Preparing for the Bar Exam

Admission to practice law in the majority of states requires completion of two exams: the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and the Bar Exam.  Students are advised to take the MPRE during their 2L or 3L year, ideally during or immediately after taking Professional Responsibility (a required course for graduation).  Students must graduate prior to taking the Bar Exam, which is offered in July and February each year with bar applications due 1-5 months in advance, depending on the jurisdiction.  See www.ncbex.org for more information on individual jurisdictions.

Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions about the MPRE and the Bar Exam.

MPRE FAQs

The MPRE is a 2-hour, 60 multiple-choice question exam that tests the examinee’s knowledge and understanding of established standards of the professional conduct of lawyers.

Most likely yes. Every jurisdiction in the United States requires that you take the MPRE in order to be a licensed attorney except for Wisconsin and Puerto Rico. Additionally, Connecticut and New Jersey accept successful completion of a law school course on professional responsibility in lieu of a passing score on the MPRE.

The MPRE is administered at over 300 test center locations, and you can take the MPRE in whatever location is most convenient. During the application process you will specify which jurisdiction you would like your score sent to and can order additional score reports later if needed.  Available test centers will be listed once you begin your registration.

 It depends on the jurisdiction.  The MPRE is scored on a scale of 50-150 and each jurisdiction sets its own passing score.  Utah and California, for example, require a score of 86.  Check www.ncbex.org to see specific jurisdiction passing scores.

The test is 2 hours and includes 60 multiple choice questions. Questions are based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, controlling constitutional decisions, and generally accepted principles from federal and state cases and procedural and evidentiary rules. As of the March 2020 exam, all exams are computer-based.

The MPRE is offered 3 times per year—generally in March, August, and November. For 2021, the MPRE test administrations are March 29 or 30, August 11 or 12, and November 4 or 5.

Register online at www.ncbex.org.

Registration closes approximately two months before the test date. The process involves a verification step, so students should anticipate registration, scheduling, and payment to occur over at least two days. It is probably not possible to begin and end registration on the last day it is open, so students should plan ahead.

Registration costs $135.00 and must be paid by debit or credit card.

We strongly recommend that you complete or be concurrently enrolled in Professional Responsibility prior to taking the MPRE.  However, you are not required to take Professional Responsibility prior to taking the MPRE.

We recommend that you take the MPRE during your 2L year during fall or winter semester. If you are unable to do so, we strongly recommend that you take the MPRE in the fall semester of your 3L year to provide you the option of a retake in the spring of your 3L year if necessary.

The MPRE is not an easy exam or an exam based on common sense.  Nearly 25% of examinees score at or below a 70, which is a failing score in even the most lenient jurisdictions.  Invest the 15-20 hours of study to pass the first time so you do not have to spend more time, money, and effort on a retake.

It depends on the jurisdiction.  Check www.ncbex.org to see if your jurisdiction allows you to take the MPRE after the Bar Exam.  However, we strongly recommend you take the MPRE prior to taking the Bar Exam.

Several of the commercial bar prep courses offer free, comprehensive MPRE courses to law students.  These courses are offered online and on-demand.  The courses generally include a 3-4 hour lecture, an outline, practice questions and/or flashcards, and 2-4 practice exams.  See the “MPRE Preparation Options” handout for a comparison of the different course options.  Select the one that will work best for you.

MPRE courses are generally offered one month before each test date. Given that most of the courses offer a 3-4 hour lecture, practice questions, flashcards, and several full-length practice exams, students should plan to study for 15-20 hours in the two weeks leading up to the exam.

Yes, they are free to law students. The commercial companies use these courses as a marketing tool, hoping that students will become familiar with the company’s interface and then want to select that company in choosing the student’s full Bar Exam preparation course. Expect to receive marketing emails from the commercial company you register with as a result. Quimbee is a subscription-based service, but BYU Law School has purchased a Quimbee subscription for each student, so there is no cost to BYU Law Students for the Quimbee MPRE course.

Each of the commercial courses and Quimbee seek to be comprehensive, so you do not need to sign up for multiple courses. However, some students register for more than one commercial course and/or Quimbee to have access to additional practice questions, to watch other lectures, to see other outlines, etc. Students should also review the study materials posted by NCBE to supplement their study.

The commercial MPRE prep courses are generally offered one month before each test and have unlimited enrollment. Visit the company’s individual website to enroll. Note that you do not have to be registered for the MPRE exam to enroll in a course. The Quimbee course can be taken at any time during the year. Study materials from NCBE can be downloaded at any time and do not require a student to register with NCBE in order to access the materials with the exception of the practice test, which students must pay $45.00 to access.

