Next year, the Philippine bar exam will feature multiple choice questions. This doesn’t mean that the questions are easier. They’re just different. They can be much more difficult than the usual short essay question. But the task of making up questions is harder.
One way that the Bar Examiner can make hard questions is to make all the choices look correct. They will all have their own internal logic, and also appear to be relevant to the problem presented.
Here’s how an examiner might make up a question with four possible choices. He may decide to use as choices the words of actual decisions from four different Supreme Court cases. Since the law schools make you memorize these cases, your brain remembers those same words. So, all are “correct.” But only one is “on point” on the problem presented. Although thinking is essential, it can take up too much time. You can end up re-hashing the four actual cases over and over, while withholding judgment on how to answer the question.
I suggest that the best strategy is to ignore the choices first. Instead, think of the problem on its own and formulate a “best answer.” Once you look at the choices, that closest to your best answer is your best bet. (This is supposedly the preferred strategy for difficult associative/analogy questions in verbal skills tests.)
To be fair, the examiner must set up the problem so that the correct answer is not “obvious” from first principles or by elimination. (A really good question is one where the “obvious” answer is wrong.) This is of course one reason why making up the multiple choice question is more difficult than before. Another reason is practical. A hastily made question may backfire if in hindsight more than one choice is correct. Some bar exam committees in foreign jurisdictions review multiple-choice questions for such “backfire” problems.
The 2011 exam will likely favor those who don’t memorize word for word but understand the law. A good law school will now shift its methods away from memory work and toward “thinking.” But how do you overturn decades of old-school tradition? Choose from: (a) By drinking Red Horse; (b) By drinking red wine; (c) By retiring thinking teachers; (d) By major-major renovation of the library.