Bar examination in the United States

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Bar examinations in the United States are examinations administered to candidates for admission to the bar in U.S. states and territories. Bar exams are administered by states or territories, generally by agencies under the authority of state supreme courts.[a] Bar examinations are currently required for admission to the bar in all U.S. jurisdictions except Wisconsin.[1] Almost all states use some examination components created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). 41 jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is composed entirely of NCBE-created components.


In 1738, Delaware created the first bar exam with other American states soon following suit.[2] In the 19th century, requirements for bar admission were minimal. In fact, in the wake of Jacksonian Democracy, there was a movement in many states to open the bar to all "decent citizens" who had read and understood the law.[3] Prospective lawyers relied on apprenticeships, self-studying, and oral examination for bar admission.[4]

Content of the bar examination[edit]

The bar examination is generally administered over two days (in some cases, three days).[5] In most jurisdictions, it is administered twice a year, in February and July.[1] Bar examinations in all but two jurisdictions in the United States use some examination component created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).

Components created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)[edit]

Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)[edit]

The MBE is a standardized test consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions covering seven key areas of law: constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, federal rules of civil procedure, federal rules of evidence, real property, and torts.[6] The MBE formerly addressed only six topics, with civil procedure added by the NCBE in 2009 and administered starting in 2015.[7] Examinees have three hours to answer 100 questions in a morning session and the same for an afternoon session. The MBE is administered in all U.S. states and territories, except Louisiana and Puerto Rico, which follow civil law systems very different from the legal systems in other states.[1][8] The MBE is administered in most jurisdictions on the last Wednesday in February and July.

Of the 200 questions, 175 are scored and 25 are questions under evaluation for future use.[6] The NCBE grades the MBE using a scaled score ranging from 40 to 200.[9] Taking the MBE in one jurisdiction may allow an applicant to use his or her MBE score to waive into another jurisdiction or to use the MBE score with another state's bar examination.[10] The average raw score from the summer exam historically has been about 128, or about 67% correct,[citation needed] while the average scaled score in 2007 was about 140.[11] In summer 2007, the average scaled score was 143.7 with a standard deviation of 15.9. Over 50,000 applicants took the test; less than half that number took it in the winter.

Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)[edit]

The MEE consists of six 30-minute essay questions that examines a candidate's ability to analyze legal issues and communicate them effectively in writing. In addition to the topics examined in the MBE, the MEE also covers business law, commercial law, conflicts of law, estates and probate law, and family law. The MEE is administered on the last Tuesday in February and July, the day before the MBE.

The NCBE drafts nine MEE questions, and jurisdictions select six or seven questions to administer. The questions are drafted by the NCBE Drafting Committee, with the assistance of outside academics and practitioners who are experts in the fields being tested, and then reviewed by outside experts and state boards of bar examiners. Unlike the MBE, which is graded and scored by the NCBE, the MEE is graded exclusively by the jurisdiction that administers the bar examination.[12] Each jurisdiction has the choice of grading MEE questions according to general U.S. common law or the jurisdiction's own law.[13]

Multistate Performance Test (MPT)[edit]

The MPT is a "closed-universe" test in which each candidate is required to perform a standard lawyering task, such as a memo or brief. The candidate is provided with a case file and a "library" which contains all of the substantive law required to perform the task (plus some non-relevant material). The MPT is administered on the last Tuesday in February and July, the same day as the MEE. The NCBE provides two MPT questions.[14] The MPT is usually situated in the fictional state of Franklin.

Components created by states and territories[edit]

California and Pennsylvania draft and administer their own performance tests.

California began administering three-hour-long performance tests in 1983, based on the results of a July 1980 experiment.[15] California performance tests are far more difficult than the MPT. Starting with the July 2017 bar examination, California switched to a 90-minute format[16] but continues to prepare its own performance tests, which are usually situated in the fictional state of Columbia.

Essay questions are the most variable component of the bar exam. States emphasize different areas of law in their essay questions depending upon their respective histories and public policy priorities. For example, unlike Texas and Alta California, Louisiana did not convert to the common law when it was acquired by the United States, so its essay questions require knowledge of the state's unique civil law system. Several states whose family law was influenced by Spanish and Mexican civil law, like California and Texas, require all bar exam applicants to demonstrate knowledge of community property law. Pennsylvania, with a history of federal tax evasion (e.g., the Whiskey Rebellion), tests federal income tax law, while New Jersey, with a history of discriminatory zoning (resulting in the controversial Mount Laurel doctrine), tests zoning and planning law. New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington each test Indian law, because of their relatively large populations of Native Americans and large numbers of Indian reservations. Most states test knowledge of the law of negotiable instruments and secured transactions (Articles 3 and 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code), but Alaska, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania do not; they have recognized that the vast majority of criminal, personal injury, and family lawyers will never draft a promissory note or litigate the validity of a security interest.

Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)[edit]

The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is a standardized bar examination in the United States developed by the NCBE. It consists solely of the MBE, MEE, and MPT, and offers portability of scores across state lines. According to the NCBE, the UBE is intended to "test knowledge and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law", and "is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score."[17] UBE jurisdictions are allowed to additionally test candidates' knowledge of state-specific law, through either a test or course.[17]

The UBE was created in 2011, and was first administered that year by Missouri and North Dakota.[18] It has since been adopted by 37 United States jurisdictions (out of a possible 56).[19] The American Bar Association also endorsed the UBE at its 2016 mid-year meeting.[20] However, some of the largest legal markets—including California and Florida—have not adopted the UBE. Concerns include the lack of questions on state law, and that the test provides NCBE with control over the bar credentialing process.[21] In addition, the largest UBE market (New York), indicated that it may withdraw from the UBE, after a task force commissioned by the New York State Bar found in 2020 that "since the adoption of the UBE, the fundamental purpose of the bar examination, which is to protect the public, has been lost."[22][23]

A number of jurisdictions are considering or have considered adoption of the UBE:

  • In 2014, The Florida Bar formed a Uniform Bar Examination Committee.[24]
  • In 2016, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners considered the UBE, but stated that "it is not in the best interests of the public of Virginia or the Virginia judicial system."[25]
  • In September 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court created a Bar Examination Advisory Committee to consider adoption of the UBE. A final report is due by December 2020.[26]
  • In May 2020, Nevada indicated that it will not adopt the UBE anytime in the near future. In Nevada, the UBE is supported by the dean of the William S. Boyd School of Law[27] but opposed by the chair of the state Board of Bar Examiners.[28][29][30]

Preparation for the bar examination[edit]

Most law schools teach students common law and how to analyze hypothetical fact patterns like a lawyer, but do not specifically prepare law students for any particular bar exam. Only a minority of law schools offer bar preparation courses.

To refresh their memory on "black-letter rules" tested on the bar, most students engage in a regimen of study (called "bar review") between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar.[31] For bar review, most students in the United States attend a private bar review course which is provided by a third-party company and not their law school.[32]

Overview of bar examination by jurisdiction[edit]

Overview of bar examination components by U.S. jurisdiction[33]
Jurisdiction UBE MBE MEE MPT Locally administered exam components
California 5 essay questions, 1 performance test
Delaware 8 essay questions
District of Columbia
Florida 3 essay questions, 100 multiple-choice questions
Georgia 4 essay questions
Guam 1 essay question
Hawaii 15 multiple-choice questions
Louisiana 9 locally developed sections
Michigan 15 essay questions
Mississippi 6 essay questions
Nevada 8 essay questions
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York New York Law Exam
North Carolina
North Dakota
Northern Mariana Islands 2 essay questions
Oklahoma 16 essay questions
Pennsylvania 6 essay questions, 1 performance test
Puerto Rico 8 essay questions, 184 multiple-choice questions
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota 1 Indian law question
Virgin Islands
Virginia 9 essay questions, 10 multiple-choice questions
West Virginia
Wisconsin Combination of MEE, MPT, and locally drafted essay questions

Details of UBE by jurisdiction[edit]

