UBE vs MBE: What’s the Difference?


A United States bar examination is a test administered to aspiring candidates who wish to obtain a license to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. These bar exams, administered by each jurisdiction, are typically given by agencies under the auspices of the state supreme courts. Only Wisconsin, out of all of the U.S. jurisdictions, does not require a bar exam to be admitted to the bar. 

Uniform Bar Examination

In most jurisdictions, at least one component of the bar exam is established by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Currently, 37 jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is entirely made up of components created by the NCBE: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the MBE, the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). 

The UBE was created in 2011 and was first administered in North Dakota and Missouri. The majority of the 56 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted this examination. As of 2016, the American Bar Association has endorsed the UBE. 

Multistate Bar Examination

So what’s the difference between the UBE and the MBE? The MBE is one component of the UBE. The MBE also comprises half of the weighting of the UBE. The UBE was designed by the NCBE to test such skills and knowledge that should be possessed by every lawyer prior to attaining a license to practice law. The MBE assesses an applicant’s ability to utilize fundamental legal principles, analyze patterns of facts, and exercise reasoning in legal matters.

The MBE is also a component of every other U.S. bar exam except Louisiana and Puerto Rico.  As a result, the MBE is more universal than the UBE. Additionally, an applicant who has taken the MBE in one state or territory may be able to use the score with the bar examination of another jurisdiction.

The MBE component of the bar exam consists of 200 questions with multiple choice answers that cover seven pertinent segments of law:

  • federal rules of evidence
  • federal rules of civil procedure
  • criminal law and procedure
  • constitutional law
  • real property
  • contracts
  • torts

Those participating in the examination address the first 100 questions within three hours during the morning session, while the remaining 100 questions are completed in another three-hour session in the afternoon. 

Should You Take the UBE?

The results of the UBE can be used in any of the jurisdictions which have adopted that popular series of tests. If you plan to practice law in these jurisdictions, you absolutely will benefit from passing the Uniform Bar Examination. Just remember to look into the minimum passing score for the jurisdiction and any other admission criteria.

Some large areas, however, do not recognize the UBE. If you plan to practice law in one of these areas, such as Florida and California, the state bar exam will be of much more relevance and use to you. To decide whether or not you should take the UBE as opposed to a state bar exam, identify where you will spend the bulk of your years of practice.

Other non-UBE states include:

  • Nevada
  • South Dakota
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Oklahoma
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia
  • Georgia

Transferring From UBE to Non-UBE Jurisdictions

If you pass the UBE in a state which accepts this examination and then move to a region that has not adopted it, the effort may not be all for naught. The MBE portion of the UBE may still be transferred to the non-UBE jurisdiction, provided that area accepts the transferral of scores. The same is true in the opposite circumstance; an MBE in a non-UBE jurisdiction can be transferred to a UBE jurisdiction in areas that allow transferred scores.

The following jurisdictions accept transferred MBE scores:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Oklahoma
  • Palau
  • South Dakota
  • Virgin Islands
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Keep in mind that, according to the NCBE, if you take the bar exam in a non-UBE jurisdiction and transfer a concurrent or prior MBE score to a UBE jurisdiction, your score will not be portable and you must take all portions of the exam in the same UBE jurisdiction and in the same exam administration. 

Is the Uniform Bar Exam Easier Than Other Bar Exams?

In short, yes, the UBE is an easier exam to take than state bar exams. Testing fewer subjects than do most state bar exams, the UBE does not call for the knowledge of laws that are specific to the jurisdiction in question. It has also been found to be more predictable than its rival state bar examinations. 

The length of each exam also differs. The UBE is a two-day exam, with six hours of testing on each day. On the other hand, some state bar exams last as long as three days.

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