Law School Up Close

Back From The Doldrums: After the Patent Bar

So, if you follow this site at all, you have probably noticed that I have been inactive for over a month now. No, I have not abandoned the site, I have just been studying for the Patent Bar.

I received my study materials for the test on May 25th, and had been studying vigorously for about the past three weeks, devoting all of my time after work until taking the test last Thursday, July 19th. Prior to studying non-stop, I had been working 3-4 hours a night. Coming from engineering school, and having a working knowledge of statistics, I realized that a test with a 43.9% pass rate in 2017 was going to be difficult to pass the first time around. But I figured that my preparation, combined with a long week off of work studying at my parents’ house would be enough to get me into fighting shape.

Although I managed to scrape by and pass the test (you don’t get your score when you pass, but I’m sure it was close), I definitely underestimated just how much of a beast this exam was. Even with the top notch prep course (PLI Patent Office Exam Course), I found myself burning the midnight oil in the nights leading up to the test, trying to figure out how I would get the few extra points on the practice exams that would get me over the 70% marker.

Truthfully, I never felt prepared for this one. I consistently scored between 64 and 74 percent on the practice exams, with more on the sub-70 end. I read, re-read, and re-read the course materials, and would re-watch the course lectures at the gym, in the car, at work, and wherever else I found the time. I did certain things that I felt were awesome, and other things that took a ton of time and yielded little or no results. I wanted to write this article to share my thoughts on the preparation, and the test itself.

The “Blue Chip” Advice: Take the Old Exams!

If there is one thing that you will hear, and hear again, its to take the old exams that are on the USPTO site. If you are taking the PLI course, they even revamp the old exams for AIA law. This is the one piece of advice that is irrevocably true, to the core. The questions are hard, really hard, and simply knowing the law isn’t enough to get through the fact patterns on the exam. You really need to expose yourself to the problems to understand how to approach them, both individually and as a group. Not only that, I have found that the approach to taking this exam is quite personalized.

For instance, I read people online saying that you would only have time to do “lookups” for 20-30 questions on the entire exam. I found myself looking up 20-30 questions per SECTION. First of all, there is quite a bit of time, second, you want to be sure that you are right, and finally, a lot of the questions can be answered in 15-20 seconds, leaving (hopefully) 2 hours after getting through each problem once.

But that is just my opinion, based on my optimal method for taking the test. The way I took the exam, I would view each problem at least twice by the end, and some problems 5-6 times. Some may work through the questions more methodically, in which case you may be able to get more questions by recall, and therefore have to lookup less answers.

Reading the Manual: An Endless Debate

Many, many people online, as well as those who teach the prep courses for the exam suggest reading certain parts of the MPEP. In particular, chapters 700, 1200, 1800, and 2100 are considered must reads. Now don’t get me wrong, these are definitely heavily tested materials, but in my opinion, reading anything of this length contiguously is not the most efficient way to go about it. I did read 700, and can honestly say that it didn’t get me any more points in practice to have done so.

It would be unwise of me to instruct you not to read these chapters, as everyone learns things in different ways, and uses different materials to go along with the reading. At the same time, I feel confident instructing you to abstain from this type of reading before you have thoroughly absorbed your course material and done some practice problems. For one, you need to understand what types of problems throw you off in order to know which material you should be taking in as you read. Additionally, studying condensed material has much higher returns until you have read all of the condensed material. Think of the manual reading as the “cherry on top”, not the foundation of your studies. This is something that is probably easier from an engineering mentality, than a law student who is used to reading long case briefs prior to reading consolidated outlines to study for the exams.

The Final Approach: Getting Tactical

When you get to the final weeks and days approaching the exam, you will likely hit a point where you realize that there is simply not enough time to cover everything that you are shaky on, and that you are in general much closer to failing than you thought you would be. This is apparently fairly standard. The exam is designed to yield many scores right in the 65-75 range, and I’d be surprised if anyone does much better than that. In these final moments, it is important to gamble while hedging your bets. In this final section of the article, I am going to provide some “safe bets” that you can take to the bank to get those last few points and be done with the damn thang.

“Keep it 100” on MPEP 700

Everyone knows that chapter 700 is the most tested material on the exam, slightly edging chapter 2100. But this is not the primary reason that I feel it is so important to get this chapter under control. Basically, there are questions on the exam that ask about the truthiness of a series of facts, and then there are questions that lay out a situation in which people are filing applications and claiming priority left and right, responding to office actions, and filing RCE’s til the cows come home. This latter type of question is a common one for 700 questions, and those ones are harder to look up. Particularly, determining a rejection type or an acceptable response to a rejection type will not be within grasp if you cannot identify the nature of the rejection based on the facts of the problem, or if you cannot determine which piece of Prior Art is delivering the rejection.

PCT Will Set you Free (MPEP 1800)

People dread PCT, but I found it quite a simple concept. I would recommend reading this chapter if you are shaky on it, as it is only about 180 pages, and has the most nuance to it conceptually. Additionally, I think that because people struggle understanding concepts like “entering a national stage”, and the “international bureau”, the questions are actually easier than their brutal chapter 700 counterparts.


At the end of the day, the USPTO registration exam was much tougher than I expected. I went into the exam expecting to fail, but I had realized that many others do fail the first time, and it is really not a big deal. See, it is not like a test in school where you only get one shot, and no one really knows how many times you take it.

Don't be discouraged if you score low on the practice tests, and during practice tests study the MPEP and refine your lookup strategy. When reviewing the test, find each of the answers in the MPEP, even the ones you got right.


Ted Rand