Unraveling the Mystery of the MPT

By Marta Young, BARBRI Institutional Programs Course Instructor

If just the thought of the Multistate Performance Test (lovingly called the MPT) is raising your blood pressure, trust me, you are not alone. Each bar review session, I hear from students with high levels of anxiety over this test. If you fall into this category, keep reading… Let me help unravel some of the mystery and anxiety for you.

First, what exactly is the MPT?

According to the examiners, the MPT is a writing assignment designed to test how well you can perform an everyday lawyer-like task, such as writing a memo or letter. Essentially, can you help the client solve a legal problem that a beginning attorney might be asked to handle? Sounds easy enough, but there is a catch: you only have 90 minutes to read through the materials and draft your answer.

You read that right. Only 90 minutes (and if you are taking the bar exam in a Uniform Bar Exam jurisdiction, you will have two 90-minute MPTs back to back). But, wait, there is an upside.

The test is an entirely closed-universe and takes place in a fictional jurisdiction called Franklin, which I like to picture as a beautiful, magical, tropical place despite the fact there is so much urgent litigation. This means that everything you need to draft your answer is included in the packet: a memo regarding your task, the client’s facts, and all of the applicable Franklin law. Happily, this is the one component of the bar exam that doesn’t require any rule memorization.

Second, how should I approach this test?

Often, the easiest way to tackle a seemingly difficult problem is to break it apart into manageable pieces. The same is true for the MPT. One of the first things I ask a student who is struggling with the MPT is, “Tell me how you went through the packet.”

Usually, the student will admit that he or she simply read the packet from beginning to the end with no clear strategy in mind. A better approach is to begin with the task memo, skip over the remaining documents in the client file (for now), and go directly to the library to review the law.

Why? Because it is so important to gain a basic understanding of the Franklin law before you start digging into the facts in the file. This will not only help you pull out the legally significant facts on your first read, but it will also save you precious time by reducing the number of instances you move back and forth between documents in the packet.

Another helpful time-saving strategy is to begin working on your answer as you move through the MPT documents. Instead of creating a separate outline after reading through everything, start working on an outline that can become your answer.

For example, after leaving the task memo you can set-up your document (as a memo, letter, brief, etc.) and frame some of the issue headings based on your supervisor’s instructions. Of course, your outline must be flexible, as not all of the nuances to the client’s problem will be revealed in the task memo. Rather, issues will appear after reading the law and the client’s facts.

Third, what structure should I use to write my answer?

Sometimes, the examiners will be generous and provide you with specific drafting guidelines for your answer, particularly for a more unusual type of task. If you are not provided with drafting guidelines, however, do not panic. You can almost always default to IRAC regardless of the type of document you are drafting.

Your goal is to set forth the issues pertaining to the client’s legal problem, discuss the applicable Franklin law, and then apply that law to the client’s facts. Even in a letter or brief, though your tone may be different, you are still ultimately analyzing issues by applying rules to facts.

Your answer will not look perfect. In fact, you do not have time for perfection. Your mission is to set forth the core of an answer in the time that you do have. This means that you should spend your time where it really counts — on your legal analysis — rather than on the “look” of your response. If you have time at the end, you can always come back and polish.

Finally, the biggest key to success on the MPT is practice, practice, practice. It takes time to refine your strategy, so start early and embrace the MPT. And remember, BARBRI will provide you with specific guidance during the MPT workshop as well as detailed feedback on your MPT submission. We are here to help you own the MPT!