Transfer scores and eligibility, adoption dates, and additional requirements for jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE[33]
State or territory In-state score Transfer score First UBE administration Additional exam or course UBE transfer eligibility
Alabama 260 260 July 2011 Yes 25 months
Alaska 280 280 July 2014 No 60 months
Arizona 273 273 July 2012 Yes
Arkansas[34] 270 270 February 2020 No 36 months
Colorado[35] 276 276 February 2012 No 36 months[d]
Connecticut[36] 266 266 February 2017 No 36 months
District of Columbia[37] July 2016 No 60 months
Idaho[38] 272 280 February 2012 No 37 months
Illinois[39] 266 266 July 2019 No 48 months
Indiana[40] TBD TBD July 2021 No TBD
Iowa 266 266 February 2016 [41] No 60 months[e]
Kansas February 2016 No 36 months
Kentucky February 2021 No 60 months
Maine 276 276 July 2017 No 36 months
Maryland[42] 266 266 July 2019 Yes
Massachusetts[43] 270 270 July 2018 [44] Yes
Michigan[45] TBD TBD July 2022 No TBD
Minnesota 260 260 February 2014 No 36
Missouri February 2011 Yes 24 months
Montana[46] 266 266 July 2013 [47] Yes 36 months
Nebraska 270 270 February 2012 No
New Hampshire February 2014 No 36 months[f]
New Jersey 266 266 February 2017 No 36 months
New Mexico 260 260 February 2016 Yes
New York[48] 266 266 July 2016 [49] Yes
North Carolina[50] 270 270 February 2019 Yes
North Dakota 260 260 February 2011 No 24 months
Ohio[51] 270[52] 270 July 2020 No 60 months
Oklahoma[53] 264 264 July 2021 No 36 months
Oregon[54] 274 274 July 2017 No 36 months
Pennsylvania[55] 272 272 July 2022 No 30 months
Rhode Island[56] 276 276 February 2019 Yes 24 months
South Carolina 266 266 February 2017 Yes 36 months
Tennessee[57] 270 270 February 2019[58] No
Texas[59] 270[60] February 2021 Yes 24/60
Utah[61] 270 February 2013 No 24/60[g] months
Vermont July 2016 No 36 months[h]
Washington[62] July 2013 Yes 40 months
West Virginia[63] July 2017 No 36 months
Wyoming July 2013 No
U.S. Virgin Islands[64] 266 266 July 2017 Yes


Arguments against bar exams[edit]

A statement by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT)[65] articulates many criticisms of the bar exam.[66] The SALT statement, however, does propose some alternative methods of bar admission that are partially test-based. A response to the SALT statement was made by Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus in The Bar Examiner[67]

Arguments for alternatives to the bar exam[edit]

The NCBE published an article in 2005 addressing alternatives to the bar exam, including a discussion of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, an alternate certification program introduced at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center) in that year.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Sometimes the agency is an office or committee of the state's highest court or intermediate appellate court. In some states which have a unified or integrated bar association (meaning that formal membership in a public corporation controlled by the judiciary is required to practice law therein), the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit thereof. Other states split the integrated bar membership and the admissions agency into different bodies within the judiciary; in Texas, the Board of Law Examiners is appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and is independent from the integrated State Bar of Texas.[citation needed]
  2. ^ First UBE administration in July 2020.
  3. ^ First UBE administration in February 2021. Until then, Texas will not administer the MEE and will include locally-administered components of 20 short answer questions and 12 essay questions.
  4. ^ 3 years + 2 years active practice immediately preceding
  5. ^ with proof upon filing of regular practice 2 of 3 years immediately preceding
  6. ^ if older than 3 years, applicant must show practice for prior 2 years and was in good standing for the whole duration
  7. ^ for attorneys of other jurisdictions with proof of full-time law practice for at least half of the time since passing the exam
  8. ^ if engaged in the practice of law for 2 years and in good standing


