Bar examination in the United States

Bar examination in the United States

Bar examinations are administered by agencies of individual states. The state agency is always associated with the judicial branch of government, because American lawyers are all officers of the court of the bar(s) to which they belong.

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, the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit thereof.

In almost all jurisdictions, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an ethics exam, is also administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which creates it and grades it.

The bar examination consists of:
  • Essay interrogations: Basically all jurisdictions manage several questions that test knowledge of general legal principles, and may also test knowledge of the state's own law.  Some jurisdictions prefer to use the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), composed by the NCBE, for this use. Others may compose their own questions with this goal in mind, while some states both compose their own questions and use the MEE.

  • The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a standardized, questions multiple-choice examination consists of contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, and real property. The MBE contains 200 questions is divided into two periods of three hours each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with 100 questions in each period.
A majority of U.S. jurisdictions also need a performance examination as a more realistic measure of actual lawyer’s skill; the candidate is presented with a stack of documents representing a fictional case and is asked to prepare a memorandum, motion, or opinion document. Many jurisdictions use the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), while California prepares and administers its own performance tests.

When is the bar exam?

Each state controls when it administers its bar exam. Because the MBE is a standardized test, it must be administered on the same day across the country. That day occurs twice a year; the winter exam is usually administered the last week of February; the summer exam is usually administered the last week of July. Two states, Delaware and North Dakota, manage their bar exams only once, in July, since they do not have enough candidates to merit a second sitting. Most bar exams are administered on successive days. Louisiana is the exception, administering its three-day examination on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Also, Louisiana's exam is the longest in the country in terms of exam time, with 7 hours on each day for a total of 21 hours.

What are the test topics?

The following topics may be tested during the Washington Bar Exam. This list is not intended to be complete in detail. An extensive range of issues and subtopics exist within each broad topic.
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Business Organizations
  • Commercial Transactions
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Real Estate
  • Torts
  • Trial Procedure
  • Wills and Probate
  • Administrative Law