The South Dakota Bar Exam
Structure, Topics, Dates, Cost, Scores, and Eligibility

The South Dakota Bar Exam is made up of the 3 Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®) components: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE®), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT®), and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE®). However, South Dakota is not a UBE state because it also has a state-specific Indian Law Question (ILQ) following its unique MEE. The article provides more information about the SD Bar Exam, including dates, deadlines, fees, applications, results, and more.

South Dakota Bar Exam Structure

The UBE is divided into 2 days, each with 6 testing hours. The writing portion (MPT/MEE/ILQ) is administered on day 1, and the MBE on day 2. While the South Dakota Bar Exam follows the UBE structure, it includes 1 essay question on Indian Law following a 5 question MEE. While the schedule below is for the UBE, the SD Bar Exam will follow the same structure, just swapping 1 MEE question for 1 Indian law question.

Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) structure and schedule

South Dakota Bar Exam Dates, Requirements, and Scheduling

You can't pass an exam that you don't take. Mark the dates and deadlines shown below on your calendar and review the eligibility requirements below. Save yourself some stress by collecting the proper documentation and submitting your application early.

Exam dates

The South Dakota Bar Exam falls on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. It's important to file for your application on or before the timely filing deadline, as South Dakota has no late filing periods. You cannot sit for the exam if you do not submit your application in time.

Filing Periods February 27-28, 2024 July 30-31, 2024* Fee
Deadline November 1, 2023 May 1, 2024 $450


To sit for the South Dakota Bar Exam, you must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) with a Juris Doctorate (JD) or Bachelor of Laws (LLB). You must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE®) within 28 months prior to your exam. You do not have to be approved for Character and Fitness before you take the exam. However, you must apply for a Character and Fitness Investigation through The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE®). These investigations are ongoing, and the Board will make its determination after you pass the bar exam.


To sit for the South Dakota Bar Exam, you must register with the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners, fill out your application, and obtain an NCBE number by creating an NCBE account. You must also:

  • Arrange to have a Dean Certificate of Study sent to the Board
  • Submit a photo of yourself taken within the last 6 months
  • Submit fingerprint cards with fully rolled fingerprints printed by local law enforcement (email [email protected] for cards)
  • Submit special accommodations and laptop testing forms (if applicable)
  • Review the Board's Application with Examination Checklist
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South Dakota Bar Exam Cost and Fees

South Dakota has a relatively simple fee schedule. There are no late fees because late applications are not accepted, and the cost for repeat takers is the same for first-time takers. See the fee schedule below for details.

Application Fees

Bar Exam Application


Admission w/o Examination Application 




Character and Fitness Report


Laptop Fee


Payment policies

The Board accepts money orders, cashier's checks, and credit card payments. Personal checks are not accepted. If you fail to appear for your examination, you can apply your fee to the next SD Bar Exam administration.

Cost-saving options

Attending law school and sitting for the bar exam is expensive. Fortunately, there are cost-saving options for eligible candidates. For example, The University of South Dakota awards undergraduates $9.5 million in scholarships each year.

Most of the scholarships above are for current or soon-to-be law students. Try browsing the AccessLex Institute Law School Scholarship Databank for options better suited to you. You can also check out the American Bar Association's (ABA) website, which offers 100+ opportunities and programs for young lawyers and law students. Even if you can't obtain a scholarship, you can do some basic things to save money while preparing for the bar exam:

  • Join a study group and split the cost of bar exam preparation materials among group members.
  • Research free or low-cost study online study materials like past bar exam questions and answers to supplement commercial study aids.
  • Some bar exam prep companies offer discounts or promotions to students who register early or refer friends to their program.

South Dakota Bar Exam Subjects and Topics

The SD Bar Exam tests a candidate's legal knowledge, analytical skills, and competence to practice law. It covers a range of subjects, from Constitutional Law and Contracts to Criminal Law and Evidence. The SD Bar Exam is unique in including a single question on Indian Law. Candidates will be assessed by their ability to apply legal principles, draft legal documents, and effectively solve problems to ensure they can competently represent clients and complete entry-level legal tasks.

