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Bar Exam Success

Exam Comparison: The Bar Exam vs LSAT

Exam Comparison: What to Know About the Bar Exam v. LSAT
While death and taxes have long been considered the only guarantees in life, as someone preparing to embark on a legal career, you can expect one more certainty: exams. As a law student, you’ll be tested endlessly for three years. But the two most significant exams are likely those that will bookend your formal education: the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and the bar exam.

While the LSAT will help you gain admission to law school, and the bar exam will help you gain admission to your state’s bar, the similarities largely end there. The LSAT and the bar exam are very different tests, and understanding their differences can go a long way towards helping you properly prepare for both. 


The LSAT is an entrance exam for prospective law students. According to the LSAC, the LSAT is designed to test “reading comprehension, reasoning, and writing.” The LSAT is scored on a scale, with a high of 180, a low of 120, and a median around 150. The LSAT is standardized across the country. While some law schools have waived the requirement that applicants take the LSAT, or allow applicants to submit a Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score in lieu of an LSAT score, most schools still require applicants to submit an LSAT score.

Unlike the bar exam, the LSAT requires no prior knowledge of law. This makes it different even from other professional entrance exams, like the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Instead of testing what you know, the LSAT tests how you think. Thus, the LSAT is fundamentally different from nearly every other test you’ve taken; you’ll need to study accordingly. To best prepare for the LSAT, it’s vital that the bulk of your time be spent taking practice questions so that you understand how the exam functions. There are countless LSAT prep companies on the market that are designed to help you study as efficiently as possible. When deciding which LSAT prep company to go with, read reviews; talk to friends, family, or classmates who have performed well on the LSAT.  There are a number of reputable courses, the most important thing is that whichever one you choose, you stick to a strict study schedule.

The LSAT is a much shorter exam than the bar exam–traditionally, the LSAT consisted of four 35-minute scored sections plus an unscored section. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) which administers the test, has recently implemented the LSAT-Flex, which consists of three 35-minute scored sections. Given that the time limits on your first-year law school exams will likely be in the three-hour range, the LSAT is not a particularly long test.

Also unlike the bar exam, the LSAT is administered up to seven times per year. While you’re limited to taking the LSAT three times in a year, there is no major downside to taking it multiple times. Most schools will look at your highest score (in part, because they want to report the highest scores to outside organizations), so in some ways, you actually benefit from taking the LSAT multiple times and getting comfortable with the test.

The Bar Exam

The bar exam is like the final boss of a video game. After spending your entire academic career taking tests, this is the final, most difficult one you’ll face.

Unlike the LSAT, the bar exam does test your knowledge of the law itself. You’ll be tested on a wide array of subjects. And while you might have studied most of those topics in law school, the way the subjects are tested on the bar exam will likely be unique from how you were tested on them in class. While the vast majority of your LSAT prep could be spent learning how to take the test and what tricks to look for, for the bar exam, you’ll also have to learn an encyclopedia’s worth of black-letter law.

Lucky for you, there are bar prep courses that have been designed to help you study efficiently and effectively for the bar exam. While some examinees opt to self-study, it is highly recommended that examinees take a bar review prep course. Because the bar exam involves learning a great deal of law, and topics are tested with varying levels of frequency, it’s vital that you have a study plan that reflects the realities of the exam.

The other major difference between the bar exam and the LSAT is the sheer length of the test itself. In jurisdictions that administer the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), the bar exam takes place over two days and consists of a total of 12 hours of testing. Thus, sheer stamina plays a much greater role in the bar exam than in any other test you likely have taken. While many examinees get focused on squeezing as much law into their heads as possible, understanding how you pace yourself on the exam is almost as important as actually knowing the law. So as with the LSAT, you’ll want to dedicate a certain amount of your study time to taking full-length practice exams–this is the only way you’ll truly be able to get comfortable with the pacing, structure, and stamina requirements of the bar exam.

If you want to learn more about the bar exam itself, check out Quimbee’s guide to the bar exam.