Illinois Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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Illinois Bar Exam

Passing the Illinois bar exam is an essential part of being admitted into the state’s bar and beginning a successful career practicing law.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to get started, including:

  • The bar exam’s eligibility criteria, content, and structure
  • The steps you can take in order to give yourself the best chance of passing on your first attempt
  • The additional requirements you’ll need to satisfy in order to become admitted into the state’s bar

We’ll also briefly cover the process of getting admitted through an admission on motion for those who don’t possess an Illinois law degree.

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Illinois Bar Exam Overview

Administered by the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar (the Board), the Illinois bar exam has been regulating the state’s legal profession since 1897. The Board, which consists of seven members appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, oversees both the bar exam and the character and fitness evaluation processes.

If you plan to take the Illinois bar exam, you should know it’s offered twice a year on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. The exam is held at various locations in Chicago, with applicants receiving notification of their specific venue and seat assignment approximately two weeks before the exam.

Here’s what you need to know regarding this exam’s registration deadlines and fees:

For the February exam, candidates who haven’t previously registered for an Illinois bar exam have a tiered fee structure. This ranges from $950 to $1,450, depending on when you register. 

  • Those who previously registered and paid for an Illinois bar exam must pay a reduced fee, ranging from $500 to $850 based on when they register.

The July exam has an identical pay structure with only one key difference: candidates who previously registered for the exam must pay a fixed price of $500.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the Illinois bar exam, you’ll need to satisfy the following criteria according to Rule 703 of the Illinois Supreme Court:

  1. High School Education: Eligibility for the Illinois bar exam begins with graduating from a four-year high school or an equivalent institution. These schools must prepare students for college or university admission with standards comparable to those of the University of Illinois.
  2. Undergraduate College Work: Candidates also must complete at least 90 semester hours of college coursework. This education must be from colleges or universities recognized by the Board. Verification of this phase usually requires diplomas or university certificates, but can also be through an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law school that confirms the completion of the required college coursework.
  3. Legal Education: After satisfying the high school and undergraduate requirements, applicants must pursue a legal education that culminates in a law degree (e.g., a Juris Doctor degree) from an ABA-accredited law school. 

Note: Applicants with health-related issues can request special accommodations during the exam by visiting the Nonstandard Testing Accommodation section of the official Illinois Bar Exam website.

Illinois Exam Structure

In 2019, the state of Illinois adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). It adheres to the following structure:

Day 1:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): Two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test Questions (20%)
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): Six 30-minute Multistate Essay Exam questions (30%)

Day 2: 

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): 200-question multiple-choice exam (50%)

The UBE exam has a total of 400 possible points. A candidate must earn 266 of them to receive a passing mark.

Keep in mind that candidates will additionally be required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) in order to be eligible for the Illinois bar.

Below, we’ve broken down the content and structure of each exam-related requirement in more detail.

Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT is made up of two 90-minute parts, and the materials for each part contain a “File” and a “Library.”

The File consists of source documents that contain all of the facts of a specific case.

As the examinee, the assignment that you will need to complete will be described in a memorandum from a supervising attorney.

The File can also include things like transcripts of interviews, depositions, pleadings, trials, client documents, newspaper articles, police reports, and any other similar documents.

Keep in mind that irrelevant information is generally included, and facts are sometimes incomplete, ambiguous, or even conflicting.

This is meant to mirror legal practice, in which a client’s or supervising attorney’s version of events may be unreliable or entirely incomplete. In such a scenario, you will be expected to recognize when facts are inconsistent or missing in the exam and identify sources of additional facts.

The Library part contains things like cases, statutes, and regulations, some of which may also not be relevant to the task that you will be assigned. You will need to be able to extract the legal principles required to analyze the legal problem you’ll be presented with and perform the requested task.

For more information, you can have a look at the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Instructions for Taking the MPT document.

Free summaries of MPTs from recent examinations are also offered (e.g., MPT Summaries of 2023).

Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)

The MEE consists of six 30-minute sections that can cover a variety of legal areas, including:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Business Associations (e.g., Agency and Partnership, LLCs, Corporations, etc.)
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contract Law
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts
  • Trust and Estates

Keep in mind that questions can often include issues in more than one area of law. This means that it’ll be important to ensure that you have a “wide” range of understanding rather than a deep focus on one or two subjects.

Note: For more information, have a look at the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE’s) official Instructions for Taking the MEE document or check out a few official MEE questions.

Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The MBE is made up of 200 multiple-choice questions, which are broken down into 175 scored questions and 25 unscored questions.

The exam is broken down into two three-hour sections, with one administered in the morning and one in the afternoon, both of which contain 100 questions each.

Keep in mind that there are no scheduled breaks during either one of the sections.

All 175 scored questions on the exam are distributed evenly, with 25 questions being attributed to each of the following seven topics:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Contract Law
  • Real Property
  • Tort Law
  • Evidence
  • Criminal Law and Procedure

Each question on the MBE exam will have four potential answers. You should choose what you believe is the best answer — keep in mind that scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly, and points are not subtracted for answering incorrectly.

If you want to have a look at the exact format, you can have a look at the NCBE’s official MBE Sample Test Questions document.

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Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Administered via Pearson VUE on behalf of the state, the MPRE includes 60 multiple-choice questions (50 scored questions and 10 unscored questions).

Like the MBE, each question offers four possible answers — one of which is correct. 

The exam’s content is based on law that relates to the conduct and discipline of attorneys and judges. It includes the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the Model Code of Judicial Conduct as well as important constitutional common law and generally accepted principles.

