What is the bar exam, and why is it important?
The bar exam is a legal certification exam that a person must pass to practice law in a specific jurisdiction. It assesses the knowledge and skills that a prospective lawyer needs to practice law. Therefore, candidates must demonstrate minimum competencies by achieving a passing score on this high-stakes exam before obtaining a license to practice law in that jurisdiction.
There is no single bar exam; instead, 56 different jurisdictions across the U.S. (including states, territories, and the District of Columbia) administer their own. As a result, the format of the exam may differ in each jurisdiction.
What is the UBE?
Each jurisdiction has the authority to decide what components to include in its bar exam. However, most jurisdictions have agreed to use the same test and adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®) to promote score portability. You can find the comprehensive map of all U.S. states and territories that have adopted the UBE, at the NCBEX website. Each jurisdiction can determine its minimum passing score, and examinees can seek to transfer their UBE jurisdiction score to another UBE jurisdiction. The NCBE creates the three components of the UBE:
- The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE®)
- The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE®)
- The Multistate Performance Test (MPT®)
What is the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)?
The MBE features 200 standardized multiple-choice questions. Of the 200 questions, only 175 are scored. The other 25 questions are unscored pretest questions that may be used in future MBEs. The MBE is administered in two sessions: one morning and one afternoon, with each session featuring 100 questions and lasting three hours. The following subject areas are tested on the MBE:
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Federal Civil Procedure
- Real Property
What is the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)?
The MEE consists of six essay questions that must be completed in three hours. These six questions can be based on any of the following subjects:
- All subjects tested on the MBE (see above)
- Business Associations
- Conflict of Laws
- Family Law
- Secured Transactions
- Trusts and Estates
What is the Multistate Performance Test (MPT)?
The MPT requires examinees to complete two tasks that a newly licensed attorney should be able to perform. These tasks can include drafting a memo to a senior attorney, writing a letter to a client, preparing an argument supporting a motion, etc. Although no knowledge of the substantive law is required, the MPT is designed to assess whether examinees can do the following:
- separate relevant from irrelevant facts in the provided materials
- analyze case law, statutes, and other materials to identify applicable legal principles
- apply the law pertinent to the facts of the case at hand
- identify and solve any ethical dilemmas
- effectively communicate in writing
- finish lawyering tasks under time constraints
Who should take the bar exam?
Persons who seek to practice law in a particular jurisdiction must typically sit for a bar exam. Most prospective attorneys sit for the exam after graduating from law school and obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. However, some jurisdictions also allow students to sit for the bar in their third year of law school. To see when your jurisdiction allows you to take the bar exam, reach out to the bar admissions agency for your jurisdiction.
How do I get admitted to the bar?
Getting admitted into a state bar requires that prospective attorneys meet specific eligibility requirements. These requirements vary by jurisdiction and are subject to change, so applicants should contact the bar admissions agency for the jurisdiction to which they seek admission.
For more details about bar admission requirements, you can check out the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE®) and the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. In general, students must receive some level of legal education, pass a character and fitness screening, and pass a bar exam.
What is the bar exam pass rate?
The bar exam rate is dependent on the state you are appearing in. The bar exam rate typically varies between 60% to 80%.
What is the format of the UBE?
- The MBE is administered in two sessions: one morning and one afternoon, with each session featuring 100 questions and lasting three hours.
- The MPT features two 90-minute tasks that an examinee must complete by identifying and analyzing all the facts of a complex legal case.
- The MEE features six 30-minute essay questions.
What else is on the UBE?
In addition to the MBE, MEE, and MPT, a jurisdiction has complete authority to add any other component to its bar exam. Some jurisdictions include jurisdiction-specific portions in their exams. To see if your jurisdiction requires another component, check out NCBE’s comprehensive guide (starting on page 18) or reach out to your jurisdiction’s bar admissions agency.
When does the bar exam take place?
In the U.S., the bar exam is typically administered twice a year, in February and July. It is usually a two-day exam, but it lasts for three days in some jurisdictions. Since the exam is administered by the bar admissions agency of the jurisdiction where an examinee hopes to practice, contact the applicable agency for more information on where and when a bar exam will take place.
How to register and take the bar exam
Candidates must register for the bar exam by applying to the jurisdiction where they seek admission. UBE jurisdictions require candidates to first create an account on the NCBE website. Once you’ve created your NCBE account, you will be issued a unique NCBE number associated with your account.
Who grades the bar exam?
The MBE is a paper-based scantron exam graded by the NCBE in all jurisdictions, while the MEE and MPT are graded by the jurisdiction administering those components of the bar exam. However, some jurisdictions elect to have the NCBE grade these components as well.
What is the passing score?
Total scores are reported on a 400-point scale for the UBE, with each jurisdiction setting its minimum passing score. MBE scores are reported on a 200-point scale, but the “passing” score varies from one jurisdiction to another. For both the MEE and MPT, scores are scaled to the MBE.
In which jurisdiction(s) should I take the bar?
Bar applicants are advised to take the bar exam in the jurisdiction where they intend to practice. If individuals wish to practice law in more than one jurisdiction, they can take multiple bar exams or use bar exam reciprocity.
What is bar exam reciprocity?
Bar exam reciprocity refers to the practice of allowing individuals to transfer their bar exam scores obtained in one jurisdiction to another without having to retake the exam. For example, applicants can transfer their UBE scores to other UBE jurisdictions. To see the UBE transfer rules for your jurisdiction, check out NCBE’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (page 18). Other jurisdictions allow applicants to transfer their MBE scores. To see if you can transfer your MBE score to another jurisdiction, check out this chart (page 30).
How do I prepare for the bar exam?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for the bar exam, but most individuals purchase commercial bar exam practice. These products can cover all of the exam components, like the bar prep courses offered by Themis Bar Review. They can also focus on particular components of the exam, like UWorld’s MBE supplement. The key is to find a product that works best for you.
For more helpful tips on how to prepare for the bar exam, check out the following blog articles:
What happens after I take the bar exam?
After the exam, you’ll have to wait for your scores. This waiting period can be a very anxious time for test-takers, so it’s essential to keep your composure and find things to preoccupy yourself with while waiting. For helpful tips on spending your time after the bar, check out our blog: What to Do While Waiting for Your Bar Exam Results.