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5 Tips for Taking and Passing the Patent Bar Exam

Written by Gene Quinn
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Patent Attorney, Reg. No. 44,294
Zies, Widerman & Malek
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Posted: February 13, 2008 @ 11:18 am
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While this is an open book exam, the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures (MPEP) is like no other book you have ever seen. It is sometimes random and haphazard, it is redundant, and it is exceptionally boring. Nevertheless, the MPEP can be your life line. The biggest mistake that anyone could make is that an open book exam is not terribly difficult. Open book exams are more difficult than closed book exams because the tester can ask more pointed and specific questions than could reasonably be asked in a closed book exam. Familiarity with the MPEP is essential to success.

What follows are a number of tips that should help you develop a personal strategy for tackling this exam.  Do remember though that any strategies you are going to employ should not be first unveiled on exam day.  Weave these and any other strategies you want to develop into your exam preparation for maximum success on exam day.

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 (more on this later). 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.


In a multiple choice examination that is given in paper format you can easily skip questions you are unsure of, and then come back later to make your selection. You can still do this on the computerized exam, but how you do it is different. When you encounter a difficult question in a paper exam it is common that you will be able to eliminate several of the answer choices, narrowing it down to perhaps 2 or 3 possibilities. You make a notation right on the question page by crossing out several of the answer choices. When you come back to the question you now have a head start, thereby saving time. On an electronic exam, however, you cannot do this. If you are going to want to come back to a question later you are going to have to keep notes on the scrap paper that will be provided. If for, example, you are between A and D for Question 16, you need to make a quick notation on the scrap paper so that when you go back to that question you do not have to start over from scratch. Remember, those that fail usually fail by a question or two, so saving time to look up answers later on is critical. As you practice get in the habit of taking notes on questions you want to return to. Of course, your notes need to be quick because the clock is running.


Having just read the previous tip some will think about just using the MPEP index as a reference tool to finding an answer. This would be a horrible mistake. So that you can get this out of your system now, think of a topic, any topic, and go to the MPEP index. You will almost universally find multiple references to a variety of chapters in the MPEP. If you simply try and follow the trail suggested by the index you will waste valuable minutes, and sadly you likely won’t find what you are looking for anyway. Unfortunately, the MPEP index is not terribly helpful, at least when time is of the essence. For this reason, using the MPEP index should be an option of last resort.

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The best way to find things in the MPEP is to simply become familiar with what each chapter covers. The best way to do this, absent reading the entire MPEP, which is not recommended, is to read through the table of contents at the beginning of each chapter. The table of contents for each chapter has very detailed information about what is covered in the chapter. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the table of contents for each chapter. Also, when you are faced with a look-up-question (i.e., a question that requires knowledge of a specific factoid) first go to the proper chapter in the MPEP and skim through the table of contents. Frequently, one of the sections will jump out at you as being particularly relevant. Go to that section and chances are you will find the answer right there. This would have paid dividends in the past in dealing with look-up-questions on NASA/DOE statements (see MPEP 150) and filing a demand for international preliminary examination (see MPEP 1865).


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 is to do the old exam questions found on PatWare, and study with particular emphasis the 2003 exam questions and answers. Students who have reported back after taking the exam report that up to 15 questions were verbatim repeat questions (i.e., same question, same answer choices, same order of answer choices) from the 2003 exams. In addition, students have reported that up to another 15 questions were verbatim repeat questions from the other exams contained in PatWare. What this means is that you can expect somewhere between 20 and 30 identically repeated questions. These points are there for the taking, and will be obtained by only the most prepared. The morale is to be prepared to capture these easy points.


You might think this tip is not unique to tests in electronic format, and you are probably right, at least to some degree. As you have hopefully seen by now, the Patent Office will frequently ask questions in ways that could only be characterized as tricky, perhaps unnecessarily tricky. You will get true/false questions on the exam, which can be asked in one of four different ways – which of the following are: (1) true; (2) not true; (3) false; and (4) not false. Given that the right answer could turn on the presence or absence of a single word, in this case “not”, you need to read the questions very carefully. Similarly, the claim drafting questions will hopefully become among the easiest questions on the exam. The questions you get in these areas will require you to identify which is the bad claim or which is the good claim. In a pressure setting such fine reading can be difficult. Add to this the fact that you are reading on a computer monitor, without a break, for 3 hours at a stretch, and your eyes can begin to play tricks with you. If you are not used to reading text on a computer screen, practice during the post course. It would be a mistake to think that reading questions and answers on a computer screen is no different than reading questions and answers on paper.

For more information please follow the links below, and if you have a questions that is not answered please contact me and we will try and get an answer for you.

About the Author

Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
US Patent Attorney (Reg. No. 44,294)

B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Rutgers University
J.D., Franklin Pierce Law Center
L.L.M. in Intellectual Property, Franklin Pierce Law Center

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Gene is a US Patent Attorney, law professor and the founder of He is also a principal lecturer in the top patent bar review course in the nation, which helps aspiring patent attorneys and patent agents prepare themselves to pass the patent bar exam. Gene’s particular specialty as a patent attorney is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. As an electrical engineer by training his practice primarily focuses on software, computers and Internet innovations, as well as electrical and mechanical devices. Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN Money and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide.