Bar Exam | 25 Things You Should Know
Before you can practice law in the United States, you must become a licensed attorney.
Licensing normally requires passing the bar exam in a specific state, passing an ethics exam, completing a rigorous application, paying fees, and meeting character and fitness requirements after a background check.
In administering the bar exam, most states now leverage the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).
Our Top 25 FAQs
Uniform Bar Exam
The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a standardized exam that has been adopted in 33 jurisdictions. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) administers the UBE. The UBE has three parts: the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The UBE allows you to transfer scores within a certain amount of time from one UBE jurisdiction to another.
The following jurisdictions have now adopted the UBE: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio (starting July 2020), Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the Virgin Islands.
For the most updated information regarding which jurisdictions have adopted the UBE, check the NCBE’s official map.
|You can timely transfer your score to other UBE states, allowing you to quickly expand your law practice options.||You pay potentially high fees to transfer from state to state.|
|You spend less time (and money) taking exams in multiple states.||In addition to different passing thresholds, states can scale final UBE scores differently. That means passing in state A does not necessarily equal passing in state B, or even the same score.|
|It’s more likely that you’ll only have to take the bar once.||The UBE continually evolves as more jurisdictions adopt it.|
Almost always. Vermont and Washington are the only jurisdictions that allow the UBE to be taken without attending law school. Aspiring lawyers within these jurisdictions are given the option to apprentice with a practicing attorney or judge for a specified amount of time rather than enrolling in law school. Unsurprisingly, your odds at passing are higher if you attend law school.
You can expect to pay between $100 to $1400 to register depending on your jurisdiction.
The MBE, the MEE, and the MPT. Check out our Tips & Tricks to get a better understanding of each component and of the UBE as a whole.
|Format||200 multiple choice||6 essays||2 tasks|
|Time||6 hours||3 hours||3 hours|
|Subjects||Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.||Business Associations (Agency and Partnership, Corporations, Limited Liability Companies), Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Federal Civil Procedure, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates (Decedents’ Estates; Trusts and Future Interests), and Uniform Commercial Code (Article 9, Secured Transactions).||Basic attorney skills.|
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The NCBE scores the MBE component of the UBE. Each jurisdiction scores the MEE and MPT using the NCBE’s point sheets, which is then scaled to the MBE. Your total score is then calculated by the NCBE.
Individual jurisdictions determine their own passing score. Alaska requires the highest passing score (280). Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and North Dakota require the lowest passing scores (260).
*OH and TX have yet to announce their minimum passing UBE scores.
**We recommend checking your state bar examiners’ website well before taking your exam for information regarding the grading of the MEE and MPT.
First, create an NCBE account, which will create a unique NCBE Number allowing you to then register with the state board of bar examiners. Applicants with qualifying disabilities can apply for accommodations. Each jurisdiction sets its own registrations deadlines, so make sure to check your state board’s website for deadlines.
To transfer UBE scores, you must first submit application forms and pay the required fees by that jurisdiction. Then, you should contact the NCBE to request that your official UBE transcript be sent to that jurisdiction. Finally, you should fulfill any additional jurisdiction-specific requirements.
UBE scores are only transferable from one UBE jurisdiction to another. If a jurisdiction administers the MBE, MEE, and MPT but has not adopted the UBE, your UBE score is not transferable to that jurisdiction. Your score must meet or exceed the minimum passing score of the jurisdiction to which you are applying. Just because you pass in your jurisdiction doesn’t mean you’ll be admitted in another. This also means that if you fail in a state with a high minimum score, you can still apply to transfer your score to a jurisdiction where your score would be considered passing.
*UBE scores are accepted if earned within the first period (2 or 3 years). If submitting scores older than that, UBE scores earned within the second period (5 years) are accepted if accompanied by proof of actively practicing law. Check with the applicable bar admission agency for jurisdiction-specific rules.
**TX has not yet announced its time limit for accepting transferred UBE scores.
*Includes attempts in other jurisdictions.
†Exception if special permission from South Dakota Supreme Court.
All other jurisdictions have no published limit on the number of times the bar exam can be taken.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is an ethics-based exam that is required by almost every jurisdiction in the United States. While the MPRE is generally taken during either the second or third year of law school, most jurisdictions have specific time parameters within which the MPRE must be taken, usually in reference to when the jurisdiction’s bar exam was passed.
|Subject||Ethical standards of professional conduct.|
|Format||60 Multiple Choice (50 scored)|
|When||March, August, November|
|Next test date||March 23, 2019|
|Jurisdictions||All jurisdictions except Wisconsin and Puerto Rico.|
Though the NBCE develops the MPRE, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) administers it on their behalf. To register for the MPRE, you must first have an NCBE account. You’ll then have to create an MPRE account, using your NCBE Number, on the LSAC website. Through your MPRE account, you will register and select a testing date, a testing center, and the jurisdiction you want your score reported to. Applicants with qualifying disabilities can apply for accommodations.
The MPRE has a regular registration deadline and a late registration deadline. No registrations are accepted after the late registration deadline—no exceptions. The fee for registering by the regular deadline is $95; the fee for registering by the late deadline is $190 (check the NCBE’s website for registration deadlines).
