Massachusetts Bar Exam

Written by: Will Bond

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Massachusetts Bar Exam

Passing the Massachusetts 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 to give yourself the best chance of passing on your first attempt
  • The additional requirements you’ll need to satisfy to become admitted into the state’s bar

We’ll also briefly look at the process of getting admitted “on motion” in Massachusetts.

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Massachusetts Bar Exam Overview

In Massachusetts, the bar exam is administered by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners. This Board, which is made up of five members appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), is responsible for overseeing the rules and regulations relating to the bar exam in the state.

The bar exam is held at least twice a year in Boston (or a city or town within 50 miles of it) at the ends of July and February, at dates that are set by the Board of Bar Examiners on an annual basis.

To register for the bar exam in Massachusetts, you’ll need to file a Petition for Admission with the Clerk for the Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County at least 75 days before the exam date. This must be done by efiling.

After satisfying the filing requirements, your petition is referred to the Board of Bar Examiners, who will then check you meet the following criteria according to Section 1 of SJC Rule 3:01:

  • College: You must have completed an acceptable bachelor’s degree from a college or university, or have obtained education equivalent to this in the opinion of the Board of Bar Examiners
  • Law School: You must have graduated with a degree of bachelor of laws or juris doctor (JD) from a law school approved by the American Bar Association or authorized by statute Commonwealth to grant these qualifications
  • MPRE: Prior to sitting the bar, you must also have obtained a passing score of 85 or higher on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. Most candidates choose to sit this exam during their second year of law school

Graduates of law schools in foreign countries may be required to take further legal studies at an American Bar Association-approved law school if their education isn’t deemed to be similar in nature and quality to that of graduates from qualifying US law schools.

Note: More information on how the Board of Bar Examiners assesses the educational sufficiency of foreign law school graduates can be found here.

Massachusetts Exam Structure

Since July 2018, Massachusetts has administered the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which 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 Uniform Bar Examination is scored out of 400 points, 270 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark.

After sitting the bar examination, all candidates will be required to complete the Massachusetts Law Component (MLC) in order to be eligible for admission to the 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 Exam (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 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)

The MPRE is made up of 60 multiple-choice questions (50 scored questions and 10 unscored questions) and is administered via Pearson VUE.

Like the MBE exam, 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 and includes the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct and 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 will have two hours to complete the MPRE exam in its entirety.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the NCBE’s Official Sample Test Questions document. A holistic Subject Matter Outline is also offered.

Massachusetts Law Component (MLC)

In addition to the bar exam, you’ll also be required to complete the MLC. This open-book, multiple-choice exam consists of 50 questions regarding 10 areas of Massachusetts law. You must have at least 40 correct answers in order to pass.

After registering to take your bar exam, you should receive an email invite to sign up for the Applicant Portal. This will either be sent in early January (if you’re sitting the bar exam in February), or early June (if you’re sitting it in July).

The deadline by which you’ll need to complete the MLC varies depending on when you’ve booked your bar exam. Candidates taking the bar examination in February will have until March 31st to complete the MLC, while July test takers will have until September 30.

There are no limits on how many times you can attempt the MLC and no associated fees.

Note: The MLC is a pass or fail examination and you should obtain your results immediately after completing it. If you’re unsuccessful in the MLC, you can retake it after a 24-hour waiting period.

How to Pass the Massachusetts Bar Exam

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

Massachusetts Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of the Massachusetts 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.

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Other Massachusetts Bar Requirements

Apart from passing the Massachusetts bar exam, there are several other requirements you will need to meet in order to become a licensed attorney in the state, including:

  1. Satisfying the filing requirements
  2. Meeting Character and Fitness Standards for Admission

1. Filing Requirements

Alongside your Petition for Admission, there are several forms you’ll also be required to submit to the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County in order to satisfy the filing requirements under Section 1 of SJC Rule 3:01, including:

  • A Petitioner’s Statement
  • An Authorization Form
  • A Law School Certificate
  • A Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) Score Report with a qualifying score
  • Two Letters of Recommendation for Admission
  • Current Certificates of Admission and Good Standing from the highest judicial court of all the states, districts, territories, or foreign countries in which you’re admitted (if applicable)

Note: You can find an example of a sample petition here. This document is only meant for reference purposes so that you have an idea of the information and documentation you’ll need to collect in advance of filing; do not submit it as your Petition for Admission by Examination.

2. Moral Character and Fitness

As part of your application to the bar, the Board of Bar Examiners will judge your character, taking into consideration all available information on your past conduct (i.e., from previous employers, educational institutions, and other relevant entities).

If your record demonstrates significant issues with honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability, it could lead to your recommendation to the bar being denied. Problematic behaviors are taken seriously — if there are doubts about your character, you may need to attend an informal interview with the Board of Bar Examiners to address the concerns and demonstrate your current good character and fitness.

After this, the Board decides whether to recommend admission, ask for more information, or hold a formal hearing. If you disagree with the Board’s decision, you can request a hearing with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court within 60 days.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

Under Section 6 of the SJC Rule 3:01, you may be able to apply for admission to the bar in Massachusetts without taking the bar exam if you’ve already qualified as a practicing lawyer in another US state, district, or territory.

This is possible through a process called “Admission on Motion” as long as you meet the following conditions:

Experience: You must have been admitted as a lawyer in another jurisdiction for at least five years before applying in Massachusetts. Additionally, you must have actively practiced or taught law for five of the last seven years.

Character and Qualifications: Your legal practice or teaching since being admitted outside of Massachusetts must prove to the Board of Bar Examiners that you meet their moral character and professional requirements.

Educational Background:

  • If you’re a US graduate: You must have an undergraduate degree and a bachelor of laws/juris doctor from a law school approved by the American Bar Association or authorized by state law to grant legal degrees.
  • If you’re a foreign graduate: You must have an education from a foreign law school that the Board deems equivalent to an American Bar Association-approved law school.

MPRE: Similar to candidates applying for admission by exam, you’ll need to pass both the MPRE (if you haven’t already in another jurisdiction) and the MLC.

For more information on the filing requirements for admission by motion, check out Section 1 of the SJC Rule 3:01.

Massachusetts Bar Exam FAQ

How hard is the Massachusetts bar exam?

The Massachusetts state bar exam is a challenging test that’s on par with the rest of the bar exams across the United States. That being said, the difficulty of this exam can be subjective depending on your background and how well-prepared you are. To ensure you’re thoroughly prepared for this exam, check out our What is the Bar Exam article.

What is the pass rate for the Massachusetts bar exam?

While the pass rate for the Massachusetts bar exam varies each year, it has historically fluctuated around 70%, with some years seeing higher pass rates than others. For example, out of the 1578 examinees that sat the July 2023 bar exam, 72.8 passed. For more Massachusetts bar exam information, see our overview above.

How many times can you take the Massachusetts bar exam?

In Massachusetts, there is no strict limit on the number of times you can take the bar exam. However, it’s important to consider the time and financial investment for each attempt, as well as any potential impact on future career opportunities — continuous improvement and learning from previous attempts are key.

How common is it to fail the bar exam?

While the bar exam is very difficult, many candidates do pass on their first attempt. In July 2023, for example, Massachusetts bar exam results showed that 81.9% of first-time takers passed. With that said, it’s important not to look at failing the exam as a career-ending event but rather a setback — many candidates go on to pass and obtain bar admission in subsequent attempts.