The 5 W’s of the MPRE
Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success
Previously, in the introduction to this MPRE series, I engaged in a brief overview of the exam, including what states require a passing score, what kind of mindsets students approach the exam with, and then provided an advance overview of what this series would cover. In this section, we cover the 5 W’s in order to get an understanding of where the MPRE comes from, the makeup of the exam, and to provide a firm foundation for Part 2, which breaks down the exam into its component parts. Remember also that Part 3 of the series will cover the resources available for MPRE preparation, and that Part 4 of the series will help review study timelines and strategies to help ensure you are successful on your first take.
Let’s now take a look at the 5 W’s of the MPRE:
Who: The MPRE is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and (currently) is administered by Pearson Vue. Beginning in 2020, the test will be administered entirely on a digital platform, thereby removing old worries about sharpening pencils, erasure marks, and accidentally getting tears on your scantron (just kidding, it’s really not that bad!). In 2019, 54 jurisdictions required the MPRE.
Where: Test takers visit a Pearson Vue testing center (if you want to locate your nearest testing go here) to take the MPRE.
When: Previously, the MPRE was administered on the weekend generally, but that all changed in 2020. During this calendar year, the MPRE takes place during the week and you can see that schedule here. An important thing to note about the MPRE registration deadlines is that they often occur more than a month before the exam. So, if you are thinking about registering for the March or August 2021 administrations, make sure to do well in advance. Also note that unlike 2020, there is no October administration of the exam in 2021 (instead, there will be a November administration).
Registration for the 2021 MPRE administrations opens on December 14, 2020, and is currently slated to have a fee of $135. It also appears the exam will be shifting to a two consecutive day format, unlike the staggered schedule seen in 2020.
Why: The MPRE is administered to test examinees on their knowledge and understanding of established standards and rules related to the professional conduct of lawyers. It does not test an individual to determine his or her personal ethical values and morals. Since lawyers can serve in a variety of roles, including as judges, counselors, legal advocates, and so forth, it is important to ensure that attorneys have an understanding of rules and expectations for them. The test questions generally deal with circumstances
The law governing the conduct of lawyers in these roles is applied in disciplinary and bar admission procedures, and by courts in dealing with issues of appearance, representation, privilege, disqualification, and contempt or other censure, and in lawsuits seeking to establish liability for malpractice and other civil or criminal wrongs committed by a lawyer while acting in a professional capacity.
What: The MPRE is an exam administered over two hours that consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. Of these 60 questions, only 50 are actually scored, and the other 10 are considered pretest questions and are generally said to be indistinguishable from the scored questions. Your takeaway from that is simple: treat all 60 questions like they count. The scaled score that takers will receive can range from a low of 50 to a high of 150.
Scores to pass the MPRE vary based on jurisdiction. Georgia requires a minimum passing score of 75, which ties with Alabama, the District of Columbia, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Palau, and the Virgin Islands for the lowest required score for passing. In order to provide some perspective, the mean scaled score for the entire group of MPRE takers in 2019 was 94.9. Although this number is higher than Georgia’s required passing score, that does not mean that you can overlook this exam. Regardless of your intended practice state’s requirements, this is a test that you have to prepare for to be successful, and approaching it with the mindset that the average score is higher neglects the fact that about 20% of takers (almost 12,000!) fail to achieve a score of 75. Don’t be part of that group, and make sure you take this test seriously.
The majority of future examinees at this point, having reviewed the respective score required by their state, will then ask how to achieve that score. This is tough to state accurately because the NCBE equates the scores, so there is no hard and fast answer. However, you can approximate that a required score of 75 requires about 56% correct and an 85 requires about 60% correct. Remember, however, this is a statistical proximation and SHOULD NOT be the metric that you shoot for generally. Like the bar exam, the MPRE is somewhat a test of minimum competence in terms of scoring, but why risk failing by aiming low? My advice is always to put the time in to achieve the best score that you are capable of and EXCEED the minimum requirement, as opposed to aiming low and potentially falling short. Put the time in!
Remember to check out Part 2, where we will breakdown the different areas of professional responsibility that are tested on the exam. As I stated previously, this will help you focus your studies and maximize your time as you pursue attaining a passing score on the MPRE.