Testable subjects on the MEE

The MEE requires candidates to identify legal issues, apply relevant legal principles, and demonstrate their ability to analyze fact patterns and compose well-reasoned, organized, and concise written responses. The UBE MEE consists of 6 essay questions. However, South Dakota's version consists of 5 essay questions on general and South Dakota principles of Law. A typical MEE will test the following subjects:

Some subjects may be tested together. Others may not be tested at all. There may also be state-specific questions since South Dakota is not a UBE state. Check out our MEE Study Guide for details on planning your studies and determining what's essential so you use your time efficiently. Also, check out our MEE Subject Matter Outline for in-depth explanations of MEE subjects and sub-topics.

Indian law essay question

Rather than having 6 MEE questions, the SD Bar Exam consists of 5 MEE questions and 1 Indian Law question. This question tests an examinee's knowledge of the basic principles of federal Indian law: civil and criminal jurisdiction, the Indian Civil Rights Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It does not test tribal or customary laws.

Testable subjects on the MBE

The MBE contains 200 multiple-choice questions divided evenly over 7 subjects. You'll notice that 7 x 25 does not equal 200. That's because 25 MBE questions are unscored questions that the NCBE field tests for future exams. There is no way to identify which questions are scored or unscored, so it's best to imagine that they are all just as important. MBE subjects are as follows:

MPT: Testable items

The MPT is designed to test an examinee's "lawyering skills" using only the materials provided. These tasks are conducted in a closed-universe, fictional jurisdiction called "Franklin." The laws of the real world do not apply, so your critical thinking skills and understanding of fundamental legal principles are key. You'll receive faux reference material, which you'll use to solve two tasks, each graded on a scale from 0 to 6.

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South Dakota MPRE Requirements

The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE®) is a 2-hour, 60-multiple-choice question exam that assesses an examinee's knowledge of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. You can register through the NCBE. A passing MPRE score in South Dakota must be earned within 28 months before the next scheduled exam.

South Dakota MPRE minimum passing score

South Dakota has an MPRE minimum passing score of 85, among the highest of all jurisdictions. Candidates are responsible for requesting that the NBCE send a copy of their MPRE score report to the Board. Scores are only valid if transferred directly from the MPRE testing authority.

South Dakota Bar Exam Scoring, Results, and Pass Rates

The MBE employs scaled scoring to ensure fairness across exam versions. Scaled scoring accounts for the fact that one exam administration may be more or less difficult than another administration. For example, February's exam may be more difficult than July's. It wouldn't be fair if you failed because you just happened to receive a harder exam version. To solve this, your raw scores are transformed into scaled scores through an equating statistical method. The MPT, MEE, and Indian law questions are each scored together. See below for grading details.

South Dakota bar exam scoring/grading

The Board grades the South Dakota Bar Exam in two sections, which are then combined. Passing standards are as follows:

  • MPT, MEE, Indian Law — A general average of 75% or higher
  • MBE — A scaled score of 133. You may receive up to 3 additional points on the MBE based on your score on the other section—80-84% (1 point), 85-89% (2 points), 90%+ (3 points)

If you fail one section of the exam, you can retake that section, or both sections, of the exam. However, a passing score on one portion of the exam is only valid for 2 years, and if you elect to retake both, you must pass both. 

South Dakota bar exam results and pass rates

You'll notice that The South Dakota Bar Exam's repeater pass rates are substantially lower than the first-timer pass rates. This discrepancy between first-timer and repeater pass rates is common across all jurisdictions. This phenomenon is likely due to the fact that many who fail their first bar exam don't change how they study.

Exam Overall
Pass Rate
Pass Rate
Pass Rate
Release Date
July 2023 74% 75% 67% August 31
Feb. 2023 55% 90% 37% April 5

Here are the annual pass rates for the South Dakota Bar Exam since 2017, divided into first-time examinees and repeaters:

South Dakota Bar Exam results are typically released 6-8 weeks following an exam administration. Results were released on April 5, 2023, and August 31, 2023, for the February and July 2023 exams, respectively.

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South Dakota Bar Exam Reciprocity

South Dakota bases reciprocity on other states' requirements for SD attorneys applying for admission without examination (Admission on Motion). If a state has additional requirements for SD attorneys, the Board will impose similar additional requirements for attorneys seeking admission to the South Dakota Bar from that state.

