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By MARY CAMPBELL GALLAGHER, J.D., Ph.D., President of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press,

Every candidate for the New York bar needs to enroll in a full bar review course like Pieper or BarBri. This is especially true for foreign-trained attorneys. But for foreign-trained attorneys, the first steps to success

are setting aside enough time to prepare for the exam, understanding the limited objectives of the exam as well as the reasons why the exam is so challenging, and planning a good study strategy.[1] Without those steps, even taking a full bar review course will not assure success.

Here are five tips for success.

1.  Bar candidates can improve their performance by recognizing that the New York bar exam has limited objectives.  The New York bar exam tests whether lawyers know basic law and have basic analytic skills.  Its first aim is to provide evidence that, faced with novel fact situations, candidates can apply legal principles quickly and as a practicing lawyer might.  It is not a test of general background or legal potential. The skills the bar exam tests are the skills we focus on in our BarWrite® courses and boot camps.

2.  The greatest challenge of the New York bar exam is that the time allotted for demonstrating that one knows and can apply the law is so short. Demonstrating the ability to apply the law is key. Because all the basic rules of law must be top-of-mind during the exam, however, and because there is so much law to learn, preparing for the exam requires memorizing. One advantage of memorizing the basic rules is that it eliminates the need to translate the law back and forth into and from another language. Ideally, candidates should plan to spend two months of full-time study preparing for the exam, without working.

3.  Candidates must have a strategy for each part of the exam. The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is administered on the last Wednesday of February and July.  It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, and it takes six hours.[2]  The subjects tested on the MBE are Contracts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.

The best study strategy for the MBE is to focus ruthlessly on learning the most heavily-tested rules of law and on tactics for taking the exam.  The areas I recommend concentrating on include contract formation, negligence, exceptions to hearsay, and witness impeachment.

These areas are heavily tested.  The topics students usually want to spend the most time studying are the things they have trouble with, like third-party beneficiaries.  Often, however, those topics are not intensively tested.

4.  The New York Essays and New York Multiple-Choice Questions. Tuesday is the New York day.  There are five New York essays, requiring roughly 45 minutes each, plus 50 New York multiple-choice questions, and one 90-minute task in the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).  No one can entirely master all 13 subjects tested on the essays.  Ruthless prioritizing is necessary to learn the key rules and how to apply them.  The subjects are as follows:

(1) Business relationships including business corporations, agency, limited liability companies, partnerships and joint ventures;

(2) Civil practice and procedure (New York, except as noted);

(3) Conflict of laws;

(4) New York and federal constitutional law;

(5) Contracts and contract remedies;

(6) Criminal law and procedure;

(7) Evidence;

(8) Matrimonial and family law;

(9) Professional responsibility;

(10) Real property;

(11) Torts and tort damages;

(12) Trusts, wills and estates; and

(13) UCC Articles 2, 3 and 9.

The tight time limits on the New York bar exam can in fact help bar candidates structure their essays, although to use the time limits this way takes practice. Bar candidates can learn to read and outline a question in 15 minutes.  They can learn to write a paragraph in five or six minutes. In BarWrite®’s classes I have my teaching assistants use a stopwatch to train students to write a paragraph in five or six minutes.  Thus, bar candidates can write a five-paragraph essay in 30 minutes.  That’s one way to manage the time on the New York essays. See also my white paper, “How to Manage Time on the New York Day of the New York Bar Exam.”[3]

5.  Multistate Performance Test (MPT).  Like the MBE, the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) comes from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.[4]  This test is designed to test bar candidates’ ability to perform an ordinary law office task in accordance with a supervising attorney’s written directions. Bar candidates receive both a File and a Library.  The File includes the memo from the supervising attorney and papers that might be found in a law office, like letters and transcripts of client interviews.  The Library includes cases and other legal materials.

Time is the biggest challenge on the MPT.  Few of us who have practiced law have completed many substantial law office tasks, including both the research and the writing, in 90 minutes.  The strategy I suggest in our boot camps and my new book is to spend 45 minutes analyzing the instructions meticulously and plowing relentlessly through the File and Library materials.  Then to divide the writing task into time-limited sections and spend 45 minutes writing.

To be safe, well before the bar exam, foreign-trained attorneys should familiarize themselves with American law-office formats, especially those for briefs and memos. The best starting point for the MPT is my new book Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT). It is available from, and it is a basic text in our BarWrite® Boot Camps.

Conclusion. Foreign-trained attorneys can succeed on the New York bar exam. To do so, they must take a full bar review course. We highly recommend that foreign-trained lawyers supplement their full bar review course with our 10-Day Coaching Group. They should ideally set aside two months to prepare for the exam, without working or other distractions, they should focus their preparation towards fulfilling the limited objectives of the exam, and they should ruthlessly prioritize their preparation.


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Note. Our BarWrite® group coaching program and boot camps focus on strengthening students’ preparation on each part of the exam. For information visit:

[1] On the July 2009 New York bar examination, foreign-trained attorneys, making up 25.6 per cent of the total group of 11,532 candidates, had a first-time pass rate of 46.2 per cent, a slight increase over July 2008.  By contrast, J.D. graduates of ABA-approved law schools in New York State had a first-time pass rate of 88.1 per cent.  <

[2]  For description of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and sample questions visit the web site of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). <>.

[3]  <>

[4]  The web site of the NCBE describes the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and provides sample tests. <> BarWrite Press has now launched the new study guide Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT), by Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D.

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