  1. ^ a b c National Conference of Bar Examiners and American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (2020). "Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2020" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ California Bar Background information, accessed April 21, 2009 Archived May 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The Evolution of the Bar Exam". 3 February 2015. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  5. ^ William Burnham, Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States, 4th ed. (St. Paul: Thomson West, 2006), 135.
  6. ^ a b "Preparing for the MBE". NCBE. Archived from the original on 2017-01-23. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  7. ^ Jones, Leigh (2009-01-15). "Potential Major Changes to Bar Exams Considered". The National Law Journal. Archived from the original on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2009-11-23.
  8. ^ "Jurisdictions Using the MBE in 2008". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
  9. ^ "MBE Scores". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Retrieved 2020-07-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ "Bar Admission Guide" (PDF). NCBE. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  11. ^ "2007 Statistics" (PDF). The Bar Examiner. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-10.
  12. ^ "Why Jurisdictions May Want to Implement the MEE". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Archived from the original on 2007-07-08. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
  13. ^ "Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Archived from the original on 30 April 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2007.
  14. ^ "Multistate Performance Test". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Retrieved 2020-07-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Ward, Stephanie Francis (8 January 2020). "A better bar exam? Law profs weigh in on whether test accurately measures skills required for law practice". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  16. ^ Hansen, Mark (28 July 2015). "California bar exam to be one day shorter, but could be just as difficult". ABA Journal. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  17. ^ a b "The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  18. ^ "General UBE FAQs". National Conference of Bar Examiners. Retrieved April 16, 2014. Click on "Which jurisdictions administer the UBE?"
  19. ^ "Uniform Bar Examination". NCBE. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  20. ^ "Midyear Meeting 2016: ABA adopts Resolution 109 on Uniform Bar Examination". ABA News. February 11, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  21. ^ Jones, Leigh (2009-10-12). "Uniform Bar Exam Drawing Closer to Reality". The National Law Journal. Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Retrieved November 23, 2009.
  22. ^
  23. ^ "NYSBA Adopts Report Calling For Fundamental Change to Uniform Bar Exam". New York State Bar Association. 2020-04-04. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  24. ^ Vision 2016 Commission: Committee Reports
  25. ^ "Jury Out on Uniform Bar Exam's Effect on Minorities | Bloomberg BNA". October 5, 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-10-05.
  26. ^ Order-Creation of the Oklahoma Bar Examination Advisory Committee
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Mark E. Steiner, "International Conference on Legal Education Reform: Cram Schooled", 24 Wis. Int'l L.J. 377, 392 (2006). This article contrasts American bar review courses against the 18-month cram schools used in Japan, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan, and argues that the short length of American bar review is due to the superior pedagogical methods of American law schools and the American tradition of relatively easy access to the legal profession (in comparison to most countries).
  32. ^ Wayne L. Anderson and Marilyn J. Headrick, The Legal Profession: Is it for you? (Cincinnati: Thomson Executive Press, 1996), 103.
  33. ^ a b National Conference of Bar Examiners and American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (2020). "Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2020" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ "Eligibility Requirements for Application by Uniform Bar Exam Score Transfer". Colorado Supreme Court. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  36. ^ "FAQs - Admission by Examination". State of Connecticut - Judicial Branch. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  37. ^ "Jurisdiction Information". NCBE. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  38. ^ "UBE Score Transfer Information". Idaho State Bar. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  39. ^ "Illinois Supreme Court Adopts Uniform Bar Exam". Illinois State Bar Association.
  40. ^ Indiana Lawyer. "Indiana to switch to Uniform Bar Exam in 2021".
  41. ^ "Iowa adopts the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)". National Conference of Bar Examiners.
  42. ^ "NCBE Jurisdiction Information: Maryland". Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  43. ^ "Board of Bar Examiners". Massachusetts Court System. 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2017-03-10.
  44. ^ "UBE hits 24th state with Massachusetts". ABA for Law Students. 25 July 2016. Archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
  45. ^ ABA Law Student Division (4 December 2020). "Lakes effect: Michigan adopts the Uniform Bar Exam".
  46. ^ "Admissions Information - State Bar of Montana". Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  47. ^ [1], University of Montana School of Law Bar Exam Information
  48. ^ "Uniform Bar Examination, New York Law Course & New York Law Exam". New York State Bar. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  49. ^ Clifford, Stephanie; Jr, James C. McKinley (5 May 2015). "New York to Adopt a Uniform Bar Exam Used in 15 Other States". Retrieved April 15, 2019 – via
  50. ^ Kubik, Erika (December 4, 2017). "More Than Half of US Jurisdictions Have Adopted the UBE". 2Civility. Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  51. ^ Yeager, Anne. "Ohio Supreme Court Adopts Uniform Bar Examination". Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  52. ^ "UBE FAQ". Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  53. ^ ABA Law Student Division (August 18, 2020). "News we should have posted Sooner: Oklahoma OKs the UBE".
  54. ^ "Jurisdiction Information". NCBE. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  55. ^ Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners (February 12, 2021). "July 2021 Bar Exam and UBE Notice".
  56. ^ "RI to Adopt Uniform Bar Examination". Rhode Island Bar Association. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  57. ^ "In Re: Amendment of Rule 7, Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court" (PDF).
  58. ^ "Jurisdiction Information". NCBE.
  59. ^ McCarthy, Osler. "COURT APPROVES UNIFORM BAR EXAMINATION FOR TEXAS". Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  60. ^ "Texas Board of Law Examiners - News". Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  61. ^ "Admission Rules". Utah State Bar. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  62. ^ "Uniform Bar Exam". Washington State Bar Association. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  63. ^ "WVSC adopts Uniform Bar Examination". The State Journal.
  64. ^ "PROMULGATION No. 2017-005" (PDF). Virgin Island Supreme Court. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  65. ^ "Society of American Law Teachers". Archived from the original on 2015-04-23. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  67. ^ Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus, "A Response to Criticism of the Bar Exam", The Bar Examiner, May 2005 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved 2011-02-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)