To gain admission to the South Dakota Bar without examination, you must fulfill the same requirements as a candidate applying via examination and provide documentation showing that you have actively practiced law for 3 of the 5 years immediately preceding your application. "Active practice" includes:

  • Sole practitioner
  • Member of a law firm, professional corporation, or association
  • Judge in a court of record
  • Attorney for any local or state governmental entity
  • Inside counsel for a corporation, agency, association, or trust department
  • Attorney with the federal government or a federal governmental agency, including service as a member of the Judge Advocate General Department of the military

See the Board's checklist for Application without Examination Checklist. You must submit your application and all supporting documents to the following address:


South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners
500 E. Capitol 
Pierre, South Dakota 57501

What Makes the South Dakota Bar Exam Unique?

The South Dakota Bar Exam follows the general UBE format but includes an essay question on Indian law. Therefore, rather than 6 MEE questions, the exam requires 5 MEE questions and 1 Indian law question.

South Dakota bar exam for foreigners

Applicants who have graduated from a foreign law school may sit for the South Dakota Bar Exam if "good cause is shown": they have passed the bar exam in another state and are in good standing in that state.

Final Takeaways

The difference between those who fail the South Dakota Bar Examination and those who pass is the right study plan. A quality full bar review course will help improve your score, whether it's your first, second, or even third time taking the South Dakota Bar Exam.

Themis + UWorld gets you exam-ready with exam-like practice with content and questions curated by an in-house team of subject matter experts. Our in-depth answer explanations for each answer choice and industry-leading images make the hard stuff easy to understand. Here's an overview of what you'll get:

Contact details of the South Dakota state bar

If you wish to contact the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners with inquiries regarding the SD Bar Exam, please see the details below.

Medium Info
Phone Number (605) 773-4898
Fax (605) 773-8479
Email  [email protected]
Mailing Address 

South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners

500 E. Capitol Ave.

Pierre, SD 57501

South Dakota Bar Exam FAQs

The South Dakota Bar Exam consists of a total of 12 testing hours divided equally between two days.
You must have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school to take the South Dakota Bar Exam. Please see the requirements or foreigners sections for exceptions.
The South Dakota Bar Exam is as hard as the bar exam of the 41 jurisdictions that use the 3 UBE components. However, there is 1 Indian law essay question, meaning you must study additional material.
The South Dakota Bar Exam application fee is $450. The application deadlines are November 1, 2023 and May 1, 2024 for the February and July 2024 exams, respectively.
If you have failed the bar exam 3 times in any jurisdiction or combination of jurisdictions, you must get permission from the Supreme Court of South Dakota to take the South Dakota Bar Exam.
Retaking the South Dakota Bar exam costs $450, the same amount as an initial application.

South Dakota offers reciprocity with jurisdictions that have substantially similar requirements for its attorneys. See the reciprocity section for details.

You can transfer your MBE score to South Dakota through NCBE Score Services if your score meets or exceeds South Dakota’s passing score and was earned within 2 years before the next scheduled exam
Yes. You can transfer your South Dakota UBE score to another jurisdiction as long as that jurisdiction allows it.
The South Dakota Bar Exam is not considered a UBE state, so it does not have a “maximum UBE score age.” For information on how to apply for admission without examination, see the reciprocity section.
To apply for admission to the South Dakota Bar without examination, you must have actively practiced law for 3 of the 5 years immediately preceding your application. See the reciprocity section for details.
We recommend dedicating 400 study hours to the SD Bar Exam. Most students begin studying 8-10 weeks before their exam’s administration. However, starting sooner may aid retention and decrease burnout, so we recommend starting as early as 4-6 months out if possible, especially if you work full-time.
No. You cannot practice law without a law degree in South Dakota.
To become a licensed attorney in South Dakota, you must pass the SD Bar Exam. To take the exam, you must graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass the MPRE, and apply for an NCBE Character and Fitness Investigation.
To request special accommodations for the South Dakota bar exam, you must submit the required forms before the appropriate bar exam application deadline.
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