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What is the Bar Exam?

In this post, we will discuss what the bar exam is, how it works, and why it is so important for prospective law students.

Oct 13, 2023
  • Student Tips
  • Education
Law student preparing for the bar exam

Every law student dreams of one day passing the bar exam and becoming a licensed attorney. But what exactly is the bar exam, and what's required to pass it?

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What is a bar exam?

A bar exam is a written examination administered by a state's bar association. The exam is designed to assess whether an individual has the skills and legal knowledge necessary to practice law in that jurisdiction.

What is on the bar exam?

The bar exam is generally divided into two parts: the multiple-choice portion and the essay portion. The multiple-choice portion tests knowledge of general legal principles, while the essay portion tests the ability to apply those principles to specific fact patterns.

Some topics commonly tested on the bar exam include constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property law, and torts. Additionally, many states also require applicants to take an ethics exam. Most bar exams last two days and have around 100-200 questions.

How is the bar exam scored?

Most states use a point system to score the bar exam. Each correct answer on the multiple-choice portion is worth one point, and each essay question is worth a certain number of points depending on its difficulty. The total number of points possible varies between 400 and 600.

What score do you need to pass the bar exam?

A certain percentage of points must be earned to pass the bar exam. This percentage differs from state to state, but is commonly between 60% and 70%.

How hard is the bar exam?

The bar exam is notoriously difficult. The exam covers a lot of legal material, from constitutional law to criminal procedure, and requires much legal knowledge and understanding. That said, the bar exam is not impossible to pass. While some states have a pass rate as low as 30%, the typical rate across the US is between 50% and 75%. Any law graduate can put themselves in an excellent position to pass the bar exam with the proper preparation.

Recommended: How To Study For The Bar Exam

How much does the bar exam cost?

The cost of the bar exam varies from state to state but generally ranges from $200 to $1,000. In some states, the cost may be reduced or waived for candidates who are unable to pay.

How many times can you take the bar exam?

There is no limit on the number of times you can take the bar exam. However, most jurisdictions have a rule that you must wait a certain amount before retaking the exam. For example, you must wait at least one year in New York before retaking.

When do you take the bar exam?

The bar exam is taken at the end of a person's law school career. The exam is administered twice a year, usually in February and July. Each jurisdiction's timeline for taking the bar exam varies. Hence, you must check with your local court or licensing authority for more information about when the exam will be offered in your area.

Can you take the bar exam without going to law school?

You can take the bar exam without going to law school, but it will be difficult. The majority of people who take the bar have formally studied law for at least three years.

However, there are other paths you could take:

  • Getting a law degree from another country and then taking the bar exam in the United States.
  • Taking law school classes and then taking the "baby bar," which is a mini version of the bar.
  • Studying for the bar exam on your own.

The first option is the easiest, while the third option is by far the most difficult.

Recommended: You Don’t Need to Go to Law School to Practice Law

How long does it take to get the bar exam results?

It can take up to two months to receive your results. Some states release results sooner than others. So it's important to check with your state's bar association for specific information.


The bar exam is a difficult but necessary test for anyone wishing to practice law in the United States. It covers a wide range of material and requires much legal understanding. But don't be discouraged. With hard work and dedication, anyone can put themselves in a great position to succeed on the exam. The key is to start studying early and to make use of all the resources available.

Keystone Team


The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.

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