The Length of the Bar Exam – What You Need to Know

One of the last steps to becoming a lawyer, the bar exam, is a rigorous test that is designed to measure a student’s knowledge of various subjects in law, their application of these subjects, and their ability to effectively communicate their knowledge and opinions in writing.

With all of the subjects that need testing, you may be wondering: just how long is the bar exam? Read on to find out the exact length of this all-important test and everything else you need to know about its administration.

How Long Is the Bar Exam?

The bar exam is typically a 12-hour test. It is broken up into two days, with 6 hours of testing on one day and the remaining 6 hours of testing on the second day.

However, depending on varying state requirements, your test may have additional components that add more days of testing.

The Uniform Bar Exam vs. State Bar Exams

While these two tests are very similar, there are a few differences between them that can be helpful to understand.

Uniform Bar Exam

Currently accepted in 37 jurisdictions, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a standardized bar exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). This is the test that most law students will end up taking. It does not last longer than 12 hours and has standardized sections you can read about below.

One benefit of taking the UBE is that you can take it in one jurisdiction and transfer your score to another UBE-accepting jurisdiction within 3 months. This provides more flexibility over where you can be employed, and ensures you will not have to retake a state bar exam when practicing in a different jurisdiction.

State Bar Exam

The state bar exam is a performance test drafted and administered by individual states. California and Pennsylvania are the most notable examples of states that administer their own bar exam.

A state bar exam may have some or all of the components of the UBE, but will typically have additional sections that cover state-specific questions. These tests may also be longer in length – for example, California’s bar exam is spread across 3 days.

Sections of the Uniform Bar Exam

The sections of the UBE are standardized and will be the same across every jurisdiction. A state-specific bar exam may have one or more of these sections in addition to extra local law questions.

Multistate Bar Examination

The multistate bar examination (MBE) is a multiple-choice 200 question exam. This test will make up for one day (one 6-hour block) of bar testing. The test will be broken up into 100 questions in the morning block and 100 in the afternoon block. 175 questions are scored, and 25 questions are unscored experimental questions.

This exam section will test a student’s ability to correctly apply fundamental legal principles, analyze fact patterns, and implement effective legal reasoning. 25 questions each will come from these 7 subject areas: civil procedure, torts, evidence, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, contracts, and real property.

The MBE is graded and scored directly by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Multistate Essay Examination

The multistate essay examination (MEE) is used to determine how effectively a student can communicate in writing. It makes up for one half (one 3-hour block) of a day of testing.

This section includes 6, 30-minute essay questions that challenge students to differentiate between relevant and non-relevant information, identify legal issues in factual scenarios, and create a reasoned written analysis of issues.

Essay topics include subjects such as torts, contracts, constitutional law, and family law. You can view a ranking of these subjects from most to least important here. The MEE is only graded by the jurisdiction which administers the exam.

Multistate Performance Test

The multistate performance test (MPT) consists of 2 90-minute exams that are designed to test a student’s application of real-life lawyer skills. It takes up one half a day (one 3-hour block) of testing and is given on the same day as the MEE.

Students will be required to complete a typical attorney task, such as completing a memorandum or composing a closing argument, within the time limit. Skills evaluated are the ability to apply relevant law knowledge to relevant facts in order to aid a client and the ability to analyze statutory, case, or administrative materials and apply applicable law knowledge.

The MPT is also graded only by the jurisdiction that issues the bar exam.

The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

In addition to the UBE or other state-issued bar exam, the MPRE is required for bar admission in every jurisdiction except for Wisconsin and Puerto Rico. The test is a 2-hour, 60-question multiple-choice exam that evaluates a student’s knowledge of established standards surrounding the profession.

Some states, such as Connecticut and New Jersey, will accept successful completion of law school in place of an MPRE score. Each jurisdiction scores this test and sets their own passing score; questions will vary based on which jurisdiction the exam is taken in.

Keep in mind that while this test is not strictly part of the bar exam, it is a test that needs to be passed before bar admission is granted in the majority of jurisdictions. It is administered 3 times a year separately from bar exam administrations.

How Is the Bar Exam Scored?

For the UBE, there is a standardized set of scoring weights: the MBE weighs 50 percent, the MEE weighs 30 percent, and the MPT weighs 20 percent of the total score.

State-administered bar exams may weigh these sections differently, or there may be other scoring considerations due to added exam sections. Always check with your jurisdiction before taking the bar exam to understand the exact content and scoring requirements.

Are There Breaks During the Bar Exam?

There are no breaks during the 3-hour sections of the test; each morning and afternoon block is completely uninterrupted. However, there is a 1-hour lunch break given between these testing blocks.

You will have to leave the room during this break and can take this time to recharge and refuel for the next stretch of testing.

When Is the Bar Exam Administered?

The bar exam is administered twice a year. For the UBE, the MEE and the MPT are always administered on the same day (typically a Tuesday) at the end of February and July. The MBE is issued the day after that.

State-issued bar exams are usually administered on a similar schedule, but this can vary from state to state.

Where Can Bar Exam Jurisdiction Information Be Found?

If you are unsure of which type of bar exam your chosen testing jurisdiction will be offering, you can use this tool on the NCBE’s website. This tool allows you to click on individual jurisdictions and see whether the UBE has been adopted, which sections will be on the bar exam, and any deadlines or fees the jurisdiction may require.

Final Thoughts

gavel on top of books

While it can be anxiety-inducing to think about taking, the bar exam is nothing to be afraid of. It is true that it is a difficult test, but as long as you fully familiarize yourself with the content and length of it, you will be able to effectively prepare for test day. Study hard and keep calm, and you will be well on your way to passing the bar.