wikiHow to Pass the Bar Exam

Four Parts:Creating Your Study PlanStudying For The ExamTaking the ExamCaring For Your Physical and Emotional Health

To practice law in the United States, a law school graduate must gain admission to the Bar of the particular jurisdiction where he seeks to work. The requirements for Bar admission vary depending on the state, but generally mandate the passage of two exams: a two-hour multiple choice test on ethical standards known as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and a separate exam administered by each jurisdiction known as the "Bar." The format and subjects tested on the Bar differ from state to state. In general, the exam lasts two days, with one day devoted to a standard 200-question multiple choice test known as the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and the other to state-specific essays. Some states, such as California, have three-day exams, and include a practical skills portion known as the "Performance Test."

Part 1
Creating Your Study Plan

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    Assess your options in light of your particular needs. There are three ways to study for the Bar exam: take a Bar preparation course, work with a tutor or study on your own. The method that is right for you will depend on your individual needs.
    • Students who performed well in law school and are taking the Bar exam for the first time, as well as those who failed the Bar previously by only a few points, are the most likely to succeed with a generalized study plan, like a commercial Bar preparation course. Such courses are designed with the needs of the average student in mind.[1]
    • Repeat-takers (especially those who received low scores on past tests) or students who performed poorly in law school should seriously consider an individualized study plan, such as working with a tutor, to address their unique needs. [2]
    • If you are working a full-time job or caring for small children, choose an approach that allows you to maximize your available study time. A traditional Bar preparation course may not be right for you as it typically requires a significant daily time commitment and assigns a broad range of exercises, some of which may not be necessary for your success on the exam. [3]
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    Consider the particularities of the Bar exam in your jurisdiction.
    • The only section of the Bar exam that is the same in nearly every jurisdiction is the MBE, a six-hour 200-question multiple choice exam, which tests the following subjects: Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Evidence, Real Property, Criminal Law and Procedure and Torts.[4]
    • The subjects tested on the essay portion of the Bar exam are specific to each jurisdiction. For example, New York tests 11 subjects, in addition to those also tested on the MBE, including Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Family Law and UCC Articles 2 and 9[5] while California tests eight state-specific subjects, including Community Property.[6]
    • Some states test practical skills through a section known as the Performance Test. Several, including Texas, New York and Illinois, have adopted the Multistate Performance Test.[7] Others, like California, administer their own version of the performance test.[8]
    • The difficulty of the exam varies dramatically, with California tending to have the lowest passage rate (47.8% in July 2014 ) and other states like, Wisconsin and Minnesota boasting passage rates well above 80%.[9]
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    Find a good bar preparation course. Students who performed well in law school or failed the Bar exam the first time by only a few points may be a good match for a commercial Bar preparation course. If this is your situation, you will have a plethora of courses from which to choose. In selecting one, pay close attention to the price, format and emphasis of the course to determine whether it is right for you.[10]
    • BarBri ( provides a comprehensive overview to the entire exam, including the essay, MBE and performance test portions. It is a popular course, but also one of the most expensive[11], with prices ranges from $3895 in California, New York, Texas and Illinois, $2995 in Wisconsin, Washington and Tennessee and only $1400 in Iowa.[12]
    • PMBR ( and AdaptiBar ( are excellent choices for MBE preparation. PMBR is part of the full bar review course offered by Kaptest, a course that is similar to BarBri in terms of scope but slightly cheaper, with prices ranging from around $2000 to $3000 depending on the state.[13] AdaptiBar is an online supplemental Bar prep program that provides only licensed questions from the NCBE and advanced technology that adapts to your individual strengths and weaknesses.[14] AdaptiBar costs $395 for complete access to the website during the months leading up to the exam.[15]
    • LLMBarExam ( is designed specifically for international LLM students preparing for the Bar in New York, California and Texas. The course costs $3450 regardless of the state.[16]
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    Find a good tutor. Not everyone needs a tutor to pass the Bar exam. However, some test-takers, especially those who graduated near the bottom of their classes in law school or who have already failed the Bar exam, are likely to benefit from the individualized help a tutor can provide.[17] If this is your case, keep these tips in mind in looking for a tutor:
    • Ask the academic support office at your law school or friends who have had to re-take the Bar exam for tutors they recommend.[18]
    • Interview prospective tutors to determine which would be the best fit for you. Ask them about pricing, their approach to helping students pass the Bar exam and testimonials from other students they have helped.[19]
    • Choose a tutor experienced and sensitive enough to pin-point your particular weaknesses and formulate a study plan that addresses those weaknesses.[20]
    • Choose a tutor you feel you can trust and who will support you, especially if you are studying for the exam after having already failed. [21]
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    Gather the right materials. Test-takers who choose to work on their own, and some who work with tutors, will need to obtain their own materials. There are two types of materials you will need: 1) outlines or summaries of black letter law and 2) practice questions for all sections of the exam (i.e. essays, MBE and performance test).[22]
    • For outlines and summaries of black letter law, there is no need to purchase brand new study materials. Borrow them second-hand from friends or buy them on Craigslist, Amazon or Ebay. Look for fairly recent editions, as jurisdictions periodically update the subjects tested on the Bar exam.[23]
    • For practice essay and performance tests, print out questions from past exams free of charge on your jurisdiction's Bar website. Be sure to also print out model answers from the same website so that you have a basis for analyzing how your own answers can be improved.[24]
    • For practice MBE questions, buy or borrow an MBE practice book or supplement your individual study program by enrolling in the online course offered by AdaptiBar ([25]
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    Commit to a study schedule. If you are studying on your own, you will need to create a schedule that ensures you allocate sufficient time to reviewing and preparing outlines for every subject, taking practice tests and memorizing your outlines.
    • To determine how many weeks you will need to study for the Bar exam, first identify how many hours you can set aside for studying per week. If you will be studying full-time, then about eight weeks should be sufficient. If, on the other hand, you will only be able to study about ten hours a week, you will need much longer and should plan to start studying several months before the exam.[26]
    • Allow yourself breaks. Avoid burnout by giving yourself time to recuperate from hours of study.[27]

