Baby Bar Exam vs Bar Exam

The baby bar exam is the nickname for California's First-Year Law Students Examination (FYLSX). Kim Kardashian catapulted this otherwise niche legal exam into the limelight when she celebrated her successful attempt in a post to her then 70.7 million followers. And with a 21% pass rate for that administration, it's certainly an achievement worth celebrating.

Passing the baby bar exam meant that Kim could “keep up with” her legal studies in California until she’s eligible to take the full bar exam. Yes, the baby bar exam and the bar exam are two entirely separate exams, and this article will explain the difference.

Details Bar Exam Baby Bar Exam
Eligibility Law School Graduates California Law Students
Structure MBE®, MEE®, and MPT®
administered over 2 days
4 Essays and 1 MCQ set
administered in 1 day
Jurisdictions All UBE jurisdictions California
Subjects MBE - 7, MEE - 12 3
Fees Varies by state $624
No. of attempts Varies by state 3 (for law study credit)

*Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®) is used in place of the "bar exam" because most jurisdictions have adopted it. Details vary for non-UBE jurisdictions.

What is the Bar Exam?

The bar exam assesses a candidate's readiness to practice law effectively and ethically. Bar exams are developed and administered by a jurisdiction's supreme court or board of bar examiners. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE®) develops the UBE.

In the US, most jurisdictions have adopted the UBE, which was designed to standardize qualifications and increase score portability between jurisdictions, making it easier for lawyers to transfer from one jurisdiction to another.

Still, some jurisdictions maintain their state-specific bar exam, which may or may not use components of the UBE. Furthermore, as of 2021, Wisconsin is the only US state not requiring candidates to pass the bar exam to practice law.

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What is the Baby Bar Exam?

California's First-Year Law Student's Examination (FYLSX), colloquially known as the baby bar, is not a prerequisite for admission to the California Bar. Instead, it serves as a checkpoint, ensuring that students attending unaccredited law schools have a solid understanding of key legal principles before continuing their studies.

Do you have to take the Baby Bar exam?

You must take the baby bar exam if you:

  • Are completing their first year of law school towards a Juris Doctorate (JD) at an unaccredited law school
  • Are completing their first year of study under a lawyer or judge through the Law Office Study Program
  • Have not completed two years of college but are currently attending a law school accredited by the a Committee of Bar Examiners or the American Bar Association (ABA)

You may take the baby bar exam up to 3 times to receive credit for your legal education up to that point. However, passing the exam after 3 failures will only give you credit for your first year of law study.

You do not have to take the exam if you’ve completed a minimum of 60 semester hours (90 quarter units) from an ABA or California-accredited law school.

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Bar Exam vs Baby Bar Exam - Requirements

Requirements for the bar exam and baby bar exam vary because they are administered by different governing bodies. Below we cover the requirements for each exam and how to take it.

Requirements take the bar exam

Requirements to take the bar exam vary dramatically depending on the jurisdiction. For example, 4 states—California, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Oregon—do not require candidates to have a law degree to sit for their bar exams.

However, most jurisdictions require examinees to have graduated from an ABA-accredited or state-board-approved law school with a JD. Jurisdictions also vary where foreign legal education is concerned. You can find general information about your jurisdiction's requirements to sit for the bar exam by visiting your state board's website.

Steps to take the bar exam also vary by jurisdiction, but all involve providing documentation that you've met the criteria to sit for the bar exam, paying requisite fees, and submitting an application before the deadline.

Requirements to take the baby bar exam

To sit for California's baby bar exam, you must register as a law student through The State Board of California website. Registration is only available online. The California Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) will verify that you have, or will have, completed 1 year of law study prior to admission to sit for the baby bar.

You are responsible for submitting the required documents and making requisite payments by the filing deadlines. Deadlines for 2024 have not been released. However, baby bar exams are administered in June and October. Check the State Bar of California Dates and Deadlines page for up-to-date information.

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Bar Exam vs Baby Bar Exam - Exam Format, Subjects, Fees

While there is some overlap between content, the exam structure, cost, and structure of the bar exam and the baby bar exam vary dramatically.

Baby Bar exam format and subjects

The baby bar exam is administered online or at Prometric test centers twice a year, once in June and again in October. Examinees have 8 hours to complete 4 essays and 100 multiple-choice questions.

Detailed knowledge of California Law is not required. Remember, this bar exam is not designed to assess your ability to practice law but to measure the knowledge you've gained during your first year of legal education. The baby bar assesses an examinee's knowledge and understanding of three subjects:

  • Contract Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts
Task Time Duration Break Time (After Exam)
Essay 60 minutes 10-minute
Essay 60 minutes 10-minute
Essay 60 minutes 10-minute
Essay 60 minutes 45-minute lunch
50 Multiple Choice 90 minutes 10-minute
50 Multiple Choice 90 minutes End of Exam

Baby bar fees

Baby Bar Exam Fees
Application Type Fee
First-Year Law Students' Exam $624
First Late Filing Fee $25
Second Late Filing Fee $200
Laptop computer fees $153
Late laptop computer fee $15

Bar exam - exam format, subjects, fees

All jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE administer the same bar exam, meaning that the exam format and subjects will be the same (see table). However, every jurisdiction will have unique fees. Non-UBE jurisdictions may also have different subjects and formats, check the appropriate state board of bar examiner or supreme court website for details.

Check out these resources for more information on the bar exam:

UBE Format and Subjects
Component Weight Format  Subjects
MEE 30% 6, 30-minute essay questions
administered over two 3-hour sessions
Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts and Sales, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates, Secured Transactions
MPT 20% 2, 90-minute tasks that simulate
real-world lawyering assignments
Covers application of legal reasoning over pure knowledge
MBE 50% 200 multiple-choice questions administered over two 3-hour sessions Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, Torts

Overlapping Subjects - Bar Exam and Baby Bar Exam

All 3 subjects found on the baby bar are also tested on the MEE and MBE components of the UBE. Even if you don't take the UBE, it is highly likely that these foundational legal subjects will be tested on your jurisdiction’s bar exam.

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Baby Bar Exam vs Bar Exam Pass Rates

See our Bar Exam Statistics and Pass Rates page for a comprehensive overview of bar exam pass rates by state, divided between first-time pass rates and retaker pass rates. For the July 2023 exam, Utah had the highest pass rate (92%) and California had the lowest (51.5%).

Baby bar exam pass rates have been as high 23.5% and as low as 13.7% over the past several years, much lower than the bar exam. Below are the overall pass rates for the past 5 administrations:

  • July 2023 - 13.7%
  • October 2022 - 23.5%
  • July 2022 - 19.6%
  • October 2021 - 14%
  • July 2021 - 20.7%
  • November 2020 - 20.7%

Frequently Asked Questions

The State Bar of California administers the baby bar exam, while the bar exam is administered by the board of bar examiners or the supreme court of a particular jurisdiction, or by the NCBE.

You must pass the baby bar exam within 3 attempts to get credit for your legal studies.

If you fail the baby bar 3 times, you will only receive credit for your first year of law school.
It is required to receive credit for your legal education up to that point if you have not been attending an accredited or approved law school.
California is the only jurisdiction that administers the baby bar.
You do not become a lawyer upon passing the baby bar. You must still pass the bar exam and be accepted by your jurisdiction’s board of bar examiners.
The baby bar has a notoriously low pass rate and is considered very difficult.
The baby bar has an exceptionally low pass rate. Approximately 1 in 4 first-time tests pass, and only 1 in 6 repeaters pass.
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