What is the bar exam?

Learn about the bar exam, including the UBE, from the U.S. bar exam preparation experts

Learn about the bar exam and UBE from the bar prep experts

At BARBRI, we’ve helped licensed attorneys pass the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) since its inception in 1972 and the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) since its introduction in 2011. In fact, we have prepared candidates to pass every U.S. state and jurisdiction bar exam administered for over 50 years or 100 exams. We’ve learned a few things during that time to teach you what is the bar exam.

A female 3L law student does research about the bar exam

What is the bar exam?

The bar exam is the final hurdle toward becoming a licensed attorney in the United States. Before you can practice law in any U.S. state or jurisdiction, you must go through that state’s admissions process and pass that state’s bar exam. Every jurisdiction administers a bar exam to test a candidate's ability to think like a lawyer and prove that they have the “minimum competency” to practice law in that state.

How hard is the bar exam?

Here’s the deal. The bar exam is hard. There is no "easy" way to pass the bar, no shortcut to get out of the difficult work you must do to pass your bar exam.

We also know that you can do it. You can pass the bar exam.

While the bar exam has a well-deserved reputation for being hard, it’s important to remember that it is a pass/fail, minimum competency exam. Passing the bar exam requires a completely different mindset and preparation approach. To pass the bar, you don’t have to be great in any one area. The key to passing is simply doing well enough, in enough areas, to land on the passing side of the bar exam curve. You want to build a base of knowledge that is wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep.

What is the bar exam format?

For most jurisdictions, the bar exam is a 2-day exam that is held on the last Tuesday & Wednesday every February and July. There are still a few states that administer a 2 ½- or 3-day bar exam.

Select from the list below to get jurisdiction specific bar exam information

While the format and content covered can vary for each state’s exam, there is a growing trend toward adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).

Whether you’ll be taking the exam in a state that administers the UBE or a state-specific exam, there are some universal truths that cover almost all state bar exams. Check out this video to learn these “universal truths” and more on what is the bar exam:

The great news is that we compile all of the information that you need to know about the dates, format, subjects tested, deadlines, fees and more — for each U.S. state — in the free BARBRI Bar Exam Digest that you can download here.

Are you a foreign law graduate, lawyer or U.S. LL.M. student? We also have a Bar Exam Digest version specifically for you too. Check it out here.

A bar exam taker takes a Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)

What is the UBE?

The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a 2-day exam, promulgated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), but administered, graded and scored by individual states. It also results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions, subject to certain limitations. The NCBE Bar Admission Guide has those details.

The UBE was first adopted in 2011 by three states. Today, the majority of U.S. states have adopted the UBE.

The UBE is administered twice annually, the last Tuesday & Wednesday in February and July each year, and is composed of:

  • The Multistate Performance Test (MPT), weighted at 20% of your overall exam score
  • The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), weighted at 30% of your overall exam score
  • The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), weighted at 50% of your overall exam score
Day 1: MPT & MEE 2, 90-minute MPT tasks 6, 30-minute MEE questions
Day 2: MBE 100 multiple-choice questions 100 multiple-choice questions

The Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT is an open-book exam during which you are given all the materials you need to produce a lawyer-like work product such as a memo or a brief. It tests your fundamental lawyering skills in as realistic of an environment as possible

On the morning of Day 1 of your exam, you will be given 2 MPT tasks that you will complete over a 3-hour session. You’ll have 90-minutes to complete each task.

The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)

The MEE tests your ability to identify legal issues, separate relevant and irrelevant facts, present a reasoned analysis and demonstrate an understanding of fundamental legal principles through essay questions.

On the afternoon of Day 1, you will complete 6 essay questions. You’ll be given 30-minutes to complete each essay question.

Testable subjects include all MBE subjects plus Business Associations, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trusts and Estates, and Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. You may be presented more than one subject within the same essay question.

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The MBE is a multiple-choice exam testing your knowledge of Constitutional Law, Contracts/Sales, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Federal Civil Procedure, Real Property and Torts.

On Day 2 of your bar exam, you will be given 200 multiple-choice MBE questions that you will answer over a 6-hour session. You’ll have 3 hours to complete 100 questions in the morning, and 3 hours to complete 100 questions in the afternoon.

You can also find more information about the UBE, the MPT, MEE and MBE on the NCBE website.

UBE Scores and Portability

Each jurisdiction that administers the Uniform Bar Exam sets its own minimum passing score. Your score is portable to another UBE state as long as you sit for the entire exam at one time in the same location. You may transfer the score to a state with a lower required passing score, even if you do not pass the bar exam in the state in which you sat.

For example, a student who takes the UBE in Colorado, scores 272 and fails to achieve the required passing score of 276 may transfer that score to Utah, a neighboring UBE jurisdiction with a passing score of 270.

The UBE score transferability has a time limit or expiration for many states varying typically between three and five years. To learn more, check out the NCBE Bar Admission Guide.

A female foreign law student walks across campus

Foreign law graduates, lawyers and U.S. LL.M. student eligibility

For many U.S. states, you must have graduated with a J.D. degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school in the United States to sit for their exam; however, some states like New York and California operate a relatively open policy in permitting foreign law graduates or lawyers to sit their bar examination and do not impose restrictions to admission on grounds of nationality or residence.

Learn about foreign U.S. bar exam eligibility ›

A male law student researches about the bar

Which state bar exam should I take?

How should you choose a state bar exam, particularly if you’re currently still on the job hunt? Here are some considerations to help with your decision:

Location — When considering state bar exams, research and target where you would most like to live and work. Do you have the support you may need or want (nearby) to help in pursuing your goals?  Do you potentially want to go back to your hometown?

Legal industry — What does the legal job market look like in the states you are considering? Is the legal specialization of your choice available in that region of the country?

Professional network — What professional contacts have you made? Does your law school have an alumni network that would allow you to pursue your goals? Do you have access to mentors in that state?

Bar exam scoring & reciprocity — Each jurisdiction independently determines their exam passing score and reciprocity or portability. Knowing the bar exam score required and where else you may be able to “waive in” with that score may help open many options by passing one exam.

Bar admission requirements — Examine the state bar exam subjects tested, the exam’s format, CLE requirements and fees associated with maintaining good standing.

Eligibility — Are you eligible to sit for that state’s exam? Each jurisdiction independently decides who may sit for their bar exam and who may be ultimately admitted, so make sure you are eligible to do so.

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