What is the Bar Exam?
The bar exam is a standardized exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE®) that is designed to test your knowledge of the law. What is the final step toward achieving the milestone of becoming a licensed attorney to practice law in the United States? That’s right, getting your attorney's license. To obtain this license , you must pass the bar exam. And when we say "pass", we mean just that.
It's no secret that passing the bar is a difficult task, but the final step is an especially arduous one. To begin with, every U.S. state administers its own bar exam to identify candidates best suited to practice law in its jurisdiction. Fortunately, there's no summa cum laude on the bar exam. You only need to pass.
What is the UBE?
Every jurisdiction can decide what components to include in its bar exam. However, for uniformity, most jurisdictions have come to a mutual consensus. Many states have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®) to ensure score portability between jurisdictions. With this system, each state can determine its minimum passing score and set tailored standards for candidates. Consequently, examinees can apply to transfer their UBE jurisdiction score to another UBE jurisdiction since it is tested and graded uniformly. There are three separate components of the UBE:
The UBE is administered on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July of each year. In some states, candidates may have to appear for a state specific exam to be eligible to apply for the attorney license.
Who Administers the UBE?
In most competitive exams, there is a body that overlooks the A to Z of the entire exam process. The NCBE is the body that creates and administers the UBE. NCBE maintains uniformity across the jurisdictions to ensure that the exams are graded and valid among the UBE states.
Who should take the bar exam?
When you ask, "Who should take the bar exam?" you are really asking, "What are the prerequisites?" To begin with, let's address the degree vs. licensure confusion that most candidates face. Receiving your LLM or Juris Doctorate (JD) is not equivalent to becoming a licensed attorney. To practice law in the U.S., you must pass the bar exam and be sworn in as a licensed attorney in your state.
To avoid violating legal ethics, you should refrain from presenting yourself as a licensed attorney, even if you do work in the legal industry. For example, if you use the term "attorney" to describe yourself and do not include a warning indicating you have not taken the state bar exam, you could find yourself in trouble. This could be violated even in the most casual settings, per the present American Bar Association (ABA) rules.
List of UBE & Non-UBE Jurisdictions
The UBE is a uniform framework for jurisdictions to standardize the bar exam. However, not all jurisdictions have accepted it as a licensure prerequisite. Let's dive into what this means.
Which jurisdictions use the UBE?
As you read earlier, most U.S. states and jurisdictions have adopted the UBE in order to provide bar takers with a portable score. Here’s a list of all the jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE:
41 jurisdictions in the U.S. have adopted the UBE. Currently, other jurisdictions are considering adopting it as well.
Which jurisdictions did not adopt the UBE?
You'd be surprised to learn that some of the U.S.'s largest and most popular states and territories have not adopted the UBE. Their reasoning is that "not enough state law aspects" are covered in the UBE. Therefore, to pass the bar in a non-UBE jurisdiction, you must learn the state-specific laws and testing requirements.
Here is a list of states that have not adopted the UBE:
|Nevada||Northern Mariana Islands||Palau||Puerto Rico|
The bar exams in Delaware, Louisiana, and Nevada are completed over the course of three days. All non-UBE states besides Louisiana test the MBE. Jurisdictions that don’t use the UBE have to schedule their bar exams around the MBE dates.
UBE Bar Exam Registration Process
To begin the UBE registration process, you must first decide when you would like to sit for the bar: February or July. Then, you will start the application process, which includes multiple steps:
- Step 1: Make an account on the NCBE portal
- Step 2: Choose your preferred jurisdiction
- Step 3: Select the date you would like to take the bar exam
- Step 4: Check the deadlines and pay the state-specific application fee
Once you have successfully created your account in the NCBE portal, you will be provided with an NCBE number that is used as your unique identifier for your MBE, MEE, and MPT scores. The majority of jurisdictions require applicants to provide their NCBE numbers in their bar exam applications.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) recognizes candidates with qualified disabilities who want to take the bar exam. It ensures a fair and equal opportunity is given to such candidates regardless of their physical constraints. To ensure that this platform has the aids and facilities to accommodate such candidates, qualifying candidates are given what is called an ' ADA Accommodation'.
These accommodations include (but are not limited to):
- Enlarged font test papers written in braille for the blind or partially blind candidates
- Interpreters for partially deaf or hard of hearing candidates
- Customized desktop screens for comfortable reading
- Longer test times
- Wheelchair access in all testing centers
What is the format of the UBE?
