments headings and subheadings. This is part of where reviewing different tasks during your exam prep will pay off.

A friend who had to retake got a 1 on his first MPT. He hadn't finished, though he was on his second issue, and he hadn't formatted the client letter as a letter. I feel confident that if he'd simply formatted it and pre-written a a one-sentence conclusion to give it a finished look, he would have gotten a 2 and thus jumped up 11 points on his MPT score (which is 5.5 points out of 1000 on the total exam score in Texas). That would not have earned him a passing score, but obviously that's nothing you want to leave on the table.

Don't Waste Time Identifying Issues
This is a minor one, but can save you some time. Remember how much time you spent 1L year identifying issues and crafting issue statements in Legal Writing. Even though you're much faster at it by now, don't bother if you don't have to: NCBE often has written your issues for you already. If you have time at the end, feel free to edit, but odds are you won't have time. For example:

Your issue statements can be the questions already presented:
1. Is the Zimmers' bird rescue operation permitted under the county zoning ordinance?

Sometimes you'll need to make a simple change to make it grammatically correct or fit your argument. For example, on past assignment asked you to write a response brief to the opposing side's brief, addressing the two issues raised by the opposing side. Obviously you would want to negate their issue statement, but you can usually do so very simply. (e.g. "Franklin law prohibits . . . " becomes "Franklin law does not permit . . ." or "Franklin law allows . . .")

How is it Scored?
As stated above, Texas scores on a 0-6 scale. BTW, I hope it's not scored on those six things they look for (i.e. each one is a check box and your score is just a total of the number of boxes you get checked). Either way it's ridiculous because (a) they only give whole number grades and (b) they then take that score and scale it up to the MBE scale. Thus if you score a 1 on the MPT, that puts you in about the 10th percentile of MPT scores and gives you about a 121 for your scaled score. Whereas if you got a 2, you'd be about 25th to 30th percentile and get about a 132, with no way to score between 121 and 132. On the upside, if you get a zero on the MBE, you still get about a 110 scaled score, so there is a hard floor. (By that logic, though, there's probably a hard ceiling to for the people getting 6 of about 165).

Regardless of whether your state uses the same 0-6 raw score as Texas, your score will be scaled to the MBE scale for your test administration. Thus, if your MPT is median, you'll get whatever the median MBE score was as your MPT score; if your MPT score was 30th percentile, you'll get the 30th percentile MBE score as your MPT score; etc.
Washington State MPT Grading Rubric:

Score of 6
A 6 answer is a very good answer. A 6 answer indicates that the applicant has a thorough comprehension of the task, the relevant factual and legal materials, and uses them to write a legally supported, well-written responsive product in the time allotted.

Score of 5
A 5 answer is an above average answer. A 5 answer demonstrates that the applicant has a fairly complete understanding of the task, understands most of the relevant materials, and uses them to write a legally supported, reasonably well-written, mostly responsive product in the time allotted.

Score of 4
A 4 answer is an average answer. A 4 answer indicates that an applicant has a fair understanding of the task and understands enough of the relevant materials to incorporate them into a satisfactory, though not completely responsive, product in the time allotted.

Score of 3
A 3 answer is a somewhat below average answer. A 3 answer is inadequate. It shows that the applicant has a limited understanding of the facts, issues, and applicable principles of law and is not able to write a satisfactorily responsive product in the time allotted.

Score of 2
A 2 answer is a below average answer. A 2 answer is significantly flawed and shows that the applicant has only a basic understanding of the task. It shows the applicant failed to grasp most of the relevant facts and law and thus has not produced a useful product in the time allotted.

Score of 1
A 1 answer is a well below average answer. It indicates a failure to understand the task. A 1 answer shows virtually no ability to identify the relevant facts or law in the time allotted.

Score of 0
A 0 answer is appropriate when an applicant does not write an answer at all. It is also appropriate if an answer is completely unresponsive to the question.


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