Bar Exam FAQ Pt. 1

We get asked many questions about the bar exam every day.  Here are some of our most frequently asked questions about the bar exam, with answers that will help you understand what to expect!

When do you take the Bar Exam?

You typically take the bar exam after you graduate law school.  The bar exam is offered two times a year – once in July and once in February.  This is true for every state except Delaware, which only offers the bar exam in July.  So, your graduation date will determine when you take the bar exam.  Additionally, some states have programs that will let you take the bar exam before your final semester.  For example, New York allows students who participate in the Pro Bono Scholars Program to take the bar exam in February of their third year, and then spend their final semester of law school doing pro bono work.  So if you are wondering when you will take the bar exam, look into what your state offers and see if there are options to take it prior to graduation.


What is the Uniform Bar Exam?

The Uniform Bar Exam is a test written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and used by most states as their official bar exam.  Currently, 41 states use the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).  If you take the bar in a state that uses the UBE, you can transfer your score to any other state that also uses the UBE, so long as you have received the required passing score for that state and completed any other requirements for admission in that state.


How long is the Bar Exam?

The bar exam is not like any other test you’ve taken before, and one of those reasons is that it’s not just one day! The bar exam is long – it is given over the course of two days. In most states, those days consist of 6 hours of writing on one day (essays and performance tests), and 6 hours of multiple-choice on the other.

If you are taking the UBE, your bar exam will be two days long, 6 hours each day. See the next FAQ for what each day will entail.


What kinds of questions are on the Bar Exam?

Every state has multiple choice questions and essay questions on their bar exam.  Most states also have performance questions, which test your ability to complete a task that a lawyer might be asked to complete.  Since most states use the UBE, let’s talk about what types of questions are on the Uniform Bar Exam in a bit more detail.

On day one of the UBE, you will start with two MPTs. MPT stands for Multistate Performance Test.  This is a closed-universe assignment where you will be asked to do something a lawyer might do – write a memo or a brief, edit a contract, draft a will, etc.  All of the information you need to complete this task is contained in the packet you are given.  You do not need to know any outside law or how to complete the task – just follow the directions!

In the afternoon of day one, you will encounter the next type of question on the bar exam. These are the essays.  You will be given 6 essays, each on a distinct area of law.  You will be expected to know common law and federal law.  There are no questions about state-specific law on the Uniform Bar Exam.

On day two of the bar exam, you will have the MBE, which stands for Multistate Bar Exam.  The MBE consists of 200 multiple choice questions and is broken up into two 3-hour time blocks of 100 questions each. These bar exam questions will also test you on common law and federal law.


How is the Bar Exam scored?

People often ask how the bar exam is scored, and if the bar exam is curved.  First, let’s talk about scoring. Again, we’ll address the UBE since that is the test the majority of examinees will be taking.  The Uniform Bar Exam is scored out of 400 points.  200 points are awarded for the writing day, and 200 for the multiple choice day. The MPTs are worth 10% each, for a total of 20%. The essays are worth 5% each, for a total of 30%.  Each state sets its own passing score, which range from 260 to 280.  Check with your individual state to see how they will be scoring the bar exam, and what score you need to pass.

The bar exam is not curved in the same way that law school final exams are curved.  It is scaled against previous exams, which means that the examiners ensure continuity and fairness in grading from one administration to the next.  But the bar exam is not graded on a curve.  The performance of your peers only matters in the scaling process; it will not affect your specific scores. Technically, everyone could pass the bar exam if they score high enough; there is no curve that requires a certain percentage of students to fail like there may be in law school.


Am I ready for the Bar Exam?

No one ever feels ready for the bar exam! Even when you are studying, you will never feel totally ready for the bar exam. But there are ways you can prepare yourself so that you are as ready for the bar exam as possible. Of course, what you learn in law school is important.  The classes you take in your first year are all heavily tested on the bar exam.  So, take your first year seriously, and do your best to understand the content in your courses.  And try to remember it after the first year is over!

You can also get ready for the bar exam by taking courses in your second and third year that are bar tested topics.  Courses like Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Corporations, Wills/Trusts/Estates, and Family law are all possible bar tested subjects (this is not an exhaustive list – check out the content outline for your state or from the NCBE to find out what is tested on the bar exam!).  You can help yourself be ready for the bar exam by taking as many bar tested subjects as possible while in law school.

Finally, you will need to take a commercial bar exam course to be ready for the bar exam.  You may even decide to work with a private tutor or coach.  These bar review services will help you make sure that you are studying the proper material in the way that it is likely to be tested, as well as doing lots of practice questions so that you are ready for the bar exam come test day!


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