Rhode Island Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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Passing the Rhode Island 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:

  • 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 discuss the process of getting admitted through Admission on Motion.

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Rhode Island Bar Exam Overview

The Rhode Island Bar Exam is administered by the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners, a body appointed and overseen by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

It is held twice per year, which is generally on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July, respectively. Registration deadlines are December 1 for the February exam, and May 1 for the July exam.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible to take the Rhode Island bar exam under Article II of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules and the Board of Bar Examiners Rules of Practice Governing Admission on Examination, you must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Citizenship: Be a citizen of the United States or a legal resident of good character.
  2. Age: Be at least twenty-one (21) years old.
  3. Law Study: Graduate with a law degree from an ABA-accredited law school.
  4. Past Bar Examination Results: Not have failed five (5) or more bar exams in any state or combination of jurisdictions in the United States.
  5. Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE): Achieve a passing score of at least 80 on the MPRE within five (5) years prior to the Rhode Island Bar Exam application deadline.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the Rhode Island Judiciary’s Admission to the Rhode Island Bar page.

Rhode Island Exam Structure

Since 2019, the state of Rhode Island 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, 276 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 bar 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:

  • Federal Civil Procedure
  • Business Associations (e.g., Agency and Partnership, LLCs, Corporations, etc.)
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contract Law
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Secured Transactions
  • 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 Rhode Island Bar Exam

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

Rhode Island Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of Rhode Island’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 Rhode Island Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Rhode Island bar exam, there are a few additional requirements that you will need to meet in order to become and/or remain a licensed attorney in the state, including:

  • Passing a Character and Fitness Interview
  • Completing the Bridge the Gap Program
  • Completing all Necessary Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

Character and Fitness Interview

In Rhode Island, the Committee on Character and Fitness determines the moral fitness of all bar applicants. This is done by scrutinizing their:

  • Criminal records (if applicable)
  • Previous legal training
  • Personal finances

The committee also conducts personal interviews with each applicant and – if further review is warranted – can choose to conduct a full hearing before making a personal recommendation to the Supreme Court (in relation to whether admission into the state’s Bar should be granted or denied).

For more information, you can have a look at the Rhode Island Judiciary’s Committee on Character and Fitness page.

Bridge the Gap Program

Newly admitted attorneys in the state are required to complete the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Bridge the Gap program.

This is a legal education program that has been specifically designed to help all new RI attorneys make a smooth transition from academia (i.e., law school) into law practice. Here’s a few examples of topics that are included:

  • Effective Communication Skills
  • Starting Your Own Practice
  • Real World Ethics
  • Making the Most of Limited Resources
  • Legal Writing in the Real World

Keep in mind that the program needs to be completed by the end of your first full Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) calendar year, and a $125 will need to be paid.

Note: If you have been licensed in another US jurisdiction for three or more years at the time of your admission in Rhode Island, you will be exempt from the Bridge the Gap program requirement.

More information on the Bridge the Gap program can be found on the Rhode Island Bar Association’s New Attorney Requirements page.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

In accordance with Rule 3.2 of Rhode Island’s Admissions law, attorneys in the state are required to fulfill certain ongoing Continuing Legal Education requirements in order to remain licensed.

This equates to 10 hours of CLE in each reporting year, with two of those 10 hours needing to relate to the sphere of legal ethics. This requirement is a part of professional development and is meant to ensure that practicing lawyers remain up to date with the latest legal updates, knowledge, and industry-skills.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education page.

Attorney Applicants

While Rhode Island does not allow reciprocity or admission by motion for attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions, attorney applicants may be entitled to a Modified Bar Exam under RI Sup. Art. II, Rule 2 as long as they:

  • Have engaged in the active practice of law for at least five of the past ten years
  • Can provide the Court with a Certificate of Admission from the highest judicial court in the territory in which they were admitted

If you satisfy the above requirements, as well as otherwise meeting the requirements under subdivisions (a), (b), and (d) of Rule 1, you’ll only be required to take the essay portion of the Rhode Island Bar Examination.

However, if you’ve been practicing for less than five years, or are inactive/not in good standing, you’ll be required to take the full two-day Rhode Island Bar Exam like everyone else.

Rhode Island Bar Exam FAQ

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

No. According to Article 2, Rule 2 of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules and the Board of Bar Examiners Rules of Practice Governing Admission on Examination, all applicants need to have graduated and received an ABA and Board-approved law degree in order to be eligible for the state’s bar exam.

How long is the Rhode Island bar exam?

Since 2019, Rhode Island has adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), a two day exam in which a scaled score is graded out of 400 points. In addition, all RI bar candidates will need to have completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) within five years prior to their bar exam deadline — this is a two-hour exam.

How hard is it to pass the Rhode Island State bar examination?

The Rhode Island bar examination is considered extremely challenging, with many candidates studying between eight and twelve hours as part of their bar review course. Having said that, the exam is undoubtedly passable with the right preparation. For context, the pass rate for first-time takers in the July 2023 exam was 76% (58% for individuals repeating the exam).

How much does the RI bar exam cost?

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners Rhode Island Fee Schedule page, the fee for taking the state’s bar exam will be between $550 and $925, depending on your specific circumstances. There are additionally a few supplemental conditions (i.e., a NCBE character report), which can increase your total cost by around $120-$450.