Bar Exams

For initial licensure, competence is ordinarily established by a showing that the applicant holds an acceptable educational credential (with some exceptions, a JD degree) from a law school that meets educational standards, and by achieving a passing score on the bar examination.

ABA-Approved Law Schools

The most common testing configuration consists of a two-day bar examination, one day of which is devoted to the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a standardized 200-item test covering six areas (Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts). The second day of testing is typically comprised of locally crafted essays from a broader range of subject matters.

In a growing number of states, two nationally developed tests, the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) may be used to round out the test.

Almost all jurisdictions require that the applicant present an acceptable score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is separately administered three times a year.

The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is coordinated by NCBE and is composed of the Multistate Essay Examination, two Multistate Performance Test tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination. It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions.  

The UBE is administered over two days, with the MBE given on the last Wednesday of February and July and the MEE and MPT given on the Tuesday prior to that. Jurisdictions that use the UBE may require applicants to also complete a jurisdiction-specific educational component and/or pass a test on jurisdiction-specific law in addition to passing the UBE.. It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions.  

The UBE is administered over two days, with the MBE given on the last Wednesday of February and July and the MEE and MPT given on the Tuesday prior to that. Jurisdictions that use the UBE may require applicants to also complete a jurisdiction-specific educational component and/or pass a test on jurisdiction-specific law in addition to passing the UBE.

ABA Resolution

For more information about the bar examination tests, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

The second area of inquiry by bar examiners involves the character and fitness of applicants for a law license. Bar examiners seek background information concerning each applicant that is relevant to the appropriateness of granting a professional credential. Because law is a public profession, and because the degree of harm a lawyer, once licensed, can inflict is substantial, decisions about who should be admitted to practice law are made carefully by bar examining boards.

ABA Standard 504 sets out a law school's responsibility to assess an applicant's character and fitness qualifications and to advise applicants that such qualifications exist for admittance to the school and for admission to the bar. Students should refer to Chart 2 of the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for the character and fitness determinations in the state(s) in which they plan to sit for the bar examination.

NCBE Character and Fitness Investigations

Boards of bar examiners in most jurisdictions expect to hear from prospective candidates during the final year of law school. Bar examinations are administered at the end of February and July, with considerably more applicants taking the summer test because it falls after graduation from law school.

Some boards offer or require law student registration at an earlier point in law school. This preliminary processing, where available, permits the board to review character and fitness issues in advance.

 As state-specific information is so important (and so variable) in the lawyer-licensing process, law students should contact the board of bar examiners in the jurisdictions in which they are most likely to practice law.

Directory of State Bar Admission Agencies