Written by: Nik Ventouris

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What is the Bar Exam

Bar Exam (2024 Guide)

Our state-specific bar exam guide delineates everything you need to know to get started and offers tailored tips to help you succeed.

Man standing next to exam paper, pencil and gavel.

Select Your State

If you are interested in becoming licensed as an attorney, you will likely need to pass the bar exam in the US jurisdiction you wish to work in.

It is important to note that there can be significant differences in bar exams from state to state, both in content structure and in eligibility criteria.

This Bar Exam guide article provides detailed insights into the exam’s structure, content areas, and preparation strategies, offering aspiring lawyers a comprehensive overview of everything they need to know to get started.

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Bar Exam Overview

The bar exam can be one of the most important steps to being admitted into your state’s Bar Association.

In order to be eligible to register for the exam, you will generally need to have graduated from or be currently studying in an American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school.

Depending on your state, you may additionally be required to have completed specific pre-law school education (i.e., coursework requirements during your undergraduate degree), although this is seldom the case.

Your jurisdiction’s Board of Bar Examiners may also require you to register with them within a specific timeline (e.g., during your final year of law school, within a certain period of starting law school, etc.).

This is done in order to allow them to review any character and fitness issues that may arise ahead of time.

Bar Exam Requirements in All States

Below, we’ve included three tables that detail some of the eligibility requirements for each state’s bar exam.

Alabama – Montana

StatePrelegal Education RequirementLaw School Registration RequirementAre Convicted Felons Eligible?
AlabamaYesYesYes
AlaskaNoNoYes
ArizonaNoNoYes
ArkansasNoNoYes
CaliforniaYesYesYes
ColoradoNoNoYes
ConnecticutNoNoYes
DelawareNoNoYes
FloridaNoNoYes
GeorgiaYesNoYes
HawaiiNoNoYes
IdahoNoNoYes
IllinoisYesNoYes
IndianaNoNoYes
IowaNoYesYes
KansasYesNoNo
KentuckyNoNoYes

Kentucky – New York

StatePrelegal Education RequirementLaw School Registration RequirementAre Convicted Felons Eligible
KentuckyNoNoYes
LouisianaNoYesYes
MaineYesNoYes
MarylandYesNoYes
MassachusettsYesNoYes
MichiganYesNoYes
MinnesotaNoNoYes
MississippiYesYesSometimes
MissouriNoNoYes
MontanaNoNoYes
NebraskaYesNoYes
NevadaYesNoYes
New HampshireYesNoYes
New JerseyNoNoYes
New MexicoNoNoYes
New YorkNoNoYes

North Carolina – Wyoming

StatePrelegal Education RequirementLaw School Registration RequirementAre Convicted Felons Eligible
North CarolinaYesNoYes
North DakotaNoYesYes
OhioYesYesYes
OklahomaYesYesYes
OregonNoNoYes
PennsylvaniaYesNoYes
Rhode IslandNoNoYes
South CarolinaNoNoYes
South DakotaNoNoYes
TennesseeYesNoYes
TexasNoYesNo
UtahNoNoYes
VermontNoNoYes
VirginiaNoNoYes
Washington StateNoNoYes
Washington DCNoNoYes
West VirginiaYesNoYes
WisconsinNoNoYes
WyomingNoNoYes

For more information in relation to each jurisdiction’s requirements, we recommend selecting your state from the dropdown menu above.

What is on the Bar Exam

It’s important to understand that the bar exam is not the same in every state, although there can be quite a bit of similarity.

As of 2024, for example, 41 jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which is a standardized exam (reported on a 400 scale) that’s promulgated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).

This is composed out of the following three sections, which are carried out over a two-day period:

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): This is a standardized 200 question multiple choice test that covers six fundamental areas of law practice, such as Contract Law, Tort, Constitutional Law, and Criminal Law (50% of UBE)
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MME): The MEE is a six-hour essay test that examines your ability to apply legal principles to factual scenarios. Each essay is scored from 0 to 60, with a passing mark of 40 (30% of UBE)
  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): This is a two-hour exam that is focused on testing your practical legal skills. The MPT is scored from 0 to 60, with a passing mark of 35 (20% of UBE)

Additionally, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is required for admission to the bars of all US jurisdictions besides Wisconsin and Puerto Rico. This is a two-hour, 60-question multiple choice exam that relates to professional legal standards and ethics.

Keep in mind that jurisdictions can set their own minimum passing scores for the Uniform Bar Examination; this is generally between 260 and 280.

Jurisdictions that have not adopted the UBE have more flexibility when it comes to which components they can offer and/or omit.

Below are a few examples for reference:

JurisdictionMBEMEEMPT
CaliforniaYesNoNo
DelawareYesNoYes
FloridaYesNoNo
LouisianaNoNoNo
WisconsinYesYesYes

Keep in mind that non-UBE states also have more discretion when it comes to the weight of each component. For example, California’s MBE component is weighted at 50% of the overall score – just like UBE states – whereas Nevada’s MBE component is weighted at just 33% of the total score.

States that have not adopted the UBE can also choose to include state-specific components (e.g., state-specific multiple-choice questions and essays, etc).

Recommended Course

Interested in getting started? We recommend Kaplan’s bar exam preparation materials, which come with a free retake guarantee, interactive and flexible learning, and lawyer-led tutoring.

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Which State Should I Take the Bar Exam In?

Given that not all state bar licensing requirements are the same, you may be wondering which bar exam you should take. I mean, is the correct answer simply to go with the state in which you studied law?

Well, it can be, but not always. In fact, even where this is the case, it’s definitely not that simple, and the answer actually tends to depend on several factors.

