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Bar Exam Success

Is the Bar Exam Hard? What to Expect and How to Prepare

The Bar Exam Experience: What to Expect and How to Prepare—Quimbee

Is the Bar Exam Hard? What to Expect and How to Prepare for the Bar Exam


Every law student wonders: is passing the bar exam hard? It certainly isn’t easy. There’s a metric ton of material to learn, the exam-day experience is intimidating, and the stakes are high: you must cross this hurdle to become a licensed attorney. But you’re not alone. Learn what you’re up against and how Quimbee can help you succeed.

What Makes the Bar Exam Difficult?


High-stakes exam

Law students must conquer the bar exam to practice law. A lucky few might be able to become licensed through other pathways, such as a diploma privilege. But for most law students, the bar exam is a prerequisite to licensure. The stakes are high, so the exam can be a source of immense pressure.

Immense coverage

There is a vast amount of law to learn. No matter which bar exam you take, it will cover a good portion of what you learned in law school, and likely a few subjects you’ve never studied before. Except for the performance test, the governing law will not be supplied. The exam is crafted on the assumption that you already know the relevant law the moment you walk into the exam room. This expectation places a premium on your ability to memorize rules. 

Preparation requires significant outlay of time. If you choose to study full-time, you need to commit about 11 weeks to preparing for the exam. Part-time study also requires a significant commitment, just spread over a longer period of time. Whether you select full- or part-time study, preparing for the exam takes valuable time away from other aspects of life, including paid work and caretaking responsibilities.

Pressured exam conditions

The bar exam is typically a multiday affair. Endurance is required. If you’re taking the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), you’ll face 2 days of testing, with morning and afternoon sessions lasting 3 hours each. Some jurisdictions require 3 days of testing.

During each session, you’ll need to move quickly. To stay on pace during the UBE, you must complete a multiple-choice question in 1.8 minutes, an essay in 30 minutes, and a performance test in 90 minutes.

Even though the bar exam is difficult, you can conquer it. A great first step is to size up the components of your exam so that you understand what you’re up against.

What Are the Components of the Bar Exam?

The specific exam components depend on the jurisdiction. Most bar exams contain a multiple-choice component, essay questions, and a performance test. 

Uniform Bar Exam


Most states have adopted the UBE. An updated list of jurisdictions using the UBE is available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The UBE uses 3 different tests to assess an examinee’s competency to practice law. The following 3 tests are given over the course of 2 days:

  • The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a 200-question, multiple-choice exam that tests your ability to remember and apply the law. The questions test civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. Learn how to attack MBE questions here.
  • The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) contains six 30-minute essay questions testing 12 areas of law. The questions test business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, family law, real property, torts, trusts and estates, and secured transactions (Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code). Some questions test more than 1 area of law.
  • The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) is a practical-lawyering test composed of two 90-minute questions. You’ll receive an exam booklet assigning a specific task and providing related fictional evidence and legal authorities. You’ll draft a practice-oriented document, such as a memo, brief, or demand letter. The exam booklet contains the relevant law, so you won’t be expected to learn specific subjects beforehand.

California Bar Exam


The California Bar Exam uses the MBE, an essay component, and a performance test to assess an examinee’s competency to practice. These 3 tests are given over the course of 2 days:

  • The MBE is a 200-question, multiple-choice exam that tests 7 key areas of law (civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts). The MBE doesn’t test California-law specifics. 
  • The essay component contains five 1-hour essay questions. The questions test 13 areas of law: business associations, civil procedure, community property, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, professional responsibility, real property, remedies, torts, trusts, and wills and succession. Some questions test more than 1 area of law.
  • The performance test is designed to test your ability to carry out a lawyering task. No particular substantive knowledge is expected. The test packet provides a fact pattern and all the legal resources you need to write your response.

Florida Bar Exam


The Florida Bar Exam uses the MBE, the Florida multiple-choice portion, and an essay component to assess an examinee’s competency to practice. The 3 components are given over the course of 2 days:

  • The MBE is a 200-question, multiple-choice exam that tests 7 key areas of law (civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts). The MBE doesn’t test Florida-law specifics. 
  • The Florida multiple-choice component contains 100 questions that test your ability to remember and apply Florida law. The exam has developed a reputation for testing fine points of law.
  • The essay component contains three 1-hour essay questions testing 14 areas of law. The questions test Florida constitutional law, federal constitutional law, real property, torts, criminal law, constitutional criminal procedure, professional responsibility, contracts, sales (Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code), family law, and professionalism. Trusts, negotiable instruments (Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code), and secured transactions (Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code) may appear as part of an essay, but these areas are tested primarily on the Florida multiple-choice component.