Registration fees are nonrefundable and nontransferable. If you can’t take the test on the date that you originally registered for, you won’t be able to transfer your registration to another test date.
Only 50 of the multiple choice questions on the MPRE are scored. MPRE scores are scaled to a range of 50 to 150 using a process known as equating—taking raw scores and adjusting them to account for differences in difficulty compared to previous exams. The average score is usually around 93.
Each jurisdiction determines the minimum passing score for the MPRE. California and Utah require the highest passing scores (86).
*CT and NJ will accept successful completion of a professional responsibility course in the place of a passing score on the MPRE.
**MD has yet to announce its minimum passing MPRE score.
How do you get your score? How’s it reported to your jurisdiction?
Your MPRE score will be posted to your NCBE account typically within five weeks of taking the exam. But you will only be able to access that score until the next test administration, so you are responsible to access and save your score while it is still available on your account. If you need to obtain your score after it is no longer available on your NCBE account, you must submit a request for an MPRE Unofficial Score Transcript.
Other Jurisdiction-Specific Requirements
Visit the NCBE’s website for a map displaying jurisdiction-specific components.
No jurisdiction-specific component: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island
Pre-admission component: Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virgin Islands, Washington
Post-admission component: DC, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming
*Ohio and Texas have not announced if they will require a jurisdiction-specific component.
Since jurisdiction policies and rules can change, you should consult with the applicable bar admission agency for the most current information.
Since the UBE is uniform, it does not test state-specific law. Thus, your state may choose to require that you pass an exam or complete additional courses on state-specific law.
Check out your state bar examiners’ website before registering to make sure you have met all the requirements.
Many jurisdictions require that those applying to take the UBE provide relevant background information to ensure that the individual is fit to practice law. This investigation is likely to include information such as a lack of candor, criminal record, untreated substance abuse or mental illness, and financial irresponsibility. The NCBE conducts these character and fitness tests on behalf of some U.S. jurisdictions. Check out the NCBE’s website to see a sample character and fitness application.
What can you do if you’re worried that past/present conduct will keep you from passing the Character and Fitness requirement?
First, be completely honest on all your applications. As previously mentioned, your candor is an important element in passing the Character and Fitness investigation. When your dishonesty is discovered—even if you’ve remedied the situation—you’re not likely to be admitted to the bar. It’s not uncommon for applicants to be denied admission for a lack of candor, even for seemingly minor things. However, complete candor can offer assurance to the committee that you are trustworthy and have fully accepted responsibility for your past actions.
Second, provide evidence for rehabilitation. The burden of proof is on you as the applicant to show that you are fit to practice law. If you have a criminal record, show the steps you’ve taken to correct your course and reconcile with the community, such as participating in community service. If you have had substance abuse issues or serious mental illness, have a discussion with the committee about your treatment, showing that you have gotten/are getting the help you need. If you’ve taken on irresponsible debt or haven’t been paying child support, provide proof of attempts to repay what you owe. Even though a creditor may require you to make large monthly payments, the Character and Fitness Committee would rather see you making small monthly payments than trying to avoid repayment at all. All these things, like candor, point toward your desire and ability to take responsibility for your mistakes and to be helpful rather than burdensome to the community that you will serve as a lawyer.
- Failing to disclose criminal convictions or giving significantly different accounts of the same criminal event. See, e.g., In re Burke, 775 S.E.2d 815 (2015).
- Failing to disclose prior academic probation, civil charges, or issuing a bad check. See, e.g., In re Bitter, 969 A.2d 71 (2008).
- Failing to disclose being denied admission in another jurisdiction on the basis of Character and Fitness. See, e.g., In re Bitter, 969 A.2d 71 (2008).
- Failing to comply with court orders, demonstrating a lack of respect of the judicial process. See, e.g., Britton v. Board of Bar Examiners, 471 Mass. 1015 (2015).
- Repeatedly concealing criminal history and academic misconduct on law school and bar applications, even when confronted. See, e.g., In re Huddleston, 777 S.E.2d 438 (2015).
- Sitting for the bar exam before graduating law school. See, e.g., In re Application of Greenberg, 148 Ohio St.3d 625 (2016).
- Failing to cooperate in Character and Fitness investigations. See, e.g., In re Application of Greenberg, 148 Ohio St.3d 625 (2016).
- Seeking out and receiving treatment for alcohol or relationship problems, with no incidents since seeking treatment. See, e.g., Strasser v. Character and Fitness Committee, 160 S.W.3d 789 (2005).
- Completing meaningful internship and volunteer work to provide sufficient evidence of current character and fitness. See, e.g., In re Bar Admission of Jarrett, 879 N.W.2d 116 (2016).
- Providing character witnesses who know of your past offenses that will witness that you have accepted responsibility for your actions, who can testify of your current character, and who will support your admission to the bar. See, e.g., Bar Admission of Nichols, 895 N.W.2d 831 (2017).
- Being completely candid on all applications about your personal history of financial mismanagement, substance abuse, or time in prison. See, e.g., Matter of Simmons, 414 P.3d 1111 (2018).
- Maintaining sobriety while attending law school, completing internships, or participating in volunteer and advocacy work. See, e.g., Matter of Simmons, 414 P.3d 1111 (2018).
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