Below, we’ve provided a few considerations you should keep in mind when choosing which state to sit your bar exam in:

  • Location: When determining where you should sit the bar exam, we recommend considering where you are most likely to end up settling. This can depend on factors like proximity to friends and family, the extent of external support that’s available, and your overall quality of life
  • Job prospects: Consider what state – if any – has the most career opportunities for your prospective niche. Do you have any professional contacts and/or networking opportunities in any specific location that could help you jump-start your career after passing the bar exam?
  • Eligibility: As we’ve seen, different states impose different eligibility requirements for prospective lawyers – some of which can extend to before law school. Even though this sounds obvious, make sure that you are actually eligible to qualify for licensing with your current qualifications in the state of your choice

It’s worth noting that certain states have reciprocity agreements with each other, which allow licensed attorneys to qualify to practice law in additional states without having to retake a bar exam.

For more information, see our Bar Exam Reciprocity overview.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the Bar Exam

The cost of taking your bar exam will depend on several factors, including your state, level of compliance (i.e., whether you are required to pay late filing fees for not registering with your state’s bar on time), and personal needs (i.e., whether you will need to use your own laptop).

Generally speaking, the cost of registering for the bar exam ranges between $250 and $1,665 (excluding late filing fees).

Keep in mind that your total cost for becoming licensed can be significantly higher. For example, California requires applicants to complete the following steps in addition to registering for the bar exam:

  • Application for Registration with the California Bar: $119
  • Application for Moral Character Determination: $551
  • Fingerprinting: Varies
  • Laptop Fee: $154

Most candidates additionally purchase bar exam preparation materials to help prepare for the exam due to its challenging nature.

The price for these will depend on the provider in question but can generally range anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000.

For a more in-depth overview, have a look at our How Much Does it Cost to Take the Bar Exam article.

How Hard is the Bar Exam

The bar exam is, without a question, challenging. This is because it entails a massive amount of information, is extremely time-consuming, and includes content that is inherently difficult. Moreover, part of the challenge can also be psychological due to how much can depend on passing. 

Getting to the point of sitting the bar exam requires an incredible amount of time, dedication, and preparation – from studying as an undergraduate to acing the LSAT and graduating from law school – and so this can seem like the “final step” to what will have inevitably been a very long journey.

Having said that, recent data (February 2023) from the National Conference of Bar Examiners shows that the average pass rates for first-time test takers ranged from 64% (Alaska) to 94% (Utah). 

This shows that passing the bar exam is definitely manageable on your first attempt, as long as you structure your preparation effectively and ensure that you allow yourself ample time to become accustomed to all of the material. 

How to Pass the Bar Exam 

Despite the infamous difficulty of each state’s bar exam, passing it on your first attempt is definitely possible with the right tools and preparation techniques. 

Below, we’ve broken down a few key tips that should aid you in your licensing journey:

  • Start Strong in Your First Year: This is important due to the fundamental areas of law practice that the first year of law school generally covers, such as Contract Law, Tort, and Constitutional Law. 
  • Leverage Academic Support: If your law school offers additional support services that are aimed at improving your preparation, we recommend utilizing these as much as possible. This can involve one-on-one tutoring, academic counseling, and mock exam programs. 
  • Obtain Practical Legal Experience: If possible, we recommend gaining as much practical experience as you can during law school (i.e., through summer internships, mock trials, etc.). This is because this can go a long way in cementing your legal knowledge.
  • Adopt a Broad Study Approach: When studying for the bar, you should aim for a wide-ranging understanding of various subjects rather than an in-depth study of a few. This is important due to the huge amount of content that you will need to learn and/or will be tested on.

Most importantly, make sure you remain consistent so that you do not have to resort to last-minute cramming. 

Research has shown that we are able to retain a higher degree of information – and more easily – when revisiting old content in comparison to when learning it for the first time. This is known as Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve.

Recommended: Interested in getting started? We recommend Kaplan’s bar exam preparation materials, which come with a free retake guarantee, interactive and flexible learning, and lawyer-led tutoring.

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Other Bar Requirements

An additional requirement you will need to satisfy – besides graduating from law school and passing your state’s bar exam – is passing the character and fitness test; this involves an extensive background check.

The importance of this lies in the nature of the legal profession. Because law is a public practice, the degree of harm that a licensed lawyer can inflict is considered to be of a “substantial nature”.

As a result, decisions about who should be admitted to practice law are made carefully, with a couple of states going as far as excluding felons from the licensing process entirely.

Other non-exam requirements include mandatory pro bono work, as well as proving your professional competency through specified criteria (i.e., completion of specific credits, etc.).

What is the Bar Exam FAQ

What happens if you fail the bar exam?

This will depend on your personal goals and state. There are different rules in each jurisdiction for how many bar exam retakes you can take if you do not receive a passing score the first time, but a significant amount do not impose limits. Where limits are imposed, this is generally between two and four attempts.

How hard is the bar exam?

Bar examinations are generally quite difficult. This is because they entail a wide range of topics, are time-pressured, span over two days, and are inherently stressful due to the high stakes that can be involved. Have a look at our How Hard Is the Bar Exam article to learn more.

Can you take the bar exam without going to law school?

Generally speaking, law school is a prerequisite to taking the bar exam in most US jurisdictions. Having said that, alternatives can be offered (e.g., New York, California, Maine, etc.), although this is not the case in most states. For more information, check out our Can You Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School overview.

How can I pass the bar exam?

Passing the bar exam will ultimately depend on how well you prepare. We recommend allowing yourself enough time to go over the content of all sections at least twice (multistate bar exam, MPRE, etc.). You should also leverage academic and professional opportunities throughout law school as much as possible. See our How to Pass the Bar Exam guide for more information.

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