Down with the MPRE


Many 3Ls, myself included, took the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam last Friday – the MPRE, for short. For all of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of jumping through this particular law school hoop, it consists of 50 multiple choice questions covering a range of topics in legal ethics. The grading is curved and the passing score differs by state – in other words, it’s hard to know how well you need to do. What isn’t hard to know, however, is that there are lots of things wrong with the MPRE, and some easy things the average student can do to make the whole sordid experience a little less unpleasant.

First, I think it’s important to be very clear about one thing – whatever anyone else might tell you, the MPRE is a deeply unpleasant test. It’s not hard as such. I don’t mean to say that the concepts are difficult to understand, or that you’ll be confused by the doctrine. The chief problem, really, is that most of the multiple choices are pretty plausible; anyone waiting for lurid tales of judges taking bribes and lawyers embezzling money to go on benders in Vegas is going to be waiting a long time. What all this adds up to is that the conventional wisdom around school that you only need to study for a few hours is not all that useful. We may all have passed, as people keep reassuring me, but it won’t be because we knew the material – if I pass, at least, I’ll owe my success to long-honed standardized test instincts. Closely connected to all this is that like most commercial test preparation classes, the Bar/Bri five-hour Saturday course isn’t all that helpful – sure, it’s nice psychologically to have someone boil down legal ethics to a single whirlwind class, but the short outline that you’re meant to fill out mad-lib style in class is grossly inadequate to the test. I don’t mean to be completely cynical about test preparation companies, and I’m sure the Bar/Bri people globally know what they’re doing. But I’d much rather feel comfortable taking the test, and I get the feeling a quick flip through the model rules, my old professional responsibility notes, and a single practice exam would have done a lot more than even twice as much lecturing.

Second, it turns out that the officials administering the exam are disturbingly incompetent. I’ve talked to multiple people even in my small circle of friends and acquaintances who got their admission tickets as late as the Thursday before the test, while others never received anything at all. The latter, of course, showed up at the designated hotel without their required passport style ID photos – though why the MPRE people need passport photos in addition to government issued ID missed me entirely. Many of the students lucky enough to get a ticket, furthermore, were shunted off to far off test-sites like Waltham and Bridgewater, neither of which are entirely straightforward to get to. I was at the former, and unless someone was nice enough to give you a ride, I’m reliably informed that a cab from the closest T (rather than commuter rail) station runs a ghastly $45. While those problems could be helped a bit by registering really early, the fact that there were only two people to process what looked like well over 300 test-takers couldn’t be helped at all, and the only reason I got through a test that started closer to two than twelve-thirty was that a friend heroically dashed out of the room just before the exam was due to start and returned with some much-appreciated candy bars. Why the instructions don’t recommend eating lunch before coming to the test I can’t fathom, but I’m telling you now – pack a sandwich. As for when the scores are likely to come out, I’ll just say that I’m not encouraged by the organizer’s record thus far. If it weren’t unethical, I’d organize a pool and put my money on eight weeks, or about twice the advertised wait. But I’ve learned my lesson. As far as this paper is concerned, I’m not involved in any gambling.

Frankly, this whole episode makes me worry about what the Bar exam is going to be like. I’ve spent most of the past couple of days unhappily pondering a month of black-letter lectures in subjects I’d rather not study, followed by evenings mulling over the same material, all culminating in a desperate flurry of exam taking punctuated by bureaucracy-induced moments of hunger. It’s not a pretty picture – in fact, it makes me wonder if the Bar exam isn’t one last bit of vestigial hazing organized by some lawyers with poor senses of humor, and if there’s a committee of these people out there snickering about the Waltham adventure as we speak. But I’ll lay cynicism aside for now, and wait for the summer. It can only get better, right?

Raffi Melkonian owes his success to long-honed standardized test instincts.