The California bar examination consists of three sections: the MBE, five one-hour essay questions, and one 90-minute performance test.
Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The MBE is a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice examination developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and administered by participating jurisdictions, including California, on the last Wednesday in February and July of each year.
According to the NCBE, the purpose of the MBE is to assess the extent to which an examinee can apply fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze given fact patterns.
The MBE is divided into morning and afternoon testing sessions of three hours each, with 100 questions in each session. There are no scheduled breaks during either the morning or afternoon session, though test taskers typically may be excused from the exam room during the test. Be sure to check with your jurisdiction, however, as the rules regarding leaving the exam room may vary.
Of the 200 questions on the MBE, 175 questions are scored. The remaining unscored 25 questions are used by the NCBE to test potential future questions. The scored questions are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each tested subject area. The California bar exam subjects include civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. The MBE counts for 50 percent of the total California bar exam score.
In addition to the MBE, the California bar exam includes five one-hour essay questions and one 90-minute performance test. Examinees may be required to answer questions involving issues from all of the following subjects:
The performance test question is designed to test an applicant's ability to understand and apply legal authorities in the context of a factual problem involving a client. The State Bar of California provides a sample performance test on its website. The performance test and the essays count for a combined 50 percent of the total California bar exam score.
For more information on these components of the California bar exam, please see the State Bar of California's website.
California Baby Bar
Additionally, law students completing their first year of law study in a juris doctor degree program at an unaccredited law school must take the First-Year Law Students' Examination, or “baby bar,” after completing their first year of law study. For more information on the California baby bar, please see the State Bar of California’s website.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
A passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is also required to become a licensed California attorney. The MPRE tests an examinee’s knowledge of the ethics rules related to the practice of law. According to the NCBE, the purpose of the MPRE is to “measure examinees' knowledge and understanding of established standards related to the professional conduct of lawyers.”
The MPRE’s questions are largely based on the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, but the MPRE also covers relevant court decisions as well as procedural and evidentiary rules.
The MPRE consists of 60 multiple-choice questions—50 scored questions and 10 unscored questions. As with the MBE, each question on the MPRE is followed by four possible answer options. You’ll have two hours to complete the exam.
The MPRE is offered three times per year, typically in March, August, and November. Be sure to register early—the regular registration fee is $135, but the late registration fee is $220.
The MPRE is scored on a scale that ranges from 50 to 100. California requires a minimum-passing MPRE score of 86, the highest requirement in the country.