Disclaimer: The WSBA does not endorse any one bar exam preparation company over another, and this article is not meant to tout the features of one company as being superior. It is simply to give practicing lawyers, current and future bar exam takers, and law schools an idea of what new students will be facing when they prepare for the Uniform Bar Exam in Washington. If future students are at a loss on which company to choose, many of the companies informed me that they offer a free MPRE class. Through that class, you can get a highlight of each company’s lecture and handout style.
February 2013 was the last time the Washington Bar Exam would be an essay-only format and solely focused on Washington law. At this moment, students all over the state are preparing for a relatively new exam called the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). The exam itself is based out of several elements, which, individually, have been around in other states for some time. However, the UBE offers a unique feature for test takers: It can be used for admission into more than one state at a time, depending on the score a student receives.
Uniform Bar Exam
The UBE is composed of four parts: The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE, usually taken beforehand), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam), still given in February and July. After students apply and pay for the exam, they are given access to the Washington Law Component take-home test.
The elements that make up the UBE have been around individually for some time. The MBE was first administered in 1972, the MEE in 1993, and the MPT in 1997. The first UBE combining all elements was administered in 2011. Official information on the UBE can be found here.
There are several bar prep companies in Washington. I was able to speak to at least one representative at AmeriBar, BarBri, Kaplan, Rigos, Teshdal, and Themis to find out what they’re doing differently to make sure that Washington students are prepared to take and pass the UBE.
AmeriBar, Kaplan, and Themis have had a presence in other states, but never worked in Washington on the prior Washington exam. BarBri, Rigos, and Teshdal already have a history and relationship with students in Washington. Several of the companies have either taught the UBE in other states, or their other courses included at least one element found in the UBE. Themis told me, “We may be new to Washington state, but we are not new to administering UBE courses with great success.”
Multistate Bar Exam
The overarching theme I saw from the interviews is that practice for this exam is essential. Kaplan believes the MBE will be the most challenging for Washington students. Their opinion was not uncommon. Ameribar has 1,400 past MBE questions and 1,000 self-created MBE questions available to students; BarBri offers thousands of practice questions, as well. Mr. Rigos told me that at one point in his career he did not think multiple-choice questions were worthwhile in law school; his opinion has changed. His books have 1,500 questions ranging from simple reinforcement questions (30%), to difficult (50%), to questions so difficult that almost everyone gets them wrong (20%). Kaplan offers an online “QBank” of roughly 2,100 questions and a paper book of over 4,000 MBE questions.
The other courses that taught the prior Washington exam have made changes to the structure and length of their program. In all cases, the course have added classes and workshops, and warned that the students will need to dedicate a significant amount of additional time to prepare for this exam — and it’s not all because of the MBE.
Multistate Essay Exam
AmeriBar pointed out that prior questions in Washington will not be relevant for the summer exam. They have reviewed at least 10 years of released MEE questions that are indicative of what students are likely to see on the exam, and base their lectures and materials on those essays. Kaplan focuses on more than just memorizing the substantive law, but also understanding the application and comprehension in spotting issues, setting up a clear coherent analysis of IRAC, and going through methodically according to the type of question. Kaplan claims that the student’s knowledge of the law is constantly reinforced through different assignments and lectures.
Because they have taught the elements and UBE course for some time now, BarBri’s biggest change is the AMP program. It focuses on long-term memory retention, not short-term cramming. They used it last summer and winter and saw a huge increase in multistate scores. The company is also introducing the program into law schools in hopes that the students will be better prepared when it comes time for the bar exam.
The Tesdahl course is entirely home study. They told me that the new exam tests more fine detail, particularly in MBE, and requires test-takers to know national majority rule, minority rule, and sometimes the restatement, making it a little more complex. Tesdahl has adjusted its materials by reviewing the official, released past questions and passing answers. In fact, under the prior exam, he would have people write out sample essay answers and he would evaluate and grade them. Now, he does not evaluate the student’s essay answers because national conference bar examiners provides a very detailed answer and analysis. He finds these very easy to self-grade and provides them to his students.
In comparison, Themis assigns each student a personal adviser who remains with that specific student from the first day of the course until the last day. Students are assigned eight essays for grading, but can turn in as many as they want. The adviser grades that student’s essays each week and provides personalized feedback catered to that individual student.
Multistate Performance Test
AmeriBar has a strategy workshop for MPT, what skills it is testing, and every released MPT and corresponding score sheet is available to its students in a downloadable format.
While Rigos has been Washington-focused, it has also been providing bar exam materials to law schools and the American Bar Association for years. Rigos tries to get its students to practice all three areas right away, and not just the MBE first, as is common. Its students begin practicing the MPT early on in the course. Rigos is a locally owned company that uses local lecturers. Unlike other companies, the lecturers are not changing. Washington law graduates who are looking for a familiar face during lectures will still find them there.
Under the prior exam, Mr. Rigos expected students to spend about 400 hours studying. Under the UBE, he expects students will need to dedicate roughly 500–600 hours to adequately prepare for this exam. Similarly, Tesdahl had to make its materials at least 30% longer because of the new testing format. Mr. Tesdahl said that the new exam is going to be significantly harder than the old exam, and he expects pass rates to go down.
However, the reward will be great for everyone involved. During my conversation with Kaplan, they best summed up the positive effect this exam could have on the legal economy: “It’s really good for Washington, particularly in this job market. If your score is high enough, you can transfer to any other jurisdiction. Someone who graduates and doesn’t know where they want to go, they can transport that score and get admitted in another state. It’s also great for law firms in Washington, because it makes it so much easier for their lawyers to be national and work in several states, rather than various states.”
The UBE is completely different than the exam we are all used to, so it makes sense that the preparation involved would be vastly different, too. Overall, the companies sounded excited to assist students in their journey to overcome the bar exam and become WSBA members. As a final note to those who are taking the UBE this July — stay focused and remember: it is a marathon, not a sprint. You can do this!