Note that the Florida Bar Exam does not contain a performance-test component.

How Is the Bar Exam Scored?

On the UBE, the MBE accounts for 50% of your final score. The MEE is worth 30%, and the MPT is worth 20%. Note that multiple choice and writing skills are given equal weight in your final score. Multiple choice is worth 50%, and the written tests taken together are also worth 50%.

On the California Bar Exam, the MBE accounts for 50% of your final score. Together, the written components account for the remaining 50%. The essay component is worth 36%, and the performance test accounts for approximately 14%.

On the Florida Bar Exam, the MBE accounts for 50% of your final score. Together, the Florida multiple-choice component and the essays account for the remaining 50%.

Preparing for the Bar Exam

How should you prepare for the bar exam? Many students entering their final year of law school are surprised by the amount of time and effort it takes to gear up for the bar exam. Avoid unnecessary stress by planning ahead. 

Figure out where you want to become licensed

A license to practice law is not a national license. You’ll need to select a jurisdiction where you intend to practice, and research that jurisdiction’s requirements. Set aside time to complete the application process, which typically is lengthy, and register for the bar exam. Plan ahead for the financial aspects of the exam. Each jurisdiction charges a fee to sit for the exam.

Select a bar prep course

There are many bar prep courses on the market. How should you choose? Think through your own learning preferences, and assess whether a given course fits your needs. 

Bar review courses commonly use videos and outlines to teach substantive law. Because you’ll be learning a mountain of new material, it makes sense to consider whether you like how a particular course teaches law. Think through whether the video format meets your needs.

Then consider other aspects of the course. Does the course incorporate real questions from past bar exams? Licensed questions from past bar examinations are a powerful preparation tool. Also, most students need help assessing their work on essays and performance tests. Check whether you’ll receive feedback from an attorney grader.

Preview your study schedule and plan for success

Before bar prep begins, preview your program’s study schedule. It’s easy to get overwhelmed once the course begins. Understanding how the schedule is organized will help you settle into studying, manage your expectations, and avoid the stress of unnecessary surprises.

Consider where and when you’ll accomplish the tasks in your study schedule. Make a plan that accommodates your personal needs. Studying in the law library, at home, in a coffee shop, outside, or during breaks at work are all good choices if they work for you. 

Optimize learning with the testing effect

Many students spend the bulk of their bar prep time using passive learning strategies such as reading outlines, reviewing notes, or listening to lectures. These “feel-good” strategies produce an illusion of knowing. The rules we hear or see on the page seem familiar, so we think we’ve mastered them. But come exam day, we won’t be able to recall them.

Don’t spend the bulk of bar prep passively observing information. Instead, make every minute count by harnessing the power of the testing effect. It may sound strange, but testing yourself on the material you study produces a memory-boosting effect. Retrieving information from memory enhances retention.

Take practice tests early and often during bar review. Test yourself with multiple-choice quizzes, practice essays, and practice performance tests. In addition to enhancing your memory, practice tests allow you to identify knowledge gaps and familiarize yourself with the exam format. Practice means picking up more points on the real exam.

Keep making progress when the going gets tough

Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s very common to hit a wall midway through preparation. There’s a mountain of material, and stress compounds as the exam date nears. When the going gets tough, figure out how you can continue making forward progress: 

  • Break big goals into smaller steps. For example, the goal of memorizing evidence might seem overwhelming, but memorizing a smaller slice of law, such as the hearsay exceptions, can feel more doable.
  • Re-energize by taking a meaningful break. Many students emerge with a lifted mood after taking a break for exercise, a hobby, or a meal with friends or family.
  • Reorder your study days so that you begin with the tasks that require the most energy (for example, taking sets of multiple-choice practice questions and writing out essays and performance tests). When you’re feeling tired, you can complete lower-energy tasks such as reviewing an outline or watching a video.


The bar exam is tough, but with preparation and practice, you can beat it. Quimbee is here to help you each step of the way. 


Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,600+ real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.

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