What is a Bar Examination?

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  • Written By: Mona D. Rigdon
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2020
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A bar examination is a test that must be passed before a person is allowed to practice law in the United States (US) and many other countries. The test is a detailed and complicated exam that tests the knowledge of specific state laws, reasoning, and general legal ideas. Most states in the US offer a specific state bar examination, while others allow and sometimes use the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

The MBE is a lengthy standardized test that covers common law principles. Because the MBE is a standardized test, it is given on the same day across the US. States that do not adhere to a common law government do not use the MBE. Louisiana is one of these states, as it is operated under Napoleonic law. Other states and countries that do not adhere to common law often adhere to civil law and would not make use of the MBE.

Bar exams in the US differ in subject, format, and difficulty from state to state. Each state will offer the legal bar exam on specified dates at approved locations. Upon successful graduation from law school, students typically prepare to take the bar exam before being admitted into practice as an attorney and member of the state bar association. Many students prepare by taking preparation courses and purchasing study materials from private corporations with no direct association with the state bar association.


The way in which certain laws are written that regulate entrance into the practice of law has prompted great debate and even lawsuits. In the US, many believe that the bar exam requirement should be abolished. Others support and encourage its continued use to weed out potential candidates for the bar that might not be able to effectively represent and advise clients. Some people advocate for an alternative to sitting for the bar examination, as is available in other nations such as England and Finland.

Other nations have the equivalent of a bar exam, as well, though the requirements to sit for the exams vary wildly. Some nations do not require a person to pass the bar exam to practice law, but only to hold the official title of attorney, advocate, barrister, or other national title for one who practices law. In the US, some states allow an applicant to take the bar examination without having gone to law school, though few sit for or pass the bar in this manner. To find out what the requirements are to sit for the bar examination in a given jurisdiction, a person typically should contact the bar association for that area.


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How many tests are there?

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