Bar examination

Bar examination

A bar examination is an examination to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction.


In Brazil, there is a bar examination that occurs in each State in March, August and December. These examinations are organized by Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, the Brazilian Bar association.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, the series of exams taken to become a barrister is sometimes known as Bar Vocational Course or BVC.

Nowadays these exams are usually taken as part of the Bar Vocational Course.

See barrister for further information about qualifying in England and Wales.

Etymology: The expression 'call to the bar' is said to have originated from a conversation between two benchers in the smoking room of Inner Temple. Members sometimes cite 'the conversation' to pupils admitted to Inner Temple. The details of the conversation are said to have been lost. Like Mornington Crescent 'the conversation' is a red herring and has no formal content, and often leads to apocryphal embellishments.


In Hungary the Bar Examination is called "Jogi Szakvizsga", can be translated as "Legal Profession Examination". This exam is composed of 3 parts: 1. Criminal Law, Criminal Procedural Law and Penal Law 2. Civil Law, Civil Procedural Law and Economy Law 3. Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Law of the European Union. After passing these exams the candidate can be a barrister or secretary at the court or at the public prosecutor's office or legal executive or may operate individually at any field of law.


The bar exams in Ireland are the preserve of the Honorable Society of King's Inns, which runs a series of fourteen exams over ten weeks, from March to June each year, for those enrolled as students in its one-year Barrister-at-Law degree course. These exams cover such skills as advocacy, research and opinion writing, consulting with clients, negotiation, drafting of legal documents and knowledge of civil and criminal procedure.

For those who fail to meet the requisite 50% pass mark, repeats are held in the following August and September.


The Philippine Bar Examination is administered once every year during the four Sundays of September. It covers eight areas of law, namely: (1) Political Law, (2) Labor Law and Social Legislation, (3) Criminal Law, (4) Civil Law, (5) Commercial Law, (6) Taxation Law, (7) Remedial Law and (8) Legal ethics and practical exercises. It is considered to be one of the most difficult bar exams in the world, having a passing rate that averages in the mere 20%-30% mark, a waiting period of six months and limitations set for exam retakers.

United States

Passing the bar exam is typically only one of several steps for being licensed to practice law. For more information on the complete process, see admission to the bar in the United States.

Bar examinations in the United States are administered by agencies of individual states. The state agency is invariably associated with the judicial branch of government, because American attorneys are all officers of the court of the bar(s) to which they belong.

Sometimes the agency is an office or committee of the state's highest court or intermediate appellate court. In some states which have a unified or integrated bar association (meaning that formal membership in a public corporation controlled by the judiciary is required to practice law therein), the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit thereof. Other states split the integrated bar membership and the admissions agency into different bodies within the judiciary; in Texas, the Board of Law Examiners is appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and is independent from the integrated State Bar of Texas.

In almost all jurisdictions, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an ethics exam, is also administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which creates it and grades it. The MPRE is offered three times a year, in March, August and November.

The bar examination in most U.S. states and territories is two days long and consists of:

  • Essay questions:
    • Essentially all jurisdictions administer several such questions that test knowledge of general legal principles, and may also test knowledge of the state's own law (usually subjects such as wills, trusts and community property, which always vary from one state to another). Some jurisdictions choose to use the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), drafted by the NCBE, for this purpose. Others may draft their own questions with this goal in mind, while some states both draft their own questions and use the MEE.
    • Some jurisdictions administer complicated questions that specifically test knowledge of that state's law.
  • The Multistate Bar Examination, a standardized, multiple-choice examination created and sold to participating state bar examiners by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The MBE contains 200 questions which test six subjects based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (covering sales of goods) that apply throughout the United States .

A majority of U.S. jurisdictions also require a performance test, which is intended to be a more realistic measure of actual lawyering skill. The candidate is presented with a stack of documents representing a fictional case and is asked to draft a memorandum, motion, or opinion document. Many jurisdictions use the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), while California drafts and administers its own performance tests.

When exams occur

Each state controls when it administers its bar exam. Because the MBE is a standardized test, it must be administered on the same day across the country. That day occurs twice a year as the last Wednesday in July and the last Wednesday in February. Two states, Delaware and North Dakota, administer their bar exams only once, in July, since they do not have enough applicants to merit a second sitting. Most bar exams are administered on consecutive days. Louisiana is the exception, administering its three-day examination on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Also, Louisiana's examination is the longest in the country in terms of examination time, with 7 hours on each day for a total of 21 hours.

The MEE and MPT, as uniform though not standardized tests, also must be administered on the same day across the country — specifically the day before the MBE.

All examinees must be present in person, and most states have strict guidelines about what people may take into the examination room, what they may wear during the exam, and when test takers may leave their seats for any reason.

Preparation for the exam

Most law schools prefer to teach students "how to think like a lawyer" but do not specifically prepare law students for any particular bar exam. In fact few law schools offer bar preparation courses, as according to ABA accreditation rules a law school may not count such a course toward academic progress or require students to take it. As one Harvard-trained lawyer put it:

While I may have learned how to 'think like a lawyer' at Harvard, I had few concrete thoughts. I did not know, for example, the different degrees of murder, and for how many years in prison one could be sentenced for each. I did not know when a contract had to be in writing and when it could be oral. I did not know when a bank was liable for a forged check. In short, I knew about Law but did not know the laws.

Therefore, to learn the "black-letter rules" actually tested on the bar, most students engage in a regimen of study (called "bar review") between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar. For bar review, most students in the United States attend a private bar exam review course which is provided by a third-party company and not their law school. Bar review is considered by many to be one of the most stressful and unpleasant experiences which a law student faces before becoming a lawyer.



Over the years, many lawsuits have challenged everything from bar exam scoring, to the imposition of the exam itself.

Arguments against the bar exam

A statement by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) articulates many criticisms of the bar exam. The SALT statement, however, does propose some alternative methods of bar admission that are partially test-based. This statement was also published in 54 JOURNAL OF LEGAL EDUCATION 442–458.

Arguments in favor of the bar exam

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) regularly provides articles relating to the bar examination process. Typically, and not surprisingly, they are in favor of it. To see a general collection of the articles available, go to:

Arguments for alternatives to the bar exam

The NCBE published an article in 2005 addressing alternatives to the bar exam, including a discussion of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, an alternate certification program introduced at Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire in that year. The article can be found at:

See also

External links


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