The Ultimate Guide to the Bar Exam


What does Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris share in common?

All of them failed the first bar exam. It’s true!

To be eligible for a license to practice law within a state, you must pass the state bar examination. This is not an easy task, as these three highly successful individuals and many others who failed to pass the bar exam have shown.

Although Enjuris cannot take the test for your benefit, we can help you understand the process and make sure you know who your opponent is (Know Thy Enemy!). You can prepare adequately.

When is the bar exam available?

The bar exam is held twice a year, usually on the last Tuesday or Wednesday of February or July.

How do you apply to the bar exam?

You will need to complete an application if you want to take the bar exam. Although the deadlines vary by state, they are generally at least three months prior to the exam date.

The bar exam is taken by most law students in the summer following graduation from law school. The student must submit their application by the spring of the last year of law school.

Remember that the application process is lengthy and that fees can vary from $100 to $1300 depending on where you live. You’ll need time to prepare for the deadline.

A background check will be required as part of your application. This background check will determine if you are of good moral character and fit to practice law.

Personal information is required to facilitate background checks. You will need to fill out extensive character and fitness forms. Although each jurisdiction is unique, most character and fitness forms require specific information about the following:

  • Places you’ve lived
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Infractions (speeding tickets etc.
  • Disciplinary action
  • Arrests and criminal charges
  • Credit history

Additionally, you will need to collect and submit certain documents such as fingerprints and transcripts from law school.

You can have a smear on your record, but that doesn’t mean you will not pass background checks. Each jurisdiction has its own guidelines about what constitutes “good moral character or fitness”.

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A Kansas felony conviction can bar an applicant from admission. An applicant is not barred from Oregon if he or she has been convicted of a felony. A felony conviction in Indiana is prima facie evidence that an applicant lacks the requisite moral character. However, applicants can overcome this evidence.

What are the main components of the bar examination?

Bar exams are a two-day (or sometimes 3-day) exam administered in every state to determine whether an examinee is competent to practice law there. Each state has a slightly different format, but the general structure includes the following sections.

Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)

The Multistate Bar Examination is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, (NCBE). It is the same test in every jurisdiction, except Louisiana.

The MBE is composed of 200 multiple-choice questions that cover the following areas:

  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Procedure and criminal law
  • Civil procedure

Do you have evidence?

  • Real estate
  • Torts

Examinees have six hours to answer all 200 questions. Each question takes approximately 1 minute and 48 seconds. Most questions have complex facts and attractive answers, which presents a challenge to most examiners.

Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)

The NCBE developed the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), which is administered in 33 jurisdictions.

The MEE is composed of six essay questions that can be used to cover any one of the following areas:

  • Associations for business
  • Civil procedure
  • Conflict of laws
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Procedure and criminal law

Do you have evidence?

  • Family law
  • Real property law
  • Torts
  • Estates and trusts
  • Secure transactions
  • Each question is timed at 30 minutes for examinees. They are then scored on their ability:
  • Recognize legal issues that arise from hypothetical facts
  • Separate material that is relevant is different from what isn’t
  • Present a well-structured, clear and concise analysis of the pertinent issues.
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the legal principles that will likely solve the problems raised

Here is a MEE question taken from the NCBE’s July 2013 bar exam:

A friend asked a man for a loan. A friend agreed to lend the money provided that the interest rate paid by the man was reasonable. After much discussion, they decided to lend $4,000 to the man. The loan would be repaid one-month later with interest at a rate of two percentage points above the First Bank “prime rate”. (First Bank’s prime rate is published daily in the financial media.

The friend presented the man with a check for $4,000 payable to his order at dinner. It was drawn on the friend’s First Bank account. The man gave the friend a signed document dated that date, which he also signed. In its entirety, the document read: “The undersigned agrees to pay the bearer $4,000 plus interest at a rate of two percentage points higher that the prime interest rate charged to First Bank on this date, not later than one month after the date hereof.”

They were robbed after dinner as they waited together for a bus. The robber stole the check and the above-mentioned document from the friend. The robber took the check from the friend and forged the signature of the man on the back. He then sold the check for $3,500 to a check-cashing company. The employees and the business acted in good faith. They had no reason not to believe the check was fraudulently forged or that it did not belong the robber.

The robber gave the document he had taken from his friend the next day to a local investor. He also offered $2,500 cash in exchange. The investor was honest and believed that the document didn’t belong to him.

The manager of the check cashing company took the check to First Bank a few days later and handed it to the teller. He asked for the amount of the check. The teller refused payment because the friend had called First Bank and stopped paying the check.

Accordingly, the teller gave the check back the manager. The investor reached out to the man on the date the document was signed by the man asking him to pay. The man said that he wouldn’t pay as his promise was to his friend and not to the investor. He also claimed that the check of his friend had been taken from him, meaning that he had never received the money his friend had promised him.

  • Is the friend entitled to have the check-cashing company recover the amount? Explain.
  • Is the document signed and signed by the man negotiable? Explain.
  • If the document is a negotiable document, can the investor recover the amount the man promised to pay the friend in the document? Explain.

Although the MBE is considered harder than the MEE, examinees tend to be more concerned about the essay format than the multiple-choice format. It is important to become familiar with the MEE. This can be done by reviewing the answers and taking the MEE’s previously published by the NCBE.