The UBE is conducted in two parts, over two days. Each day is six hours long and divided into two 3 hour sections — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Part 1 on the first day is the written portion that includes the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Part 2 on the second day is the multiple-choice Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).
What makes up the written portion? (PART 1)?
The written portion of the UBE is a combination of two parts: The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE).
The MPT tests your ability to apply lawyering tasks to real life situations by using a simulated case file.The MPT takes place in the first half of the UBE, and is a three hour test. Tasks include, drafting a memo to a senior practitioner, letter writing addressing a client in support of a motion. For example, a typical MPT question might ask you to draft a brief to present to a court to either affirm or dismiss a lower court’s ruling on a prior case or precedent. Depending on the jurisdiction, either one or both attempts of your MPT exam will be evaluated as part of the bar exam.What is the MEE?
The second half of the written portion of the bar exam is the MEE. It requires you to draft six essays in three hours. The essay topics are versatile, and there are no hard and fast rules. The MEE tests a candidate's ability to break down hypothetical fact patterns in order to find and resolve legal issues; The main function of the MEE is to test an examinee's legal writing skills.
What is the MBE (PART 2)?
The Multistate Bar Exam is a standardized 200 multiple-choice examination that assesses a candidate’s ability to apply fundamental legal principles and reasoning in the practice of law. The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). Of the 200 questions, 175 are scored, while the other 25 are unscored pretest questions that may be used in future exams. That said, examinees should answer all 200 questions, as the unscored pretest questions cannot be differentiated from scored questions.
Weight, duration, and distribution of subjects
|UBE Exam||Exam Weight||1st Half (3 Hours)||2nd Half (3 Hours)|
|Day 1||Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)||30%||N/A||Six 30-minute Essay questions|
|Multistate Performance Test (MPT)||20%||Two 90-minute tasks||N/A|
|Day 2||Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)||50%||100 MCQs||100 MCQs|
Bar Exam Subjects
Wondering what your study subjects look like? Let's look at the subjects and skills covered on the MEE, MPT, and MBE.
- Business Associations
- Civil Procedure
- Conflicts of Law
- Constitutional Law
- Contracts and Sales
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Family Law
- Real Property
- Trusts and Estates
- Article 9 (Secured Transactions) of the Uniform Commercial Code
- Legal Analysis and Reasoning
- Factual Analysis
- Problem Solving
- Recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas
- Organization and management of a legal task
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law & Procedure
- Property Law
Passing the Bar Exam
As the saying goes, “preparation is the key to success”. To pass the bar exam, it is essential to practice with exams that include questions that mimic the current style and format of the bar exam so you can experience what it's like to take the actual bar exam.
After years of studying and intense training, your final step to becoming a lawyer is to pass the bar exam! As Jean Giraudoux once said, “There is no better way of exercising the imagination than the study of law. No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth.” So, pull up your socks for this one last race and let the preparations begin! With the right guidance, tools, and question banks, you might just be the next U.S. attorney in your state!
Frequently Asked Questions
For first timers, the bar exam may present itself as a content-heavy exam. And quite rightfully so, given the countless prep hours, the uncertainty of scores, the complexity of topics, and many such parameters.
However, statistically, first-time exam takers who took the July 2021 bar exam have a whopping pass rate of 76.61%. So, really, there is no saying what the outcome may be. First-time takers, though, who use Themis Bar Review to prepare have historically better results! With UWorld’s MBE QBank, you can take a full assessment exam that simulates taking the actual MBE. This is an amazing resource to help you prepare for the MBE portion of the bar exam!
Different states have different rules about retaking the bar exam. Since the bar exam is an emotionally and financially exhausting process, most candidates tend to stop trying to pass the bar exam after a few tries. To find out about the state specific bar exam attempts, look at the details on our retake bar exam page.
Yes, you can. Popular states like Washington, Vermont, California, and Virginia allow you to take the bar exam without a law degree. However, some states require one to two years of apprenticeship, like New York and Maine. So, really, it is possible, but it’s always best to reach out to a state licensed practitioner for more information.
The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. Of the 200 questions, 175 are scored, while the other 25 are unscored pretest questions that may be used in future exams. That said, examinees should answer all 200 questions, as the unscored pretest questions cannot be differentiated from the scored questions.
The bar exam is conducted twice every year, once in February and once in July. The registration deadlines are mentioned here.