Part 2
Studying For The Exam

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    Prioritize broad knowledge over knowing every detail. The amount of material tested on the Bar exam is so vast that it will not be possible for you to learn it all. If you try to memorize every detail, you will likely learn only a portion of the total material and miss major areas of the law that are critical to passing the exam. If, on the other hand, you focus on learning the overall structure of the law, you will acquire sufficient knowledge to answer the variety of questions that come up on your exam.[28]
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    Create a succinct outline for each subject tested. To ensure you learn only the overall structure of the law, instead of wasting time on tiny details, you will need to simply your study materials by creating succinct outlines for each subject tested.[29]
    • Select one master outline from which to gather material for your outlines. This could be the notes from the lectures at your commercial Bar preparation course or the outline of black letter law that comes with your Bar study materials. Whatever source you choose, make sure it is comprehensive in its coverage of the law.[30]
    • Limit each subject outline to less than ten pages so that it is short enough for you to actually learn.[31]
    • Include only must-know material, such as the rules you will need to analyze specific issues.[32]
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    Take practice tests. In addition to having a sufficient knowledge of the law, your success on the Bar exam will depend on your ability to convincingly apply that knowledge in response to tricky essay and multiple choice questions. For this reason, you must set aside ample time for practice questions.[33]
    • Once you have completed an outline for a particular subject, immediately practice individual essay and MBE questions related to that subject. This will guide you in improving your outline by highlighting information that is missing or unclear, while also helping you learn the material in the way in which you will be tested on it.
    • If the exam given in your jurisdiction includes performance tests, set aside time in your schedule for doing a practice performance test at least once a week.[34]
    • As the date of the Bar exam near, practice full-length Bar exams. It may be a good idea to occasionally take practice exams under less-than-ideal circumstances so that your are better prepared for unexpected problems that may arise during the actual test.[35]
    • Get feedback by comparing your practice essays and performance tests to the model answers. Keep in mind your own answers do not need to be as perfect as the model answers-- you only need to obtain a minimal passing score on each question to pass the exam overall.[36]
    • Practice between 1500 to 3000 MBE questions during your period of study. If you are a week away from taking the test and have not devoted enough time to practice MBE questions, you may be able to catch up by answering between 150 and 300 questions every day through the weekend before the exam.[37]
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    Hone your essay writing skills. The most common mistake made on essays is to recite boilerplate law at the expense of thoroughly analyzing the facts. Instead, aim to incorporate as many facts as possible into your answer and link each fact to the relevant law. As you practice responding to essay questions, keep these tips in mind:[38]
    • Read the fact pattern very carefully. Make a mark next to each fact (a little box or star).[39]
    • Take quick notes in the margins regarding the major legal issues you spot.
    • Prepare an outline with a structure based on the major legal issues (i.e. Was Dave negligent?) followed by sub-issues (i.e. Dave's duty, breach of duty, causation, harm).[40]
    • Review each fact you marked and find a way to incorporate it into your outline.[41]
    • Write out your response using the IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) formula. State the issue or sub-issue and underline it as a heading in the essay. Follow with a concise rule statement. Then, insert a brief but sufficient analysis that references specific facts from the question. Finally, write a conclusion. [42]
    • Time yourself to make sure you finish within the allotted time.
    • When you are finished, compare your response to the model answer. Look for legal issues you missed and examples of how you could have boosted your analysis.
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    Save memorization for the end. While you will only achieve a true understanding of the subject matter tested by reviewing and applying it repeatedly over a period of several weeks or months, the same is not true for memorization. Most memory experts agree that short-term memory is measured in hours and days, not weeks. For this reason, it is best to wait until the last five to ten days before the exam to memorize the material.[43]
    • Aim to memorize about two subjects per day, starting with the MBE subjects, since these are the areas in which you will need to know the most detail.
    • Memorize only the most important points for each subject, ideally taken from succinct outlines you prepared while reviewing the material.[44]

Part 3
Taking the Exam

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    Decide whether to handwrite or take the exam on a laptop. In most cases, you will have the option of either taking the written portion of the Bar exam on a laptop or responding to the questions by hand. Many test takers prefer to use a laptop because it allows them to write faster and organize their responses more easily by cutting and pasting as they work. It is best to choose the option with which you feel most comfortable, while keeping these factors in mind:[45]
    • The main disadvantage to typing is that your computer could malfunction, causing you to lose precious time and possibly fail the exam. If you know that your laptop is prone to crashes, you should either consider handwriting the exam or borrowing or buying a new laptop.[46]
    • The disadvantages to writing are that your handwriting may not be legible enough for the Bar grader to read, you may be slower at writing than typing and that the amount of writing you do may cause your hand to cramp. If you do choose to handwrite the exam, practice writing continuously for the same increments during which you will have to write when you take the test.[47]
    • If you decide to take the exam on your laptop, load the exam software used in your jurisdiction as soon as possible before the exam date. Test out the software by taking a practice exam to confirm that it works.[48]
    • If handwriting, practice writing with different pens before exam day to find the one that works best for you. Also, allot more time to outlining your responses as it will be difficult to reorganize your response once you have started writing.[49]
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    Book a hotel. Many Bar takers choose to stay in a hotel near the test center, even if they live in the same city or metropolitan area, so that they don't have to worry about commuting or arriving late to the test.
    • If you choose to stay in a hotel, book your room as early as possible. Hotels near test centers tend to book up quickly.[50]
    • If you are concerned about the cost of staying in a hotel, consider saving money by renting a room or apartment through Airbnb.[51]
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    Read the rules and policies for taking the test in your jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction has strict rules for taking the exam, including the items that can be brought into the exam room, the times by which applicants must enter the test center and be seated at their desks and the form of ID that one must carry and be ready to show at any time during the exam.
    • Cell phones, hats, water bottles and digital timers are examples of items that may be prohibited.
    • Be sure to consider what items you will need during the test (i.e. highlighters, pencils, inhalers, wheelchair) and confirm that you will be permitted to bring them with you on exam day.
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    Plan what you will eat during the exam week. To ensure you stay alert and focused during the exam, it is important that you eat enough before each session to keep you full, while not making you sleepy or moody. Try out different foods before the test to see which work the best for you.[52]
    • If you are staying in a hotel, consider renting a mini refrigerator or taking an ice chest so that you have full control over what you eat rather than relying on the meals offered by the hotel.

Part 4
Caring For Your Physical and Emotional Health

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    Prepare yourself physically. Taking the Bar exam is physically exhausting. It lasts about two to three days and requires that you perform at a high level under stressful circumstances. To ensure that you are physically strong enough to endure the exam, it is important that you take care of your health throughout your study period through regular exercise, sleep and healthy meals.[53]
    • Schedule exercise into your daily routine by committing to work with a trainer or attend yoga classes. This will guarantee you make time for exercise, even when you are feeling overwhelmed or behind in your studies.[54]
    • For optimal mental clarity and performance during the exam and throughout your study period, eat foods that will stabilize your glucose levels, such as healthy fats and proteins. Carbohydrate laden meals will have the unintended consequence of provoking a rise and subsequent crash in your blood sugar that can impair your concentration.[55]
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    Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. The Bar exam is as mentally taxing as it is physically exhausting. Once the exam begins, you will need to be fully present and focused for six hours a day for either two or three days. Long hours of studying and worrying over the outcome of the exam can take their toll on you mentally and emotionally. Preserving your mental clarity and emotional well-being throughout the study period is key to passing the exam.[56]
    • Take study breaks. Allow yourself time to play and do activities that put you at ease.[57]
    • If you notice that your anxiety or fear of failure becomes so paralyzing that it is preventing you from studying, seek out help.[58]
    • Take practice tests under less than ideal circumstances to prepare yourself for distractions during the exam.
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    Stay calm. Many students live in fear of failing the Bar exam. This is unnecessary and counterproductive to maintaining the healthy mental and emotional state you will need to perform your best on exam day.
    • Remind yourself that you are entirely capable of passing this exam. You only need a minimal passing score on each section to pass the exam overall. Even if you have failed before, there is still hope for you to pass if you identify your weaknesses and modify your study plan in a way that allows you to overcome them.
    • Come to terms with the worst-case scenario. The worst that can happen is you will fail and have to re-take the exam. This would not be the end of the world, nor the end of your career. You will still have the opportunity to pass the exam in the future and practice law in the way that you had hoped. Many intelligent and successful lawyers failed the Bar exam at least once.[59]

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