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4 Reasons Why You Underperform on the Multiple-Choice Section on Law School Exams

Emily Chartrand


  • Multiple-choice questions test more than your ability to recall a rule, they require legal analysis—applying rules to facts. 
  • The best way to improve your multiple-choice-questions is to practice
4 Reasons Why You Underperform on the Multiple-Choice Section on Law School Exams

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Law students face multiple-choice questions numerous times before they emerge as practicing attorneys. Multiple-choice questions appear on law school finals, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), and the bar exam. If you’re underperforming on multiple-choice questions, this guide is for you. Discover why you’re picking wrong answers, and nail down a successful plan of attack.

Let’s start with the basics. Multiple-choice questions typically contain a fact pattern, a question prompt, and four answer options. As you’ve probably realized, knowing the substantive law tested is a must for succeeding on any exam. But multiple-choice questions test more than your ability to recall a rule. To select the right answer option, you must do legal analysis—applying rules to facts. 

In substance, multiple-choice questions are like mini-essays, but many law students who perform well on the written portion of an exam still struggle with multiple-choice questions. Read on to diagnose why you bomb the multiple-choice section.

The 4 Top Reasons You Bomb Multiple-Choice Questions

Reason 1: You Answer Based on Gut Instinct

Multiple-choice-question writers intentionally design wrong answers that appeal to students who understand the material incompletely or harbor predictable misconceptions. If you answer questions based on instinct, your performance suffers.

Try examining why you’re attracted to the answer option. Many law students fall for legal vocabulary that seems correct at first glance. For example, if a question tests the causation aspect of a negligence claim, watch to see whether you are immediately attracted to an answer option that uses the words “proximate cause” or “foreseeable.”

It’s not enough for the answer option to use the right legal vocabulary. The correct option will properly apply the law to fact. Methodically examine all the choices and ensure your selection reflects the correct analysis.

Reason 2: You Give Up on Tough Questions

Some students see difficult questions and give up. One daunting type of question features a series of statements and asks which are true. The answer choices appear as Roman numerals:

(A)    I and II only

(B)    I and III only

(C)    II and III only

(D)   I, II, and III

Lengthy fact patterns also cause students to throw in the towel. Sorting through facts takes mental energy. At the end of a challenging exam, the last thing anyone wants to see is a meaty question.

If you tend to give up on hard questions, try reframing your mentality. On your path to law school, you succeeded on many hard tests. This is just one more. Prepare yourself to accept short-term pain for long-term gain.

Use practice sessions to scale up your ability to focus. Begin with shorter sets of practice questions, and steadily increase the length to develop the stamina needed for exam day.

Reason 3: Exam anxiety shortcuts your thinking

Does your anxiety spike when the exam begins? A bit of nervous energy can sharpen mental focus, but too much anxiety interferes with performance. It shortcuts your thinking: a racing mind can’t analyze multiple-choice questions methodically.

What helps? Some strategies include positive self-talk, following the same approach to each question, and intentionally slowing your reading speed. Use your pen or finger to track each word and focus on creating a mental image of the words on the page.

Don’t be afraid to see a professional counselor if necessary. A mental health professional can help you develop a plan to overcome test anxiety.

Reason 4: Multiple-Choice Myths Throw You off Track

Misconceptions about multiple-choice questions can lead you astray. It’s a myth that the answer cannot be “C” three times in a row. It’s also a myth that “all of the above” or “none of the above” is never the correct answer. Leave the myths aside and trust your ability to analyze the question.

A Multiple-Choice Makeover: What Can You Do to Improve?

Be Methodical

Develop a multiple-choice strategy, and use it for every question, even if you think you know the answer right away. Try this plan of attack:

  • Start with the Question Prompt. It’s counterintuitive, but reading the question from top to bottom isn’t the best strategy. Instead, read the question prompt first. If you can, determine the legal concept that is being tested. Predicting which concept is tested enables you to mentally pull up the applicable rules before diving into the facts.
  • Engage Actively with the Facts. Read purposefully for facts that relate to the concept tested. For example, on a question testing hearsay, be on the lookout for an assertion made out of court. Scrutinize any spoken words in the fact pattern.
  • Formulate an Answer before You Read the Answer Options. Don’t peek at the answer options yet. First, conduct legal analysis. Apply the rule to the facts and reason to a conclusion.
  • Pick the Answer That Best Reflects Your Reasoning. Read each answer option thoughtfully. Choose the answer option that best reflects your analysis of the problem and responds to the question. If the answer option is not responsive to the question prompt, it’s wrong.
  • Leave the Question Behind. Don’t get stuck on a question that stumps you. On the MPRE and the bar exam, each question is worth the same number of points, so it’s to your advantage to move on to easier questions.

Learn the Patterns of Wrong Answer Choices

Wrong answer options often fall into predictable patterns. If you’re wise to the patterns, you’ll have an easier time selecting the correct answer.

Question drafters love to incorporate inapplicable principles of law in wrong answer options.

Because the legal principle given is true, the answer option is appealing. There are several ways to write wrong answer options using inapplicable principles of law. Watch out for these tricks:

  • The answer provides the correct general rule for the situation given but omits an applicable exception.
  • The answer states a correct rule, but it’s not the correct rule for the situation given.
  • The answer states a correct rule but does not properly apply it to the facts.

Question drafters also mischaracterize the facts in wrong answer options. If there is a contradiction between the fact pattern and the answer option, the answer choice cannot be correct.

In addition, watch out for options framed in absolute terms, such as those using language like “always” or “never.” Most legal rules have exceptions and qualifications. Answer options presented in absolute terms are often incorrect.

Finally, watch out for options that state fake rules. Be wary of doctrines you’ve never heard of and fancy Latin terms. This is a favorite tactic of law professors.

Practice, Self-Assess, and Embrace Struggle

The best way to hone your multiple-choice-question skills is to practice. Make practice questions part of your preparation for any multiple-choice exam. Start small. Do one question at a time, pausing after each one to read the answer explanation. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn.

Past struggle with multiple-choice tests doesn’t dictate your future. For just about every student, learning the law is a journey with ups and downs. When failures come your way, meet them with a growth mindset. Analyze what went wrong, and use struggle as a springboard to success.

Ready to ace your next multiple-choice exam? Quimbee has your back. Find practice questions designed for law school success, a free MPRE course, and a bar review course featuring 1,450 real, licensed questions from past bar exams.

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