North Dakota Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

Last updated:

Passing the North Dakota 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 Dakota Bar Exam Overview

Established in 1905 by the North Dakota legislature, the State Board of Law Examiners (the Board) conducts the bar examination in North Dakota.

The bar exam is held in the state capital, Bismarck, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July.

Candidates must submit their applications by October 1 for the February session, or by March 15 for the July session, alongside a $150 fee.

If candidates miss these deadlines, they’ll have a second opportunity to submit their applications (by November 1 for the February exam or by May 1 for the July exam), but will need to pay a fee of $300 instead.

In order to be eligible for the North Dakota bar exam, you will need to satisfy the following criteria per the North Dakota Admission to Practice Rules:

  1. Legal Age: According to Rule 1, applicants need to be at least 18 years old, which they can verify by presenting a government-issued ID or birth certificate.
  2. Legal Education: Rule 5 mandates that applicants must be graduates of a law school in the United States that held the approval of the American Bar Association (ABA) for the entire period of their attendance.
  3. Character and Fitness Approval: As outlined in Rule 2, applicants have to apply for character and fitness approval through the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). This process includes a thorough background examination of the applicant’s personal history, legal background, and professional conduct.
  4. Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE): As required by Rule 6, applicants must achieve a score of 85 or above on the MPRE within five years prior to their bar exam application date.

Note: At any stage of the application process, the North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners may request an applicant to appear before them in order to answer any questions that may arise.

North Dakota Exam Structure

In 2011, the state of North Dakota 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, 260 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark. 

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 Dakota Bar Exam

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

North Dakota Bar Exam Tips

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

Here are 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, tort, 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. This can involve 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 experience can go a long way in cementing your legal knowledge
  • Adopt a broad study approach. When studying for the bar, 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 remain consistent so you don’t 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 Dakota Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the North Dakota bar exam, you’ll need to meet several other requirements in order to become and remain a licensed attorney in the state. These include:

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

1. Passing the Character and Fitness Evaluation

After passing the North Dakota bar exam, applicants may need to respond to additional inquiries or address concerns related to their character and fitness. These concerns could arise from a variety of factors, including past or present issues with substance abuse, financial irresponsibility, or any other matter the Board deems relevant to a candidate’s ability to uphold the ethical standards of legal practice.

In certain cases, the Board may opt for conditional admission or licensure under Rule 9 — a situation that requires ongoing supervision of the applicant’s professional behavior or personal health.

This conditional status requires candidates to adhere to Board-specified conditions which are designed to address identified concerns; this can involve participating in treatment programs, undergoing professional practice oversight, or engaging in a lawyer assistance program.

All costs associated with meeting these conditions fall to the applicant and are designed to both protect the public and affirm the applicant’s readiness for legal practice.

Note: Rule 17 of the North Dakota Admission to Practice Rules empowers the state’s Supreme Court to revoke or suspend a lawyer’s admission for fraudulent activities or material misrepresentation during the admission process.

2. Satisfying the CLE Requirements

Newly admitted attorneys must meet the CLE requirements set by the State Bar Association of North Dakota. Specifically, attorneys must complete at least 45 hours of accredited CLE activities within a three-year period of which at least three credit hours must focus on legal ethics training. To support different learning preferences, attorneys may earn up to 30 CLE hours through self-study.

Keep in mind that you will need to fulfill all CLE requirements by June 30 of the reporting year in which they are due, and will be required to report them to the State Bar Association of North Dakota by July 31.

Attorneys who exceed the 45-hour CLE requirement within a three-year period may transfer up to 15 additional hours into the subsequent reporting cycle (excluding any hours earned from ethics courses).

Note: The State Bar Association of North Dakota actively encourages its members to engage with the CLE program by suggesting topics and speakers or even by offering to present themselves.

Admission by Motion (Reciprocity)

North Dakota allows attorneys from other jurisdictions to join the North Dakota bar without taking the bar exam through a process known as Admission by Motion.

To be admitted by motion, applicants must:

  • Be licensed members of the bar in another state or the District of Columbia for at least five years
  • Have been actively engaged in the practice of law for at least four of the last five years in capacities like private practice, serving as a judge, teaching law at an ABA-accredited law school, or performing legal work in a legal capacity
  • Submit proof of good standing in all jurisdictions where the applicant is admitted to the bar
  • Provide a detailed disclosure of their practice history, which includes specific roles and responsibilities, in order to demonstrate their legal experience and bring forth references attesting to their moral character

Alternatively, an applicant may qualify for admission by motion by achieving a scaled score of 85 or above on the MPRE, a scaled score of 260 or above on the UBE administered in another jurisdiction, or a scaled score of 150 or above on the MBE provided they’ve been admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction where they took the test.

Note: Should the Board conclude an applicant’s legal experience fails to sufficiently demonstrate competency in practicing law, it reserves the right to require the applicant to take an attorney’s examination. The specifics of the examination, including its date, time, location, and content, will be determined by the Board.

For more information, visit the Admission by Motion page on the North Dakota Courts website.

North Dakota Bar Exam FAQ

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

No, you can’t take the bar exam in North Dakota without attending law school. The state requires all candidates to be graduates of an ABA-approved law school in order to be eligible for the bar exam. Interested in learning more? Take a look at our What is the Bar Exam article.

How long is the North Dakota bar exam?

The North Dakota bar exam, which is overseen by the North Dakota Board of Law Examiners, is conducted over two days. Day one includes two 90-minute MPT questions and six 30-minute MEE questions. Day two features the 200-question MBE, which is divided into two three-hour sessions.

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

Passing the North Dakota State bar exam requires a solid grasp of various legal subjects and the ability to effectively apply this knowledge under exam conditions, which can be quite challenging. For details on exam dates, application procedures, or additional guidance, contact the Law Examiners Judicial Wing.

How much does the North Dakota bar exam cost?

The North Dakota bar exam costs $150 for applications submitted by the initial deadlines: October 1 for the February exam and March 15 for the July exam. For late submissions, the fee increases to $300. For more information, check out our North Dakota Bar Exam article.