North Carolina Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

Last updated:

Passing the North Carolina 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 as an out-of-state attorney.

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North Carolina Bar Exam Overview

The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners (the Board) conducts the bar exam under the authority of the state’s Supreme Court. The Board is responsible for examining applicants and establishing regulations for admission to the state’s bar, which includes issuing licenses for legal practice within North Carolina.

The bar exam takes place twice a year on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. For the February exam, candidates must file their applications by the first Tuesday in January. For the July exam, the application deadline is the first Tuesday in October.

The fees for taking the bar exam vary depending on the applicant’s status. For those who’ve never been licensed as an attorney in any jurisdiction, the fee is $850, whereas applicants already licensed in another jurisdiction must pay a $1,650 fee instead.

Late applications are also accepted with an additional late-filing fee of $250.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the NC bar exam, you will need to satisfy the following criteria per the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law in the State of North Carolina:

  1. Age Requirement: You must verify you’re at least 18 years old through official documents, such as your birth certificate or a government-issued ID.
  2. Legal Education: You must be a graduate of a law school approved by the Council of the North Carolina State Bar or be expected to graduate within 30 days of taking the bar exam.
  3. Good Standing: If previously licensed to practice law in any other jurisdiction, you must be in good standing in all jurisdictions where you’re licensed and not have any pending charges of misconduct.

Note: Should the Board determine an applicant doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements, it’ll issue a written notification. Upon receipt, the applicant may submit a written withdrawal and, if done within 20 days from receiving the Board’s notification, will receive a full refund of all fees.

North Carolina Exam Structure

In 2019, the state of North Carolina 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, 270 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark.

Moreover, candidates must achieve a scaled score of 80 or higher on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) within the 24 months preceding the bar exam or within the 12 months after passing the bar exam.

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.

How to Pass the North Carolina Bar Exam

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

North Carolina Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of North Carolina’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 North Carolina Bar Requirements

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

  1. Passing the Character and Fitness Evaluation
  2. Satisfying the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements

1. Passing the Character and Fitness Evaluation

After completing the bar exam, candidates enter the Character and Fitness Evaluation phase, during which they interact extensively with a committee — potentially across several sessions — to substantiate their suitability for legal practice.

This evaluation closely inspects past conduct, focusing on disciplinary issues, legal conflicts, and criminal matters. The collected information becomes material and forms a permanent record with the Board.

Transparency is crucial throughout this process, requiring applicants to fully disclose all relevant details of their past — including incidents that’ve been formally expunged or not directly asked for by the Board.

If the Board denies an applicant licensure because of concerns identified in the evaluation, the applicant must wait three years before reapplying. Having said that, the Board might allow an earlier reapplication if the applicant can clearly show they’ve properly resolved the issues leading to the denial.

Note: Any individual has the right to protest the application of someone seeking admission to the practice of law in North Carolina. Protests must be submitted in writing, signed by the protester, and include the protester’s home and business address. This document should then be filed directly with the Board’s Executive Director.

2. Satisfying the CLE Requirements

The North Carolina State Bar requires every practicing attorney to complete 12 hours of CLE annually to stay up-to-date with the latest legal practices and maintain the highest standards of professionalism.

Specifically, these 12 hours must include at least two hours focused on professional responsibility or professionalism as well as one hour focused on technology training.

Newly admitted attorneys also must undertake the Professionalism for New Attorneys (PNA) program, which is designed to ensure new members of the bar are well-versed in professional ethics and values from the beginning of their careers. The PNA program counts toward a new attorney’s annual CLE quota.

It’s also important to note that attorneys may carry forward surplus CLE hours to the next calendar year: up to two hours focused on professional responsibility and 10 hours of general education. Furthermore, every three years, attorneys must complete an additional hour of CLE dedicated to substance abuse awareness or mental health.

Attorneys in North Carolina licensed before July 1 must meet their complete CLE obligations within the same year while those licensed on or after July 1 have a grace period until the following calendar year.

For detailed information and resources on fulfilling your CLE requirements, visit the CLE Requirements page on the North Carolina State Bar website.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

Admission on motion, often referred to as reciprocity, provides a pathway for attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions to gain admission to the North Carolina State Bar without the need to take a written bar exam.

To apply for admission on this basis, attorneys must:

  • Provide certificates of moral character from four individuals familiar with the applicant’s professional integrity
  • Prove they’re in good standing in all jurisdictions where they hold a license to practice law without any pending professional misconduct charges
  • Provide evidence of active practice in law for four of the six years immediately preceding the application

Moreover, attorneys must familiarize themselves with the North Carolina State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct and pay a $2,000 application fee.

Note: Attorneys are ineligible for admission without examination if they’ve taken and failed the North Carolina bar exam within five years prior to the date of filing their comity application.

A full list of states with which North Carolina has comity can be found below:

ArkansasMinnesotaSouth Dakota
District of ColumbiaMontanaUtah
GeorgiaNebraskaUS Virgin Islands
IdahoNew HampshireVermont
IllinoisNew JerseyVirginia
IowaNew MexicoWashington
KansasNew YorkWest Virginia
KentuckyNorth DakotaWisconsin

For more detailed information on the application process and requirements, visit the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners website.

North Carolina Bar Exam FAQ

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

No, to take the bar exam in North Carolina, you must have graduated from — or expect to graduate within 30 days from — a law school approved by the Council of the North Carolina State Bar. Interested in learning more? Check out our What is the Bar Exam article.

How long is the North Carolina bar exam?

The North Carolina bar exam spans two days. On the first day, candidates tackle two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions and six 30-minute Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) questions. The second day features the 200-question Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), divided into morning and afternoon sessions.

How hard is it to pass the North Carolina state bar examination?

Passing the North Carolina state bar exam is challenging due to its comprehensive coverage, which includes topics like the Uniform Commercial Code and legal ethics. Success rates vary, and applicants are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the exam format and the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners’ expectations.

How much does the North Carolina bar exam cost?

The cost of the North Carolina bar exam varies based on the applicant’s licensing history. For individuals not previously licensed in any jurisdiction the fee is $850. Applicants already licensed — whether in state or federal courts — must pay a fee of $1,650. Late applications also will incur a $250 late-filing fee.