Wisconsin Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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Wisconsin Bar Exam

Passing the Wisconsin 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 for out-of-state attorneys.

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Wisconsin Bar Exam Overview

The Wisconsin bar examination is conducted by the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE), under the authority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

This governing body is responsible for overseeing the admission process to the Wisconsin State Bar and ensuring that all candidates meet the required ethical and educational standards to practice law within the state.

The bar examination is held twice a year, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July.

For the February session, candidates must adhere to an initial filing deadline of December 1st. Should this be missed, a late filing option is available until January 1st.

For those aiming to take the July session, the initial registration deadline is set for May 1st, with a late registration deadline extending to June 1st.

The standard registration fee is $450 for candidates that meet the initial deadline. Late registrations incur an additional $200 fee, increasing the total cost to $650.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the Wisconsin bar exam, you will need to satisfy the following criteria according to Supreme Court Rule 40, Admission to the Bar:

  1. Age of Majority: Applicants are required to have attained the age of majority under the law of this state. In Wisconsin, this means applicants must be at least 18 years old.
  2. Legal Education: Applicants are required to complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or equivalent degree from an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law school.

Note: Wisconsin is one of the few states that offers diploma privilege. This allows graduates from the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School to be admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam, contingent upon satisfying all other requirements.

Wisconsin Exam Structure

Wisconsin, like several other states, does not use the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), but instead structures its bar exam into three main components.

Here’s the breakdown:

Day 1:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): Two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test Questions
  • Wisconsin Essay Questions: Six essay questions prepared by the Board of Bar Examiners

Day 2:

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): A 200-question multiple-choice exam

To pass, candidates must achieve a combined scaled score of 258. This score can be attained through any combination of scores from the essay and MBE portions of the exam.

Keep in mind that results are generally released about five weeks after the exam date.

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).

Wisconsin Essay Questions

The essay section of the Wisconsin bar exam tests your ability to apply legal principles to hypothetical situations and craft well-reasoned arguments in written form.

You will encounter six essay questions, each designed by the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, covering a range of legal topics relevant to Wisconsin law and general legal principles.

These topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Business Organizations 
  •  Civil Procedure
  • Commercial Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Trusts & Estates, and Family Law

Keep in mind that questions may be designed to incorporate more than one subject area and the BBE and its staff will not provide additional interpretation or definition of the topic areas to be covered.

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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.

Note: Wisconsin does not require passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) in order to be admitted to the bar.

How to Pass the Wisconsin Bar Exam

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

Wisconsin Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of Wisconsin’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 Contracts, 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 Wisconsin Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Wisconsin bar exam, there are several other requirements you will need to satisfy in order to qualify for and continuing practicing law, including:

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

Character and Fitness Evaluation

Before being granted entry to the Wisconsin bar, applicants are required to undergo a character and fitness evaluation. This step involves a thorough review of each applicant’s personal and professional history to assess their ability to uphold the ethical standards of the legal profession.

The evaluation covers areas such as:

  • Academic performance
  • Employment history
  • Criminal records

Applicants are encouraged to be forthright and detailed in their responses, as any attempt to conceal information can lead to more severe repercussions than the disclosed issues themselves.

The Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, or an assigned committee, reviews this information carefully, sometimes requesting additional documentation or personal interviews to clarify or expand on the submitted details.

Continuing Legal Education

In Wisconsin, once admitted to the bar, attorneys are required to engage in ongoing education to maintain their license. This involves complying with the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education obligations outlined in SCR Chapter 31.

In doing so, attorneys must complete 30 hours of CLE every two years, including at least three hours in legal ethics and professional responsibility (EPR).

Recent changes to the Supreme Court rules now permit lawyers to earn up to six hours in courses focused on improving awareness of issues like substance abuse, mental health, stress management, and achieving a work-life balance in the legal field.

Additionally, lawyers can obtain another six hours through law practice management (LPM) courses that cover essential skills such as client communication, trust accounting, record-keeping, and leveraging technology in legal practices.

It should be noted that the CLE credit reporting schedule is based on the attorney’s year of admission to the Wisconsin State Bar. For example those admitted in odd-numbered years are to expect guidance from the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) regarding their reporting obligations in the fall of each odd-numbered year.

Note: For detailed information on the CLE requirements, please visit the official State Bar of Wisconsin website.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

Admission on Motion, often referred to as reciprocity, provides a pathway for lawyers licensed in one jurisdiction to be admitted to practice in Wisconsin without needing to take the Wisconsin bar exam.

The process is governed by Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 40.05, which focuses on legal competence through proof of practice.

The key requirements are as follows:

  • Admission by a Court of Last Resort: Applicants must prove they have been admitted to practice law by a court of last resort in another state, territory, the District of Columbia, or a federally recognized Indian tribe
  • Substantial Engagement in the Practice of Law: Applicants must demonstrate they have been substantially engaged in the practice of law for three out of the last five years prior to applying for admission in Wisconsin

The activities considered as practice of law for this rule include serving as a judge in a court of record, conducting legal services within any level of government or the armed forces, teaching at an ABA-approved law school, and performing legal work within federally recognized Indian tribes.

It is important to note that individuals who have failed the Wisconsin bar examination are not eligible for Admission on Motion.

Note: For more information, visit the Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Chapter 40 on the Wisconsin Courts website.

Wisconsin Bar Exam FAQ

How hard is the Wisconsin bar exam?

The difficulty of the Wisconsin bar exam is subjective and varies based on individual preparation and background. The Wisconsin bar exam format includes essays, multiple-choice questions, and performance tests, such as the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). We recommend analyzing Wisconsin bar exam results, as well as past bar exams , in order to increase your chances of passing on the first attempt.

What is the passing score for the bar exam in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, the passing score for the bar exam is 258 out of a possible 400 points. Candidates must achieve this score through a combination of their Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and written section scores, which include the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and state-specific essays.

How much does it cost to take the Wisconsin bar exam?

The cost to take the Wisconsin bar exam for first-time applicants is $450. Late registrants incur an additional $200 late fee, raising the total to $650. Interested in finding out more? Check out our What is the Bar Exam article.

How many days is the Wisconsin bar exam?

The Wisconsin bar exam spans two days. On the first day, candidates tackle a combination of six essay questions, which may include Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) questions and/or essays crafted by the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, along with two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions. The second day is dedicated to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), featuring a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice examination.