Practice exams are online, and you will receive graded feedback immediately. Most of the MPRE courses offer explanations for the answer to each question; some also show where you made an error and identify areas of weakness where you need to spend more time studying.

NCBE is the organization that creates the MPRE and is not a commercial company; as a result, NCBE offers very limited preparation materials, so students should not rely exclusively on NCBE’s materials for preparation. Specifically, NCBE provides a 1-page subject matter outline of subjects that will be tested, 15 sample questions, a 1-page list of key words and phrases (which all students taking the MPRE should review), and one 60-question practice exam that students can take for $45.00. NCBE does not offer lectures, outlines, additional practice questions, or additional practice exams; therefore, students should not rely on the NCBE website alone to prepare them for the exam.

  • Question 1:
  • An attorney represented the wife in an acrimonious divorce proceeding involving issues of property division and child custody. After one day of trial, the husband, through his lawyer, made a settlement offer. The proposed settlement required that the wife’s attorney agree not to represent the wife in any subsequent proceeding, brought by either party, to modify or enforce the provisions of the decree. The wife wanted to accept the offer, and her attorney reasonably believed that it was in the wife’s best interest to do so because the settlement offer was better than any potential award to the wife resulting from the case going to judgement. Consequently, the attorney recommended to the wife that she accept the offer. Was it proper for the wife’s attorney to recommend that the wife accept the settlement offer?

    1. (A) No, because the attorney did not obtain the wife’s informed consent to the conflict of interest created by the proposed settlement.
    2. (B) No, because the proposed settlement restricted the attorney’s right to represent the wife in the future.
    3. (C) Yes, because the restriction on the attorney was limited to subsequent proceedings in the same matter.
    4. (D) Yes, because the attorney reasonably believed that it was in the wife’s best interest to accept the proposed settlement.
  • Question 2:
  • An experienced oil and gas developer asked an attorney to represent him in a suit to establish the developer’s ownership of certain oil and gas royalties. The developer did not have available the necessary funds to pay the attorney’s reasonable hourly rate for undertaking the case and proposed instead that, if he prevailed in the lawsuit, he would pay the attorney 20% of the first year’s royalties recovered in the suit. Twenty percent of the first year’s royalties would likely exceed the amount that the attorney would have received from charging his regular hourly rate. The attorney accepted the proposal.

    Is the attorney subject to discipline?

    1. (A) Yes, because the agreement gave the attorney a proprietary interest in the developer’s cause of action.
    2. (B) Yes, because the fee was likely to exceed the amount that the attorney would have received from charging his regular hourly rate.
    3. (C) No, because the developer rather than the attorney proposed the fee arrangement.
    4. (D) No, because the attorney may contract with the developer for a reasonable contingent fee.
  • Question 3:
  • An attorney represents a company that produces chemical products. Some of the waste products of the company’s manufacturing processes are highly toxic and are reasonably certain to cause substantial bodily harm if disposed of improperly. The president of the company recently informed the attorney that a new employee mistakenly disposed of the waste products in the ground behind the company plant, an area that is part of the source of the city’s water supply. The attorney advised the president that, although the conduct was criminal, the company could be civilly liable for negligence in lawsuits brought by any persons harmed by the waste products. The attorney advised the president to immediately report the problem to the city authorities. Fearful of adverse publicity, the president declined to do so. The attorney further advised the president that she believed the president’s decision was immoral. The president continued to decline to report the matter. The attorney then informed the president that she was withdrawing from the representation and would inform the authorities herself. Immediately after withdrawing, the attorney reported the company’s conduct to the authorities. Is the attorney subject to discipline?

    1. (A) Yes, because the information was given to the attorney in confidence and may not be revealed without the client’s consent.
    2. (B) Yes, because the company’s conduct was not criminal.
    3. (C) No, because the attorney reasonably believed that the company’s disposal of the waste products was reasonably certain to cause substantial bodily harm.
    4. (D) No, because the attorney reasonably believed that the president was pursuing an imprudent course of conduct.

Bar Exam FAQs

The Bar Exam is offered in February and July each year in almost all jurisdictions. North Dakota will only offer the February exam if there are 10 or more applicants. Delaware and Palau only offer the July exam. Puerto Rico offers the exam in March and September.

The Bar Exam is administered by individual jurisdictions.  As a result, you must register for the Bar Exam using the requirements of the jurisdiction you are applying to be admitted to.  The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) publishes a “Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admissions” online at its website (www.ncbex.org) that provides a guide to bar admission requirements for every jurisdiction in the United States; it is an excellent starting point for bar application research and you can also review this document for a breakdown of unique requirements. After you have decided which jurisdiction you will take the bar in, visit the individual jurisdiction’s bar website to begin the application process.

