The Almost Daily Word – Magic and the MBE – Part 1 – the Bullet Catch

“The magic show is a competition. The audience is trying to figure you out. They aren’t suspending their disbelief—they’re trying to expose you as a scam artist.” – Teller

The Bullet Catch is a classic magic trick. In it, a bullet, typically marked in advance by an audience member to establish its authenticity, is loaded and fired by a skilled marksman, generally through a pane of glass, at the star of the show. The magician then catches it, often in his or her mouth, collapsing to the stage with the effort, only to stand back up triumphantly to spit out the projectile with its markings in tact. Magic – right? Or at least an impenetrable deception.

Actually, neither. In Penn and Teller’s “Double Bullet Catch,” the magicians swiftly and surreptitiously substitute wax bullets in the two guns and conceal the marked ones in their mouths. The waxed bullets shatter the glass, going no further and, well, you know the rest. All the famous pair have done, when you get right down to it, is invent a simple set of procedures, and then practice them to perfection, relying on their experience in, and knowledge of, what will trick their audiences.

In a way, as you begin your preparation for the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) you are walking into a similar world of tricks and deceptions. In this world, each question has a correct answer right out in plain site – no trick there. However, all around the answer are scattered diversions, misdirections, and challenges, all carefully contrived by experts– often law professors with professional lifetimes observing students’ weaknesses and counter-productive tendencies.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners spends considerable time and treasure creating MBE questions, creating layer upon layer of question creation, editing, review, pretesting, and statistical tracking to make sure that questions go out on stage every bit as slick and apparently impenetrable as the Double Bullet Catch. Just as Penn and Teller rely on certain audience tendencies, the NCBE relies on the tendency of applicants to read questions incompletely or without sufficient focus; to make incorrect assumptions; to bring less-than-satisfactory understandings of the law into the exam; and – let’s be real– to be terrified.

Okay – take a breath. Open your mind to this possibility. If you can learn to spot these tricks, or even just the most common ones, and then practice, practice, practice, what may seem like insurmountable wizardry at the moment can, over time, turn into just another day at the office.

In this occasional series on The Almost Daily Word, I will be making observations on how to penetrate the magic of the MBE on your road to Bar success. Please stay tuned!

Here we go!