- Taking the bar exam is a complex and strenuous process. The strain should not continue after the exam finishes. Understanding what to expect after the bar exam can help you plan your future goals and ease yourself after this difficult exam.
Preparing for the bar exam is more physically draining and stressful than most people realize. This one exam can decide the future of law school graduates across the country, and it is only made available twice a year.
Once you do take it, however, what happens next? You might think the weight is off your shoulders until you find yourself waiting around to hear back about your results. And once you do, you may want to determine how well you did but might not know how. What to expect after taking the Bar exam varies, especially state to state.
Aside from the actual results of the exam, waiting to hear back can be the most emotionally taxing part after taking the bar exam. You may not expect to wait long, especially with much of the exam being multiple-choice. However, this is simply not the case.
The bar exam is given twice a year, in February and July, each with a significant waiting period. Most states take equal time grading their February and July exams, but there is a recurring trend in some states taking longer to release their July results. Some of these states include Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia, to name a few.
The disparity in waiting times is due to the larger number of examinees in the July exam. Most law school students need to wait to take the bar exam until after graduation, so the first opportunity to take the exam usually comes in July.
As for actual waiting periods, North Carolina and Arkansas are usually the first two states to release grades at around four and five weeks after the exam, respectively. Most states release their results six to eight weeks afterward in February and seven to nine in July. The biggest outliers are New York, California, and Michigan, with their examinees waiting almost 17 weeks to hear back.
The waiting period, unfortunately, is very long for the bar exam. Even in North Carolina, where the wait for results is the shortest, it still takes around a month to hear back. During that time, examinees are forced to do nothing but wait, as they cannot enter the job market without a license.
The main cause for the long delay in results is mostly the number of examinees in that state. According to thebarexaminer.org, 10,071 individuals took the New York Bar exam in July 2019. That helps explain why New York takes the longest (17 weeks) to release the exam results.
The effects of the delay can be very detrimental. Because of the waiting period, candidates cannot practice law or seek employment. This offers no relief to any student debt or living expenses they might owe and proves to be an extremely tough time for examinees emotionally and financially.
To remedy the situation, some states offer students earlier test dates. Arizona, for example, has allowed 3L students to take the bar offered in February while they are still in school. So, by the time the students hear back on their results, they will have just graduated and can begin seeking employment right away.
While many states provide state-specific bar exams, more than half offer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). If you have taken the bar in a state offering the UBE, you may wonder what your scores mean and how well you performed.
The UBE consists of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). Some states, like Illinois, may not reveal your test grade if you pass. Others may give your overall scores on the MBE, MPT, and MEE. And then some, like New York, will give an exact breakdown of each section of the exam. So, as long as your state offers enough detail, you can determine your ranking on the UBE.
The following percentiles are based on the 2019 February Bar exam results:
Your percentile shows how well you scored in relation to other examinees. For example, if you scored a 300 and are in the 90th percentile, you performed better than 90 percent of the other candidates. This is useful information, especially if you did not pass the bar on your first attempt.
Understanding where you lay can help you estimate how much preparation you may need for the next examination. If your state does not offer the UBE, see if your state bar offers any information about percentiles.
To determine what score you need on your MBE portion, provided you are in a UBE state, take the overall score needed to pass and divide it by two. In most states, anywhere between 130 and 140 should be a passing score on the MBE. Keep in mind that the MBE is curved. For example, you scored a 125 and needed a 135 to pass. A 10-point difference may seem small, but the percentile difference is much bigger, so you may need more preparation than you think to earn a passing score.
The written portion of the UBE consists of the MEE and MPT. Most states grade on a scale of one–six, with the six MEE essays worth 60 percent of your score and the two MPTs worth 40 percent. A four is considered a passing score in most states, so you can compare your scores and evaluate your performance.
The bar exam is notorious for its great difficulty and low passing rate. Only 58 percent of candidates passed the bar exam in February and July 2019. And because not every state offers the UBE, the passing rates vary. The lowest passing rate is seen in California’s state-specific exam at 45 percent, while the highest is around 81 percent in Oklahoma.
While most states offer unlimited attempts, 21 states have discretionary or absolute limits on the number of attempts. States like Maryland and Virginia have discretionary limits where you may be allowed to retake the bar over the stated limit due to extraordinary circumstances. Kansas, Rhode Island, and a few other states have absolute limits, offering no exceptions and not letting you attempt the exam once you reach the limit. This is important for you to know if you’re reaching the limit in your jurisdiction and must prepare further to pass.
Taking the bar exam is a complex and strenuous process. The strain should not continue after the exam finishes. Understanding what to expect after the bar exam can help you plan your future goals and ease yourself after this difficult exam.