New York Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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New York Bar Exam

Passing the New York 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 look at the process of getting admitted without a completed law degree.

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New York Bar Exam Overview

The bar examination in the state of New York is administered via the New York State Board of Law Examiners, which has been in existence since 1894 – over 125 years ago.

The State Board’s operations are overseen by a five-member Board of Attorneys, which is appointed by the New York Court of Appeals.

If you are interested in sitting the bar exam in NY, you should know that exams are administered twice per annum, on the last consecutive Tuesday and Wednesday of each February and July.

Registrations need to be carried out between October 1 and October 31 for the February exam cycle and between March 1 and March 31 for the July exam cycle.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the NY bar exam, you will need to satisfy one of the following criteria according to Section 520 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals:

  1. ABA Approved Law School Study (JD Graduates): Attend and graduate from a law school in the US, which at all times during your attendance is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
  2. Law Office Study: Complete a combination of ABA-approved law school study and law office study.
  3. Unapproved Law School Study: Graduate from an unapproved law school in the US with a JD degree and practice in a jurisdiction where you are admitted for 5 out of the seven years preceding your NY bar exam application.
  4. Foreign Law School Study: Complete a program of study at a law school outside the US that is durationally and substantially commensurate to an ABA-approved law school.
  5. Pro Bono Scholars Program: If you are currently in your last year of JD at an ABA-approved law school, you may be able to qualify to sit for the February bar exam in return for devoting your last semester of study to performing pro bono legal services through an approved program.

Note: First-time applicants who have graduated with a JD degree from a New York State law school will be given first priority to select their desired location when registering for the bar exam.

New York Exam Structure

Since 2016, the state of New York has adopted 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 UBE exam is scored out of 400 points, 266 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark.

Moreover, candidates will be required to pass the following supplementary exams and complete the following course in order to be eligible for the New York bar:

  • Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
  • New York Law Course (NYLC)
  • New York Law Exam (NYLE)

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.

NYLC and NYLE

Following a statement from the Court of Appeals, the New York State Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) created the New York Law Course (NYLC), as well as the New York Law Exam (NYLE) — both of which relate to NY-specific law.

Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know for each one.

NYLC

The NYLC is an online course that covers important aspects of the New York legal system, including:

  • Administrative Law
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Contract Law
  • Business Relationships
  • Matrimonial and Family Law
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Trusts, Wills, and Estates
  • Real Property

The course entails around 15 hours of videotaped lectures that contain embedded questions. Keep in mind that each lecture’s questions will need to be answered correctly in order to begin the next one.

NYLE

The NYLE is a 50-question, multiple-choice, open-book exam that is offered four times per annum.

Keep in mind that failing the NYLE will result in you having to retake both the NYLC and the NYLE.

BOLE notes that the NYLE exam is rigorous even though it’s administered in an open-book format. This means that, in addition to the NYLC, it is recommended that you have a look and take some time going over the revised Course Materials that are offered.

Note: The New York State Board of Law Examiners additionally offers a Sample Questions document with 20 questions.

How to Pass the NY Bar Exam

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

New York Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of NY’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.

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Other New York Bar Requirements

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

  1. Completing the Mandatory 50-Hour Pro Bono Requirement
  2. Satisfying the Skills Competency Requirement
  3. Providing Proof of Moral Character

1. 50-Hour Pro Bono Requirement

In accordance with Rule 520.16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals, every applicant admitted to the New York State Bar on or after January 1, 2015, shall need to have completed at least 50 hours of “qualifying” pro bono work. This can be done within one of the US’s jurisdictions or in a foreign country.

Qualifying pro bono work is defined in section 520.16 (b), which includes:

Assisting in the provision of legal services without charge:

  • Persons of limited means
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or promote access to justice (e.g., civil rights, civil liberties, etc.)

Assisting in the provision of legal assistance in public service for a judicial, executive, or legislative government entity (i.e., judge, prosecutor, etc.).

Keep in mind that supervision is required, and as such, all qualifying pro bono work will need to be performed under the supervision of:

  • A member of a law school faculty
  • An attorney admitted to practice and in good standing in a US jurisdiction
  • A judge or attorney employed by the court system (e.g., in the case of a clerkship)

Note: Work that relates to partisan political activities does not qualify for New York’s 50-hour pro bono requirement.

2. Skills Competency Requirement

In accordance with Section 520.18 of the Rules for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, all candidates are required to establish that they have acquired the skills and professional values that are necessary to competently practice law.

This requirement can be satisfied via a variety of different methods, such as by:

  • Submitting a certificate from an ABA-approved law school that confirms that it has incorporated into its curriculum the skills and professional values that are required for graduates’ “basic competence and ethical participation” in legal practice
  • Submitting a certificate from an ABA-approved law school that confirms you enrolled in and successfully completed 15 credit hours of practice-based experiential courses that were designed to foster the development of professional and ethical competencies
  • Completing the Pro Bono Scholars Program of section 520.17, which is a voluntary component of legal education that allows students in their final semester of study to become involved in work that relates to amplifying individuals’ access to justice
  • Completing a qualifying apprenticeship. This is a six-month full-time apprenticeship in a law office in the US under the supervision of one or more attorneys who have been licensed for a minimum of two years. Keep in mind that the apprenticeship does not have to be paid
  • Having practiced in another US jurisdiction or in a foreign jurisdiction outside of the US. Keep in mind that you will need to submit proof that you have been operating for at least one year and are in good standing with your jurisdiction in order to qualify

Since the state’s skill competency requirement can be satisfied via any of the methods mentioned above, most candidates end up picking the route that organically makes sense for them, depending on their existing credentials and short-term plans.

3. Proof of Moral Character

Every applicant for the New York bar will need to provide proof of good moral character.

This is done by submitting affirmations from reputable sources to a special committee appointed by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court that confirm that you have the moral character and fitness needed to operate ethically as an attorney in accordance with section 90 of the Judiciary Law.

Keep in mind that the Appellate Division decides how many affirmations are needed, as well as who qualifies to provide them (e.g., who can be a “reputable source”).

Note: Affirmations alone aren’t a guarantee that you will pass this requirement, and the Appellate Division can choose to conduct further investigations if necessary before making a final decision.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

Section 520.10 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law allows admission “on motion” or reciprocity without examination under specific circumstances.

This means that if you are currently licensed and in good practice in another US jurisdiction or a foreign country, you may be able to become admitted into the NY bar without having to retake an exam (a $400 fee is levied for this).

Let’s take a look at a few of the scenarios in which the Appellate Court can decide to admit applicants in motion/without an exam:

  • Applicants that have been admitted to practice in the highest law court in any other state or territory of the US. This is generally each state’s supreme court
  • Applicants that have been admitted to practice in another country whose judicial system is based upon the principles of English common law (e.g., the UK, Cyprus, Singapore, etc.), are currently admitted to the bar in such jurisdiction and have practiced for at least five of the seven years immediately preceding your application
  • Applicants that have been employed in any state or US territory as a full-time member of the law faculty teaching in an ABA-approved law school and have attained the rank of professor or associate professor for at least five of the seven years preceding the application

Note: There are certain jurisdictions that have entered into specific formation reciprocity agreements with New York and have established specific standards for admission on motion. These can be more lenient than the general rules for admission discussed above (e.g., New Jersey and New York, etc.).

A full list of reciprocity states for New York can be found below:

AlaskaMassachusettsOregon
ArizonaMichiganPennsylvania
ArkansasMinnesotaSouth Dakota
ConnecticutMississippiTennessee
ColoradoMissouriTexas
District of ColumbiaMontanaUtah
GeorgiaNebraskaVermont
IdahoNew HampshireVirginia
IllinoisNew JerseyWashington
IndianaNew MexicoWest Virginia
IowaNorth CarolinaWisconsin
KansasNorth DakotaWyoming
KentuckyOhio
MaineOklahoma

For more information, you can have a look at the New York State Board of Law Examiners’ Admission on Motion/Reciprocity page.

New York Bar Exam FAQ

Can you take the bar without going to law school in New York?

Yes and no. You can be admitted into the New York bar without sitting an examination as a candidate “in motion,” but that would assume that you have practiced and/or studied in another jurisdiction. If this is not the case, you can choose to complete one year of law school in combination with three years of law office study (Section 520.4), but you will not be able to omit law school entirely.

How long is the New York bar exam?

New York administers the UBE exam, which spans over two separate days. Having said that, you will also need to complete additional exam requirements, including the MPRE, the NYLC, and the NYLE. For more New York bar exam information, see our overview above.

How hard is it to pass the New York State bar examination?

Passing the New York bar exam is undoubtedly very challenging, but it is definitely doable with the right preparation. As of the latest data issued by the New York State Board of Law Examiners, first-time takers from NY ABA law schools had an 81% pass rate. This was 85% for out-of-state ABA law schools and 52% for foreign-educated takers.

How much does the NY bar exam cost?

This will depend on where you studied law. If you studied in the US, your application fee will be $250; this is $750 for applicants who studied outside the US. You will also need to pay $27 for taking the NYLE.