How Do I Interpret My MBE Scores?

Terry Masters

Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) scores are interpreted by taking the scaled score provided by the testing agency as part of an examinee’s test results and comparing it to the cut off for MBE scores in the state where the examinee is taking the bar exam. If the scaled score is higher than the cut off, the examinee has passed the multistate portion of the exam. The examinee must also determine the weight given to MBE scores in the state’s bar examination process. Some states weigh the MBE as 50 percent of the total score needed to pass the bar exam, and other states give MBE scores less weight.

The MBE is a standardized multiple choice test.
The MBE is a standardized multiple choice test.

In the U.S., each state determines the qualifications for licensing lawyers to practice and administer its own bar exam. The MBE is a standardized multiple choice test designed by the National Council of Bar Examiners that a state can choose to use as part of its bar admissions process. It tests knowledge of multi-jurisdictional applications of constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, evidence, real property, and torts. Most states administer a bar exam in two parts by using the MBE to test general legal knowledge and an essay section to test state-specific knowledge. States then assign a weight to each part of the exam to determine an overall state bar exam score.

The MBE contains 200 questions, 190 of which count towards an examinee’s raw score. Raw scores are subjected to a statistical process called equating, where the testing agency assigns a difficulty level to each of the questions on the exam. Two examinees might have the same raw score or have gotten the same number of questions right, but the difficulty level of the questions might mean that the two end up with different scaled scores. There is a bit more to the statistical computations that are applied to the raw scores to transform them into scaled scores, but the exact formula is not published by the testing agency.

Equating is designed to adjust the MBE scores for each test session according to difficulty so that no examinee has an advantage or disadvantage by taking an easier or harder version of the test. The process is supposed to assure that the entire test ends up with the same overall difficulty level across testing sessions even though the actual questions change. Its validity depends, however, on a subjective assessment of the difficulty of each question.

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