Pennsylvania Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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Pennsylvania Bar Exam

Passing the Pennsylvania 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 explore how to gain entrance to the bar via Admission on Motion.

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Pennsylvania Bar Exam Overview

In Pennsylvania, the bar exam is overseen by the Board of Law Examiners — an entity empowered by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to admit qualified individuals to the Bar. The Board is composed of experienced legal professionals appointed by the Supreme Court to ensure the integrity of the legal system is preserved.

Conducted biannually, the Pennsylvania bar exam takes place at the end of February and July. Aspiring candidates will need to submit applications to take the bar exam by October 30 for the February exam or April 15 for the July exam.

If you miss these dates, you’ll still be able to apply until December 15 for the February exam and May 30 for the July exam, but will have to pay late fees of up to $1,500 depending on how late your submission is. Any applications received after these final deadlines will not be accepted.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible to take the Pennsylvania bar exam, you must meet the following criteria as outlined in Rule 203 of the Pennsylvania Bar Admission Rules:

  • Hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university, or possess education considered equivalent by the Board
  • Complete law study and receive a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from an ABA-accredited law school
  • If you obtained graduate of a JD or LLB from a non-ABA-accredited law school, you must meet the following additional qualifications:
    • Be a member of the bar in a state that has a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania
    • Show evidence of engaging in the legal profession for five out of the last seven years before applying — such as practicing law in a reciprocal state or full-time teaching at an accredited law school in the U.S
  • Present a certificate of good standing from the bar in every state or jurisdiction where you have been admitted to practice law

Note: Keep in mind that if you have previously been disbarred or suspended for disciplinary reasons from the practice of law in another jurisdiction at the time of filing an application you will not be eligible to sit for the bar exam.

Pennsylvania Exam Structure

Since 2022, the state of Pennsylvania 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, 270 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark.

In addition to the UBE, candidates will also be required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) to be eligible for the Pennsylvania 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 bar exams 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 Pennsylvania Bar Exam

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

Pennsylvania Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of Pennsylvania’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 Pennsylvania Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Florida bar exam, there are several other requirements you will need to meet for The State Bar of Florida to sign off on your application, including:

  • Passing the Character and Fitness Review
  • Complying with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements

Character and Fitness Review

In order to protect the public from unfit legal professionals, The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners conducts a thorough review of each applicant’s character and fitness to ensure they meet the ethical standards required to practice law.

This will involve filing a completed application online using this web portal and providing the Board with certain background information. Bear in mind that your previous colleges, employers, law schools (and any other relevant sources) may be contacted in order to verify the information you provide.

According to the Board of Law Examiners, an applicant will demonstrate sufficient character and fitness if their record justifies the trust of the various members of the legal profession (e.g., clients, courts, etc.). This sort of candidate is characterized by honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness.

In the event that your record contains any conduct or incidents that do align with these expectations, you will likely be asked to provide an explanation — though the Board still reserves the right to refuse to recommend you for admission to the Bar.

This doesn’t mean any prior misconduct on your record will automatically sink your application, as the Board will consider the following factors when judging your application:

  • Your age at the time of the conduct
  • How recent the conduct is
  • The seriousness of the conduct
  • What factors were underlying the conduct
  • Your positive social contributions since then

Remember, it will be your job to prove that you possess the character and fitness necessary to successfully carry out an attorney’s duties — not the Board’s. Even your candor in the admissions process can influence the outcome of this investigation.

Note: If you have any questions or doubts regarding this review, be sure to consult the Board using the details on their contact information page.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements

Following a Supreme Court of Pennsylvania order in 1992, all lawyers who registered to practice in this state after this date are required to undertake 12 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) each year.

Since 2014, active lawyers have been required to spend these 12 hours as follows:

  • Ethics, professionalism, or substance abuse (2 hours)
  • Substantive law, practice, and procedure (10 hours)

New attorneys are exempt from these requirements for the first 12 to 24 months following their admission to the Pennsylvania bar, depending on their assigned compliance group. Once this exemption period ends, they’ll have until the end of the next compliance period to fulfill their CLE obligations.

The deadlines for meeting these requirements are based on your compliance group, which you’ll be randomly assigned according to your attorney identification number. Depending on your group, your deadline will be one of the following dates:

  • April 30 — Compliance Group 1
  • August 31 — Compliance Group 2
  • December 31 — Compliance Group 3

If you fail to complete these CLE requirements by the deadline for your compliance group, you’ll be sent a report of non-compliance by the Board and will have 60 days to comply. You will also have to pay a $100 late fee that increases by another $100 if the CLE requirement isn’t satisfied within 90 days.

Note: If you still haven’t met these requirements by this time, the Supreme Court will add your name to a Non-Compliant List and suspend your license until you complete your CLE hours and pay all late fees plus an additional $100.

Admission by Reciprocity

Instead of completing the Pennsylvania Bar Exam in order to be admitted to the Bar, you’re also able to apply for Admission by Reciprocity if you’re licensed to practice law in another state and meet the following requirements:

  1. Educational Requirements: Applicants must have earned a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school at the time they matriculated or graduated
  2. Membership in a Reciprocal State: The applicant must be an active member in good standing of the bar of a reciprocal state at the time of application
  3. Certificate of Good Standing: Applicants must present a certificate of good standing from the highest court or agency with jurisdiction over admission to the bar in every state where they have been admitted
  4. Legal Practice: Applicants must have devoted a major portion of their time and energy to the practice of law for five of the seven years immediately preceding the application. This can include private practice, legal services in government agencies, teaching law at an accredited institution, judicial service, corporate counsel, or legal functions in the military service
  5. Passing the Bar Examination in a Reciprocal State: Proof that the applicant has either passed the bar exam in a reciprocal state or has practiced law there for five out of the last seven years

Satisfaction of Additional Requirements: Fulfillment of other requirements as outlined in Rule 203, including character and fitness evaluation.

Below, we’ve included a list of all the states that Pennsylvania shares a reciprocity agreement with:

ArizonaMichiganSouth Dakota
IdahoNew HampshireVirgin Islands
IllinoisNew JerseyVirginia
IndianaNew MexicoWashington
IowaNew YorkWashington DC
KansasNorth CarolinaWest Virginia
KentuckyNorth DakotaWisconsin

Note: The cost of applying for Admission by Reciprocity in Pennsylvania is $1,325.

Pennsylvania Bar Exam FAQ

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

In Pennsylvania, it is not possible to sit for the bar examination without having completed a formal law school education. The general requirements for permission to sit for the bar examination in Pennsylvania include having an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university and completing the study of law at a law school that was accredited at the time the applicant matriculated or graduated.

How long is the Pennsylvania bar exam?

The Pennsylvania Bar Exam is a two-day examination, forming part of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). On the first day, candidates are required to complete six 30-minute Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) questions in the morning and two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions in the afternoon. The second day of the exam is dedicated to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a 200-question multiple-choice test divided into two sessions of 100 questions each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

How hard is it to pass the Pennsylvania bar examination?

The Pennsylvania bar examination is challenging, not only because of the sheer amount of content it involves, but also the fact that it lasts two days. With that said, this exam is highly passable if you prepare effectively. For example, factual data from last year indicated that 71% of candidates achieved a total scaled score that passed the exam.

How much does the PA bar exam cost?

The cost for the PA bar exam encompasses more than just the examination fee. Law students must budget for the exam fee ($650 – $1,500), character and fitness evaluation fees ($325), and other miscellaneous expenses. These costs can accumulate, representing a significant financial commitment to becoming a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania.