Overview of the Bar Admission Process and Bar Exam
It is never too early to plan for the bar exam. The bar exam is the most important final exam you face, covering a vast amount of material. It is extremely important that you make preparing your bar admission application(s) and studying for the exam a top priority.Each state determines its criteria for bar admission. For comprehensive information about bar exam composition, additional requirements, application dates, multistate test requirements, and bar admission fees, refer to the American Bar Association’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements. Students are also encouraged to contact a jurisdiction's bar admission office directly for detailed and accurate information. You’ll find directories of state bar admission offices here.
Character and Fitness to Practice Law
All states have a character and fitness requirement. The Pennsylvania standard is illustrative: "The character and fitness standards require that an applicant to the bar be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts and others. The hallmark of such a person is honesty, especially in connection with the application for admission to the bar. Persons with a record showing a deficiency in honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability may not be recommended for admission."
The Bar Exam
In general, the bar exam is offered twice a year, in February and July. Most law students take the July bar exam after graduation. The bar exam usually is given over two or three days depending on the state. For most states, one day covers state law (which may include the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test) and the second day is for the Multistate Bar Examination. For a list of the subjects tested in the state(s) in which you are sitting for the bar, contact the state’s bar admission office directly for detailed and accurate information. Subjects tested in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey are listed below. You can find directories of state bar admission offices online. Most states also require the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is offered in March, August, and November. The MPRE can be, and almost always is, taken before graduation from law school.
The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, 175 of which are scored. The 25 unscored questions are indistinguishable from those that are scored, so examinees should answer all 200 questions. The 175 scored questions on the MBE are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each of the seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.
The Pennsylvania bar examination consists of six essay questions that cover one or more of the following subjects:
- Business Organizations (including corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, and professional corporations)
- Employment Discrimination (limited to Title VII, ADA, and ADEA)
- Professional Responsibility
- Civil Procedure (Pennsylvania and federal)
- Evidence (Pennsylvania and federal)
- Real Property
- Criminal Law (including related Pennsylvania and federal constitutional issues and DUI)
- Family Law
- Conflict of Laws
- Federal Constitutional Law
- U.C.C., Art. II — Sales
- Federal Income Taxes (personal only and limited to taxable and non-taxable income, deductions, proprietorships, and capital transactions)
- Wills, Trusts and Decedents' Estates (including related fiduciary responsibilities)
- Applying and Sitting for the Pennsylvania Bar Examination
Uniform Bar Examination for New York State:
Upon recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), the New York Court of Appeals adopted the UBE effective with the July 2016 administration of the New York State bar examination. The Advisory Committee also recommended, and the Court of Appeals adopted, a requirement that applicants for admission in New York be required to complete an online course on New York law and take and pass an online examination on New York law, as a requirement for admission. The report of the Advisory Committee is available on its website.
The Uniform Bar Examination Informational Guide is available on The New York State Board of Law Examiners website.
New York Law Course (NYLC)
The NYLC is an online, on demand course on important and unique aspects of New York law in the subjects of Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice and Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Matrimonial and Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts and Tort Damages, and Trusts, Wills and Estates. The NYLC consists of approximately 15 hours of videotaped lectures with embedded questions which must be answered correctly before an applicant can continue viewing the lecture.
New York Law Exam (NYLE)
The NYLE is also currently being developed by the Board of Law Examiners. The NYLE will be a 50 item multiple choice test, offered at least four times per year. The dates and times of administration will be announced when they have been determined. Applicants must complete the NYLC before they can take the NYLE. The NYLE will be an open book test. An applicant who fails the NYLE will be required to retake both the NYLC and the NYLE.
New Skills Requirement from the New York Bar
The New York Court of Appeals has announced a new skills requirement for admission to the New York Bar. It takes effect for 1Ls who matriculate in fall 2016 and LL.M. students who matriculate in fall 2018. The rule provides that applicants to the bar will need to meet the rule through one of five "tracks": (1) a certification (from their law school) that they have met the new skills and values a law school deems relevant, assessed through a publicly available assessment process; (2) 15 credits of skills instruction; (3) the Pro Bono Scholars Program; (4) a post-graduate apprenticeship; or (5) practice in another jurisdiction for a specified period. The text of the rule is available online.
50 Hour Pro Bono Requirement for the New York State Bar
Beginning in January 2013, a new rule affecting bar admission in New York will be in effect. All candidates seeking admission after January 1, 2015, with the exception of admission on motion candidates, will need to file documentation showing that they have completed 50 hours of qualifying pro bono work, as required by Rule 520.16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals. For further information regarding the implementation and requirements of the new rule, along with frequently asked questions, please visit the New York Courts website. The FAQs contain information on the Web address and toll-free telephone number in the event that you have an inquiry.
New Jersey adopts the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)
New Jersey has adopted the UBE. Examinees who take the UBE earn a portable score that can be used to apply for admission in other UBE jurisdictions. New Jersey will administer the UBE starting with the February 2017 exam. It will begin accepting transferred UBE scores from other UBE jurisdictions on October 1, 2016.
Bar Review Courses
Penn State Law Course
Fundamental Skills for the Bar Examination (BAREX 900)
This course provides students with a substantive review of selected material routinely tested on the bar exam, primarily through problems and exercises in a bar exam format designed to familiarize students with the exam and techniques for answering multiple choice and essay questions. Individualized feedback is provided every week to assist each student identify areas of strength and weakness. The goal is to enhance student ability to prepare for the bar exam and is intended to supplement, not replace, commercial bar preparation courses. This course is not focused on any particular state, so all students will benefit regardless of where they are sitting for the bar exam.
Commercial Bar Review Courses
Students are strongly encouraged to take a commercial bar review course in order to properly prepare for successful completion of the bar exam. The law school does not recommend any particular commercial bar review course and the links below are provided to students as a convenience only. Providing this information does not constitute an endorsement of any programs or products by the law school.
- Kaplan PMBR Bar Review
- Marino Bar Review
- Reed Law Group
- Supreme Bar Review
What is a Dean’s Certification form?
Most states require a certificate from your law school dean attesting to the fact that you have graduated from law school. These forms can be found online at the various state bar websites. You should download the form and turn it to the Registrar's Office.
What do I do if an official transcript is required as part of the Bar Examination Application Process?
You will need to order an official transcript from the University Registrar. There is a fee, per transcript, which must be paid with a credit card when ordering online.
Can I get a loan to pay for bar exam expenses and living expenses during the bar study period?
Yes, see the Law School's information on student loans.
What do I do if fingerprints are required as part of the Bar Examination Application Process?
IdentoGO is the official state contractor for fingerprinting in Pennsylvania. If you are sitting for a bar exam outside of PA and fingerprints are required, please verify that the bar examiners in your intended jurisdiction will accept IdentoGO fingerprinting.