In relation to questions of professional responsibility in the context of evidentiary issues (e.g., litigation sanctions, attorney-client evidentiary privilege, etc.), the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence will apply unless otherwise stated.

Note: You’ll have two hours to complete the MPRE exam in its entirety.

For more information, check out the NCBE’s sample test questions and holistic subject matter outline.

How to Pass the Illinois Bar Exam

In order to give yourself the best chance of passing the Illinois UBE on your first attempt, it’s important to take enough time to make sure you are adequately prepared.

Illinois Bar Exam Tips

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

Here are a few key tips to help you in your licensing journey:

  • Start strong in your first year. This is important given the fundamental areas of law practice generally covered during the first year of law school, such as contract law, tort law, and constitutional law
  • Leverage academic support. If your law school offers additional support services aimed at improving your preparation, use these as much as possible. These services can include one-on-one tutoring, academic counseling, and mock exam programs
  • Obtain practical legal experience. If possible, gain as much practical experience as you can during law school (e.g., through summer internships, mock trials, etc.). This can go a long way in cementing your legal knowledge
  • Adopt a broad study approach. When studying for the bar exam, you should aim for a wide-ranging understanding of various subjects rather than an in-depth study of a few. This is important given the huge amount of content you’ll need to learn for this test.

Most importantly, make sure you maintain a consistent study schedule so you don’t have to resort to last-minute cramming.

Research shows students can retain a higher degree of information — and more easily — when revisiting old content vs. learning it for the first time. This is known as Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve.

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Other Illinois Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Illinois bar exam, there are a couple of other requirements you will need to meet in order to operate legitimately as a licensed attorney in the state, including:

  • The Character and Fitness Evaluation (Rules 706 and 708)
  • The Newly Admitted Attorney Requirement (Rule 793)

1. Character and Fitness Evaluation (Rules 706 and 708)

To become a licensed attorney in Illinois, you must pass a thorough character and fitness evaluation conducted by the Board.

This evaluation typically includes inquiries into your background with educational institutions, employers, and other relevant entities deemed necessary by the committee.

Note: The committee considers letters of character and recommendation at their discretion, but they aren’t obligated to take these into account.

2. Newly Admitted Attorney Requirements (Rule 793)

As a newly admitted attorney in Illinois, you will need to complete a mandatory basic skills course. This focuses on essential areas, such as professional conduct rules, client communication, and trust account management.

In addition to this requirement, you will need to complete nine hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) credits.

You must fulfill both of these requirements by the last day of the month that marks one year from your date of admission to the Illinois bar.

For detailed information on the post-qualifying requirements for attorneys in Illinois, please refer to Supreme Court Rule 793 on the Illinois Courts’ official website.

Note: In lieu of the Basic Skills Course requirement, you’ll have the option of participating in a mentoring program approved by the Illinois Commission on Professionalism.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

In Illinois, experienced attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions have the opportunity to be admitted to the Illinois Bar through a process called admission on motion, as authorized by the Supreme Court Rule 705.

This process allows for admission without the need to retake the bar exam — as long as the candidate meets certain criteria that demonstrates their competency and dedication to the legal profession.

The Board requires candidates to meet the following criteria in order to receive admission on motion:

  • Attorneys must have been licensed and actively practicing law in the highest court of any US state, territory, or the District of Columbia for at least three out of the last five years
  • Attorneys must fulfill the educational requirements as per Rule 703, which includes completing a high school education, at least 90 semester hours of college or university coursework, and earning a law degree from an ABA-approved law school
  • Applicants must meet Illinois’s character and fitness standards as verified by the Committee on Character and Fitness
  • Attorneys who’ve practiced law for fewer than 15 years will need to pass the MPRE in Illinois or any other jurisdiction
  • Applicants must be in good disciplinary standing and maintain active status in at least one jurisdiction in which they’re licensed

Note: Individuals who’ve failed the bar exam in Illinois within the past five years aren’t eligible for admission on motion.

To apply for admission on motion in Illinois, you must take the following steps:

  • Complete a preliminary questionnaire. Candidates seeking an admission on motion must first complete a preliminary questionnaire and receive approval — a free process
  • Submit a formal application. Upon approval of the preliminary questionnaire, attorneys may proceed with the formal application process and pay the associated fee of $1,500

Note: For more information on the admission on motion process, please refer to the Board’s official website.

Illinois Bar Exam FAQ

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

For practicing attorneys from other jurisdictions, the Illinois State Bar Association offers an admission on motion pathway. This alternative route — primarily used by those actively practicing law — involves fulfilling specific criteria, including a character and fitness questionnaire. Interested in learning more? Check out our What is the Bar Exam article.

How long is the Illinois bar exam?

The Illinois bar exam, which lasts two days, includes the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) on day one followed by the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) on day two. This structure follows the guidelines set by the American Bar Association. Each day’s sessions amount to approximately six hours of examination time.

How hard is it to pass the Illinois State bar examination?

The difficulty of the Illinois bar exam, aligned with the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) standard, is significant, yet manageable with dedicated study. Understanding the Illinois bar exam structure is essential, and reviewing past Illinois bar exam results can provide valuable insights into its difficulty and inform effective study strategies for success.

How much does the Illinois bar exam cost?

The cost of the Illinois bar exam varies based on tiered registration fees for applicants. First-time registrants will face fees of $950 to $1,450, depending on the timing of their Illinois bar exam application submission. Those who’ve previously registered have to pay a reduced fee.