How hard is the bar exam, really? And does it depend on your state?
Is the bar exam hard? And which state has the hardest bar exam? These are questions law students frequently ask. Until a few years ago, there were definitely states that were known for harder bar exams, and states that were known for easier bar exams. However, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) has changed that, as now the majority of states give the same exam. You can see the current list of states that administer the UBE HERE.
There are still a handful of states administering their own bar exam, and if you are taking the bar in those states you’ll need to know state-specific law to write your essays, in addition to the Federal and general common law tested on the MBE portion of the exam. This may make these exams seem harder than the UBE, although if you have gone to law school in those states, you may already know much of the state law that will be tested.
So, is the bar exam hard?
For purposes of this discussion, we’ll be focusing on the UBE, since it is the bar exam used in the majority of states.
The bar exam is hard, but not because of what’s on it. You’ve likely written many essays, and done many multiple choice questions during your time in law school. What makes the bar exam hard is two things – the quantity of information you are expected to know, and the limited amount of time you have to answer the questions.
You’ve likely taken all of the courses that will be tested on the MBE portion of the exam. It’s generally your first-year subjects (Torts, Contracts, Federal Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Property), as well as Evidence and Criminal Procedure. But there are other possible subjects that will be tested on the essay day, that you may or may not have taken. Possible essay subjects include Wills and Trusts, Business Associations, Secured Transactions, Conflicts of Law, and Family Law. The tricky (and frustrating!) part is that you don’t know which essays you are going to get. So, you’ll study all of the subjects, and some of them will not appear on your exam at all. The sheer quantity of information you need to remember is one of the things that makes the bar exam hard.
Thankfully, however, you don’t need to know it all! Each state sets its own passing score, but generally you’ll need about a 65% to pass. This leaves plenty of buffer for when you inevitably get asked about law you just don’t know.
You’ll need to work quickly – the bar exam is hard because you are given very little time to complete your tasks. For example, on the essay portion of the exam, you are given 6 essays to complete in 3 hours. That works out to 30 minutes an essay. Anyone who has written a law school essay knows that 30 minutes is not a lot of time to state your rules and provide a well-reasoned analysis! On the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) portion of the exam, you are given a closed-universe assignment, where you are expected to read through your client’s file and the relevant case law, and draft your response to the task – in only 90 minutes! Learning to work quickly under pressure is one of the hardest skills students need to master while studying for the bar exam.
How You Can Prepare
Working with a reputable commercial bar company, and possibly an individual tutor, will help you prepare appropriately and efficiently for the bar exam. Learn the law early on in the process so that you can devote enough time to practice. Practicing all three components of the bar exam (essays, multiple choice, and MPTs) is the most important step. Practice helps you really understand the law by giving you context, which helps you remember. And it helps you with your timing – the more practice questions you do, the more you will get used to them, and the quicker you can go. Practice under timed conditions as much as possible. That will help you improve your speed and prepare you for the pressure of test day.
Yes, the bar exam is hard. But with the right preparation, you will be successful!