5 More Tips for Acing the Patent Bar Exam

The United States Patent Office is now offering the patent bar examination in electronic format, and that means that the way you study for the exam needs to change. In the past test takers were permitted to bring in with them any materials they wanted except for old exam questions. The ability to bring practically anything into the examination lead to people tabbing the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures, creating detailed and easy to use outlines, and bringing easy to follow flow charts and tables. Gone are these days, but when you do take the examination you will be provided with an electronic copy of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures, so at least a part of your study needs to be centered around familiarizing yourself with search techniques and strategies that have a chance of success come exam day.

I have been teaching the PLI Patent Bar Review Course since March 2000, so I know a thing or two about how to help students pass the exam.  Recently I published 5 Tips for Passing the Patent Bar Exam.  What follows is a sequel to that article; more specifically an additional 5 tips for passing.  If you are inclined to implement these tips and strategies be sure to integrate them into your practice and not for the first time on exam day.


It is said, and rightly so, that anyone could get an “A+” on the patent bar exam if given limitless time to answer the questions. This is true because all of the answers and questions come from within the MPEP. You have access to the MPEP during the exam, but because of the length and number of questions you will be lucky to have time to look up more than 5 questions in each section of the exam. Having said this, if you can accelerate your pace without jeopardizing quality review of each question then you might be able to squeeze in another look-up-question or two per section, which could dramatically affect the likelihood that you will pass. The most reliable way to speed up your pace without sacrificing is to remember that all questions are valued the same. Extremely long questions count the exact same as do the short questions, and the short questions are historically easier to get correct. Don’t get bogged down with long questions, and definitely make sure you get through all 50 questions in each section. If you get a long question and are in a time pinch read the call of the question and make your best guess and move on, returning for further consideration if you wind up having extra time. Always remember that the easiest questions may be last, and those who don’t pass will frequently not finish all 50 questions.


On the exam you will be given the opportunity to answer a question before moving on, answer a question and “mark it” for later review, or leaving a question blank. Unlike some standardized tests (most famously the SAT) guessing does not count against you on this exam. You need to get 70% correct. If you happen to have a lucky day and get 70% of the questions that count (i.e., the non-beta questions) correct by guessing you to will become a patent agent or patent attorney, as the case may be. Of course, guessing on each question is not a strategy for doing anything other than taking the exam again, but guessing is certainly better than leaving a question blank. At least with a guess you have a 1 in 5 shot of getting the question right. Leaving a question blank gives you a 0% chance of getting that question correct. What this means is that you should answer the questions as you go, leaving no questions blank. The nightmare scenario is that you run out of time before you can go back and fill in the blank questions. Given that the exam is electronic you cannot quickly color in A – B – C – D – E in a nice design as you walk up to hand in the paper. When time is up it is up you need to have your answers selected for each question.


You can mark questions for later review, assuming you have time at the end of the section. There are a few things that need to be said about marking questions. First, this is only a benefit if you are able to go at a pace that affords you some time left over at the end of each section. You have 180 minutes to do 50 questions in the morning, and a similar time in the afternoon to do another 50 questions. This translates into 3.6 minutes per question, or 3 minutes and 36 seconds. If you take all 3.6 minutes per question then you have no time to check answers or search for the answers to look-up-questions. With this in mind, you should probably practice to move at a pace of 3 minutes per question, which would leave you 30 minutes at the end to search for those critical look-up-question answers. On a related note, if you have marked every other question you will be looking at 25 marked questions with perhaps 30 minutes remaining. That simply makes no strategic sense. Consider marking only a handful of questions, namely those questions that you really think you can get correct with some additional time to consider the question or rummage through the MPEP. If you mark 6 questions, and you go at a pace of 3 minutes per question, that gives you 5 minutes per question to search for the answer. Researching more than 6 questions per section in the MPEP is probably unrealistic, and depending upon how fast you read and process information researching 6 questions might be a stretch as well.


While your preference may differ, our experience tells us that students are best served by answering each of the 50 questions to the best of their ability prior to going to the MPEP to look anything up. The reason for this is simply that when one dives into the MPEP it is altogether to easy to lose track of time. In the search for the right answer you may think it makes sense to spend more than 3.6 minutes getting a particular look-up question right. The trouble with this strategy, however, is that there may be even more deserving look-up candidates in later question. Some answers may be easy to find in the MPEP, but if you used up your “look-up time budget” chasing an answer you thought you should know, you are risking giving up easier points later on.


You have likely been told that you should never change an answer unless you are 100% convinced that you missed something and now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the new answer you are about to provide is the correct answer. That is probably good advice on this test as well. But there is more to know about the Patent Bar Exam. When you complete the 50 questions in each section you will be prompted to do one of several things. First, you can submit your answers. Second, you can review your questions and answers starting with question 1. Third, you can review your questions starting with the first marked question. Finally, you can review your questions starting with the first blank question. If you have left any blank, start there and make sure you get an answer down for each question. Next, after putting an answer down for each question you should go back and begin looking at the marked questions. Then if time remains you can start looking at the ones you knew cold the first time through, remembering that changing an answer for no particular reason normally is not a good idea.


The Patent Bar Examination is a daunting exam, and those that fail usually fail by a question or two, so having a strategy for approaching study and the exam is essential for success.

The Patent Bar Exam has never been easy, and it will likely get more difficult in the likely event that patent reform (i.e., the America Invents Act) passes.  Patent reform will sweep in dramatic new changes, but for patent applications filed prior to its effective date the old law and rules will still govern, meaning another generation will continue to need to know the old law and procedures as well as the new law and procedures.  That means the amount of information you will need to know to pass the exam will nearly double.  If there is any way you can take the exam prior to patent reform being tested you will likely be much better off.

With these tips, the 5 previous tips and a thorough patent bar review course you should be well set to pass your first time!   Good luck!


Additional Information about the Patent Bar

If you are interested in taking the patent bar exam please see the General Requirements Bulletin from the USPTO. I have also collected all the information you need to know about the Patent Bar Exam and preparing for the examination in the links below. For more information on the patent bar exam please see:



Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Join the Discussion

One comment so far.