Because each jurisdiction sets its own requirements for bar admission, some jurisdictions have chosen to have additional requirements before a student can sit for the Bar Exam and/or before a student can be admitted to that jurisdiction’s bar. For example, Alaska requires that applicants attend a presentation on attorney ethics prior to admission, Virginia requires that newly admitted attorneys take a professionalism course within 12 months of admission, and New York requires that bar applicants complete fifty hours of pro bono service prior to being sworn in. You can find specific requirements at individual bar websites.

Bar applications are created by individual jurisdictions; however, filling out a bar application is usually a very extensive and time-consuming process that you should start several months before the state-determined application deadline.

For example, in Utah, you must provide a background check, DMV records, six references, and information and reports regarding criminal records, military records, credit history, bankruptcy, taxes, civil cases, traffic violations for the past ten years, professional discipline, child and spousal support, physical addresses for the past ten years, educational discipline, and employment history for the past ten years. Therefore, you should plan to start early and set aside some significant time to fill out your bar application carefully and thoroughly.

Registration deadlines are set by individual jurisdictions and can change each year but are generally several months in advance of the examination date. For the July 2019 Bar Exam, for example, deadlines for registration were between January – June of 2019.

Each jurisdiction sets its own costs, but the price ranges from $150.00 – $1,500.00, with the average cost being around $700.00. Note that this cost does not include the cost of a bar preparation course or the cost of applying to be admitted to the state’s bar after you pass the exam.

Yes, to ensure that every student can take a comprehensive bar prep class, BYU Law School provides a “Bar Prep Woolley Loan” that will cover the full cost of a bar class. Review this handout for more details including how to apply and what exactly the loan covers.

The Bar Exam is an intense and challenging exam that students should take very seriously. We advise BYU Law School students to study for twelve full weeks following graduation and treat their study for the bar as a full-time job during that time (forty hours per week, five hundred hours in sum). Students should not plan to work or vacation or casually study during their twelve weeks of study. Additionally, students should take a comprehensive commercial bar preparation course as part of their twelve-week study plan, which will provide them with both the materials for studying (outlines, lectures, practice questions, practice exams, etc.) and a structured schedule for their study.

BYU Law School has historically enjoyed a very high rate of passage on the Bar Exam, and this is a direct result of the significant effort put into bar study by our students. Though a BYU Law School education will provide you with an excellent foundation to be successful on the Bar Exam, you must put the time in to prepare specifically for the Bar Exam.

Do not take the Bar Exam unless you are fully prepared to do so. Do not take the Bar Exam just to “try it out” or because you hope you may get lucky and pass. Failing the bar will prevent you from being admitted to practice law for at least six months until the next bar is administered. Failing the bar also typically has a significant impact on students’ mental and emotional health and can negatively affect their employment prospects.

Every graduate of BYU Law School is capable of passing the Bar Exam if he or she puts in the time to study and prepare appropriately for the Bar Exam. Please set aside the time, money, and energy to prepare for and pass the Bar Exam in your chosen jurisdiction on your first attempt, then plan a lovely vacation after you take the bar and a wonderful celebration when you pass the bar.

Each jurisdiction chooses what it tests on the Bar Exam.  However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners creates an exam each year that jurisdictions can choose to use in its entirety (the Uniform Bar Exam, “the UBE”) or can use pieces of.  As of July 2020, 36 jurisdictions had adopted the UBE.  See www.ncbex.org for a current list of UBE jurisdictions.

If your jurisdiction has adopted the UBE, the topics tested include business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, family law, real property, torts, trusts and estates, and secured transactions.

While it is impossible to predict exactly what will be on the exam and how much, you can review this document for frequently tested topics.

The majority of jurisdictions, including UBE jurisdictions, administer a 2-day Bar Exam. If you are in a UBE jurisdiction, the first day is an “essay” day that includes six thirty-minute essays in the morning, then one hour for lunch break, then two ninety-minute essays that test legal analysis in the afternoon. The second day is a “multiple choice” day with one hundred questions over three hours in the morning, then the hour for lunch break, then one hundred questions over three hours in the afternoon.

Delaware, Nevada, Ohio, and Louisiana each administer three-day Bar Exams.

Each jurisdiction sets its own passing scores.  Check the NCBE Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for a complete explanation of each jurisdiction’s scoring system (www.ncbex.org).

Each jurisdiction varies in how long it takes to score exams. The range is between five to fourteen weeks.