The bar exam is an extensive government-issued test that every law student in the US must pass before going on to practice law. The tests vary by state, geared towards the issuing state’s laws, and typically last two to three days. Before someone can practice law in a particular location, he or she must pass that state’s bar exam.
Though exams differ, in general, the exam consists of a series of essay questions regarding state law and general legal principles. This portion of the bar may last one to two days. A separate day is reserved for taking the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) in participating states. This 200-question test covers common law. Since this portion is standardized, the MBE is issued on the same day throughout the United States.
The parts that make up each test differ among states and US territories. Louisiana and Puerto Rico do not use the MBE, for example, as they are civil jurisdictions not beholden to common law. Performance tests, which ask a law student to write a legal memorandum or other similar tasks, might also be part of the exam. California boasts one of the most difficult bar exams in the nation, and includes the California Performance Test (CPT). Each student has three hours to digest a fictional case and then write a memorandum, issue an opinion, or deliver some other finding. Outside California, the equivalent is the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) &mdashl which is generally considered to be a less taxing, 90-minute version of the CPT.
In addition to the bar, although issued separately, some states, like California, require an ethics test called the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The MPRE is administered and graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and is administered three times a year.
To prepare for the exam, most students take classes from private companies. Many focus on specific aspects of the tests, such as the MBE. Some test preparation companies go into greater depth, offering courses on torts, real property and criminal law, among other subjects.
Students can find out what a specific state's requirements are for the bar exam by visiting that state's bar association's website. Once the exam is passed, the lawyer becomes a member of the bar association.