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What Is On the Bar Exam?

Close-up of filled in multiple choice exam and a green pencil

Studying for the bar exam is one of the toughest challenges aspiring lawyers face. While the multi-day test itself will go by in a flash, the weeks leading up to this brutal exam can feel like an eternity. Although study guides and bar outlines can assist you in navigating this journey, practice bar exam questions will arm you with the skills and experience you'll need to succeed on test day.

Generally, bar exams are divided into essays, performance tests, and multiple-choice questions. The bar taker's answers in all three areas are combined and weighted to calculate their score.

By learning the ins and outs of each type of test, you can better understand the test as a whole and develop strategies to attack it.

What Is the Uniform Bar Exam?

Created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a multistate exam composed of three different types of tests:

The benefit of taking the bar exam in a UBE state is that it provides you with a “portable score." Your UBE score can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions, allowing you to practice law in a different state without having to take the bar exam again. Thirty-six states have adopted the UBE as of 2022. For more information about different state bar exams, see the chart below.

Keep in mind - the states that have adopted the UBE can set their own minimum passing score for bar admission. So let's say you score a 265 on your UBE. In Minnesota, that's a passing score. In Texas, it's not.

Most states use at least one part of the UBE for their bar exam. And even if they don't, you can expect a similar format. For example, a state may choose not to administer the MPT, but you'll likely have to complete a state-specific performance test instead. 

Learn more about the components of the bar exam below.

Bar Exam Essays

Essays are the most common type of written test used by state bar examiners. They usually consist of a 2-3 paragraph fact pattern followed by a call of the question. The topics of the essays depend on the jurisdiction where you'll be taking the test. Each essay can consist of either one area of law or multiple areas of law, often called "crossovers."

While the topics tend to vary by state, the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and most states focus on these areas of law:

  • Business associations
  • Conflict of laws
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family law
  • Federal civil procedure
  • Real property
  • Secured transactions
  • Torts
  • Trusts and estates
  • Uniform Commercial Code

The particular areas covered vary from exam to exam. While the Multistate Essay Exam consists of six 30-minute essay questions covering up to 12 areas of substantive law, state-drafted essays can vary in length. All essays are graded exclusively by the jurisdiction administering your test.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners provides an MEE Subject Matter Outline to help students focus their bar exam prep. However, not all topics listed appear on every exam. Some services release predictions of MEE test subjects about a month before the exam, but you'll likely have to pay for it. These predictions are based on what appeared on recent MEEs and can help narrow down the topics, but keep in mind that an educated guess is still a guess. There's always a chance you'll spend a lot of time studying secured transactions only to find there are zero questions about it on your exam.

Multistate Bar Examination

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions consist of a brief fact pattern, a question, and four multiple-choice answers. Test takers must answer 200 MBE questions over a span of six hours. The test is broken up into two sections, a morning and afternoon session with 100 questions each.

Only 175 MBE questions are scored. The other 25 are experimental questions for future exams. However, you won't know which questions are which during the exam.

The MBE includes 25 questions from each of the following subjects:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Contracts
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Evidence
  • Real property
  • Torts

All but one state, Louisiana, utilizes the MBE. So, if you're taking the bar somewhere in the United States, there is a high probability that the MBE is in your future.

Unfortunately, the NCBE does not release MBE questions that it considers still in the rotation. However, bar review courses often provide sample questions that mimic the ones you'd see on the MBE.

Performance Tests

The performance test, or "PT," is intended to simulate a real-life legal task that future lawyers may face. This is your chance to show off those lawyering skills.

Writing a legal memorandum, drafting an affidavit, or drafting a settlement offer to opposing counsel are common tasks included in PTs. Typically, all of the law and other materials that you'll need to complete these tasks are included in the exam. While the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) consists of two 90-minute tasks designed to test fundamental skills needed to be a lawyer, state-drafted PTs vary in time and length.

Keep in mind the performance test does not test substantive knowledge of the law. So if there's a rule you can't quite remember but it's not included in your question materials, make it up! What matters most is applying the rules - and completing the task in your allotted time.

Bar Exam Information By State

Below, you'll find a table listing each state and the elements that make up the state's bar exam, along with links to sample bar exam questions and answers.

State

Test Components

Alabama

UBE Jurisdiction

Alaska

UBE Jurisdiction

Arizona

UBE Jurisdiction

Arkansas

UBE Jurisdiction

California

  • MBE
  • 5 state-drafted essay questions
  • 1 state-drafted performance test

Colorado

UBE Jurisdiction

Connecticut

UBE Jurisdiction

Delaware

  • MBE
  • MPT
  • 8 state-specific essay questions

District of Columbia

UBE Jurisdiction

Florida

  • MBE
  • 100 state-drafted multiple-choice questions

Georgia

  • MBE
  • MPT
  • 4 state-specific essay questions

Hawaii

  • MBE
  • MPT
  • MEE
  • 15 multiple-choice questions on the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct

Idaho

UBE Jurisdiction

Illinois

UBE Jurisdiction

Indiana

UBE Jurisdiction

Iowa

UBE Jurisdiction

Kansas

UBE Jurisdiction

Kentucky

UBE Jurisdiction

Louisiana

Nine-part written examination on Louisiana civil code, torts, business entities, constitutional law, and criminal law

Maine

UBE Jurisdiction

Maryland

UBE Jurisdiction

Massachusetts

UBE Jurisdiction

Michigan

  • MBE
  • 15 essay questions

Minnesota

UBE Jurisdiction

Mississippi

  • MBE
  • MPT
  • MEE
  • 6 state-specific essay questions

Missouri

UBE Jurisdiction

Montana

UBE Jurisdiction

Nebraska

UBE Jurisdiction

Nevada

  • MBE
  • 2 state-drafted performance tests
  • 6 state-drafted essay questions

New Hampshire

UBE Jurisdiction

New Jersey

UBE Jurisdiction

New Mexico

UBE Jurisdiction

New York

UBE Jurisdiction

North Carolina

UBE Jurisdiction

North Dakota

UBE Jurisdiction

Ohio

UBE Jurisdiction

Oklahoma

  • MBE and
  • 16 essay questions

Oregon

UBE Jurisdiction

Pennsylvania

  • MBE
  • 6 state-drafted essay questions
  • 1 state-drafted performance test

Rhode Island

UBE Jurisdiction

South Carolina

UBE Jurisdiction

South Dakota

  • MBE
  • MEE
  • MPT
  • 1 Indian law essay question

Tennessee

UBE Jurisdiction

Texas

UBE Jurisdiction

Utah

UBE Jurisdiction

Vermont

UBE Jurisdiction

Virginia

  • MBE
  • 10 state-drafted multiple-choice questions
  • 9 state-drafted essay questions

Washington

UBE Jurisdiction

West Virginia

UBE Jurisdiction

Wisconsin

  • MBE
  • MEE
  • MPT
  • State-drafted essay questions

Wyoming

UBE Jurisdiction

Next Steps

Taking on the bar exam can feel like an enormous task. But figuring out what is going to be tested on the bar you are taking and reading past bar exam questions can go a very long way in helping you succeed on this difficult test. Visit your state bar's homepage to check the exact subjects and test types administrated. Learn more about what to expect from law school and the bar exam through FindLaw for law students.

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