3L Law School: Bar Exam Prep

The Bar Exam is the most important test of your legal career. The Bar Exam is a rigorous and intensive exam held over the course of two or three days (depending on the jurisdiction). Passing the state's Bar Exam is a key step toward being licensed to practice law within that state. Before you will be able to practice as a lawyer, you will have to graduate law school and pass at least one state’s bar exam.

In most states, the bar exam consists of: Essay questions requiring detailed answers to complex fact patterns, the Multistate Bar Examination (“MBE”), and a practical component. Individual states decide when and how to administer their Bar Exams and what subjects will be included on the state specific portions. Individual states also decide how to grade their Bar Exams and what level constitutes a passing score. Each state requires that you pass the MPRE prior to being licensed as a lawyer. Some even require that you have taken it before you sit for the bar examination. The MPRE should be completed during your 2L law school year if possible. Click here for information on your state.

During your 3L law school year, you only have two Bar-Exam-related concerns: 1) Make sure you have a passing MPRE score; and 2) complete your Bar Exam application on time.

Complete Your Bar Application Early

Most law students plan on taking the first available bar exam after graduation. This exam will generally be held in the last full week of July. Planning for the Bar Exam should begin in the Fall of your 3L law school year. You should begin by determining which state’s bar you plan on taking. Next, get a copy of the Bar Exam application and determine the deadline. Some states have an early deadline, and an absolute deadline. Some states’ absolute deadlines are in January. Completing your application in time for the early deadline will save you some money. Expect to spend 20 or more hours on the bar application. You will have to research information from your past, and devote time to documentation.

The Bar Application is a serious process and should not be taken lightly. The burden of establishing eligibility to take the Bar Exam will be on you. The Bar Exam application process involves an investigation into your character and fitness. Your first exposure to this process was when you applied to law school. Law schools attempt to screen out students who will not pass a character and fitness evaluation. The purpose of this investigation is to protect the public from unscrupulous people. The idea is that the public should be entitled to be secure in believing that those admitted to practice law are worthy of their trust and confidence. Be very candid on your application. Material misstatements may keep you from being admitted to practice law in a state. Most state’s bar applications ask whether you have been denied admission to any other bar. So, be careful. 

Common Bar Exam Sections


In 48 States (all but Louisiana and Washington), there is a section of the Bar Exam called the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice examination covering Contracts—including the UCC, Torts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, and Real Property. It is always taken on a Wednesday.

Of the 200 questions, only 190 are scored. It is impossible to determine which questions are unscored, so you should treat each question as legitimate. The exam has 31 questions on Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence and Property. It has 33 questions on Contracts and Torts. For more information on the exam including practice questions and an outline of the included material, review the MBE 2011 Information Booklet.


The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is a collection of essay questions largely concerning the common law administered as part of the bar examination in about half the states’ Bar Exam. The test is administered on the Tuesday before the MBE. The exam is a collection of nine 30-minute essays from which most states choose six. Each state grades its own essay questions, and may require that the question be answered according to that particular states’ law.

Areas of law that may be covered on the MEE include: Business Associations (Agency and Partnership; Corporations and Limited Liability Companies), Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Federal Civil Procedure, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates (Decedents’ Estates; Trusts and Future Interests), and Uniform Commercial Code (Negotiable Instruments (Commercial Paper); Secured Transactions). Some questions may include issues in more than one area of law.

For more information on this exam, including exemplar questions, see the MEE 2011 Information Booklet.


The Multistate Performance Test consists of two 90-minute skills questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of a lawyering task, and communication. This portion of the Bar Exam is given in 33 jurisdictions, though some jurisdictions choose only one question to give. This part of the Bar Exam takes the form of an assignment that a lawyer could expect to receive in practice.

The assignments might include tasks such as writing a legal memorandum, writing a brief, drafting an affidavit, or drafting a settlement offer letter to opposing counsel. Each test includes what NCBE calls a "File" and a "Library". The File contains source documents detailing all facts of the case, plus a memorandum from a supervising attorney detailing the task required. The File will include relevant and irrelevant facts, and often facts may be ambiguous, incomplete, or contradictory. The Library includes cases, statutes, regulations, and rules, which may or may not be relevant, but are sufficient to complete the required task.

For more information on this exam, including exemplar questions, see the MPT 2011 Information Booklet.

Should I Take a Bar Exam Prep Course?

Passing the Bar Exam is a pivotal last step in becoming an attorney. Much of the law school curriculum is geared towards providing you with the necessary foundation for success on the Bar Exam. In addition, most students participate in a commercial bar review course, after graduation. This course reviews (and in some cases introduces you to) those subjects that might be tested on your jurisdiction's bar exam.

We at Law School Coach highly recommend attending several bar prep courses.

Barbri is the essential course that all law students should attend. Usually about 80% of those taking the Bar Exam have taken the Barbri prep course. Even if you could figure this information out on your own, attending Barbri will ensure that your answer looks like the majority of the other Bar Exam answers.

PMBR is another important bar review course. PMBR focuses solely on the MBE. While Barbri covers this information also (PMBR is considered better), about 1/3 of law students elect to take PMBR in addition to Barbri. We recommend taking PMBR unless you are unusually gifted at multiple choice exams, and fast. If time was a constraint on the MPRE for you at all, strongly consider taking PMBR.

Some law firms will pay for their newly-hired unlicensed associates’ bar prep courses even if they have accepted a clerkship. Usually public employers do not pay for these. Many students take out what is known as a "bar loan" to cover the prep course and living expenses while they study.