Baby Bar Exam vs Bar Exam
Understand the difference between the Exams

While the bar exam and baby bar exam share similar names and even assess similar competencies, their purposes are quite different. Anyone remotely interested in becoming a lawyer is familiar with the bar exam. It is one of the final and most important obstacles to being admitted to the bar and eventually practicing law, though the examination format and details vary by jurisdiction.

However, the baby bar exam is a California-specific legal exam separate from the official bar exam. This article will compare the baby bar exam vs the bar exam, including their formats, requirements, subjects, and costs.

Details Bar Exam Baby Bar Exam
Eligibility Varies by state Law Students of California state
Exam Format MBE, MEE and MPT conducted over a period of two days 4 Essays and one set of MCQ conducted on a single day
States Administered All 41 UBE states/jurisdictions California
Subjects MBE - 7, MEE - 12 3
Fees Varies by state $624 
No. of times you can retake Varies by state 3 (for law study credit)

*UBE is used in place of the "bar exam" because most jurisdictions have adopted it.

What is the Bar Exam?

Bar exams are administered by a jurisdiction's bar association to assess a candidate's readiness to practice law effectively and ethically in said jurisdiction. Upon successful completion of a bar exam, candidates must be admitted to a jurisdictions bar and are typically required to meet character and fitness (e.g. ethical) requirements.

In the US, most jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®), which is administered by the National Committee of Bar Examiners (NCBE®). The UBE 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 that does not require that candidates pass a bar exam to practice law.

What is the Baby Bar Exam?

The baby bar exam is the nickname given to California's First-Year Law Student's Examination (FYLSX®). The exam is not a prerequisite for admission to the California Bar but is designed to assess an examinee's legal education from unaccredited or alternative sources. Students must take the baby bar exam if they:

  • Are completing their first year of law school towards a Juris Doctorate degree (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 three times to receive credit for your law study up to that point. However, passing the exam beyond three failures will only give you credit for your first year of law study.

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

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What are the Requirements for the Bar Exam and Baby Bar Exam

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

Requirements & steps to take the bar exam

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

However, most jurisdictions require that examinees have graduated from an ABA or state board-approved law school with a JD or LL.B. 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 by a deadline.

Requirements & steps 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 one 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 2023 have not been released. However, baby bar exams are administered in June and October, and applications typically open on March 1 and July 1, respectively.

Bar Exam vs Baby Bar Exam (Exam Structure/Topics/Cost)

The exam structure, cost, and structure of the bar exam vs the baby bar exam vary dramatically. See below for details.

Bar Exam - exam structure, subjects & cost

Bar exam structures, subjects, and costs vary by jurisdiction. However, most jurisdictions have adopted the UBE:

UBE Structure and Subjects
Component Weightage  Format  Subjects
MEE 30% Six 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% Two 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

Bar exam fees vary by jurisdiction and can range from $100 to well over $1000. You can find a general overview of bar exam fees by visiting your state board's website.

Baby bar exam - exam structure, subjects & cost

The baby bar exam is administered online or at Prometric tests centers twice a year, once in June and again in October. Examinees have eight hours to complete 4 essays and 100 multiple-choice questions. For the October 2022 exam, 25 of the 100 questions were unscored pilot questions for future exams, a format that is likely to continue into 2023.

The baby bar assesses an examinee's knowledge and understanding of three subjects:

  • Contract Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts

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 in your first year of legal education.

The baby bar exam day schedule is as follows:

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

Like most legal exams, the baby bar is not without its fees. It's important to prepare your application early. Late filing fees can increase your costs by as much as $200. See the fee schedule below.

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 $15

Overlapping Subjects - Bar Exam and Baby Bar Exam

All three subjects found on the baby bar are also tested on the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE®) and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE®) 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 jurisdictions bar exam.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The “bar exam” is an umbrella term for any bar exam administered by any jurisdiction. This includes the UBE and state-specific bar exams. The National Committee of Bar Examiners is responsible for administering the UBE. Some states administer a state-specific bar exam. These exams are typically administered by the state’s board of bar examiners, as is the case for the baby bar, which is administered by The State Bar of California.
You can take the exam as many times as you need, but you must pass the exam within three attempts.
You must pass the baby bar exam within three attempts to get credit for your legal studies.
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.
Upon passing the baby bar, you will receive credit for your legal studies up to that point.
The baby bar has a notoriously low pass rate and is considered very difficult.
If you fail the baby bar three times, you will only receive credit for your first year of law school.
The baby bar has an exceptionally low pass rate. Approximately one in four first-time tests pass, and only one in six repeaters pass.

Only about one in four first-time test takers pass the baby bar. Below are the overall pass rates for the past five administrations:

  • July 2022 – 19.6%
  • October 2021 – 14%
  • July 2021 – 20.7%
  • November 2020 – 20.7%
  • July 2020 – 22.5%
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