The Pennsylvania bar examination consists of three sections: the MBE, an essay examination on Pennsylvania law, and a 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 Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania bar exam subjects include civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. The MBE counts for 45 percent of the total Pennsylvania bar exam score.
In addition to the MBE, the Pennsylvania bar exam includes an essay section and a performance test. The essay examination consists of six essay questions that cover one or more of the following subjects:
conflict of laws
federal constitutional law
federal income taxes
U.C.C. Art. II
wills, trusts, and decedents' estates.
The Pennsylvania bar exam also includes the Performance Test (PT), which is intended to test an applicant’s ability to use basic skills that a lawyer should possess to perform a task that a newly admitted attorney would be expected to perform. The Pennsylvania essay section counts for 44 percent of the total Pennsylvania bar exam score. The PT counts for 11 percent of an examinee's score. For more information on these components of the Pennsylvania bar exam, please see the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners’ website.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
A passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is also required to become a licensed Pennsylvania 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. Pennsylvania requires a minimum-passing MPRE score of 75.