Depending on the state, the bar exam is either a full two- or three-day ordeal.
most states' bar exams have at least three different sections (the MBE, and the essay exam, the MPRE ) and other states' exams have a fourth (the MPT, a "performance test"),
Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE)virtually all states require that students take and achieve a certain minimum score on the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE), a 200-question multiple-choice test covering six substantive legal areas.
choose one of the "most correct" of four given answers
Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE), a closed-book, 200-question multiple-choice exam covering six
substantive legal areas. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) proposed the MBE in the early 1970s in response to a concern among state bar examiners about the burden of preparing and grading.
The MBE is designed to measure "legal reasoning and knowledge that is material to the practice of
memorize legal rules
The NCBE contends that the MBE accurately measures "baseline content knowledge important to all lawyers."
it tests minimum competence by testing for baseline knowledge of the substantive law
it is reasonable to ask new lawyers to know the law in many substantive areas since most new lawyers do not yet have a specialty
MBE actually tests for the kind of baseline knowledge all new lawyers should have.
The MBE score is then combined and often scaled with an applicant's score on the essay portion of the exam and, in some states, also with the applicant's score on a performance exam.
In addition to the MBE, virtually every state has an essay-question portion of the bar exam. Some states use questions that test the state's own laws(state essay test), while others use the Multi-State Essay Examination (MEE). The MEE, developed and promulgated by the NCBE, is a three-hour exam consisting of six or seven questions covering nine topics.
Generally, the MEE tests majority and minority legal rules rather than a specific state's legal rules. The MEE and state essay tests are designed to test an applicant's ability to identify legal issues,
apply the applicable legal rule, and present a reasoned analysis of relevant issues in a clear and concisely written answer.
One problem with the essay questions is that they require analysis based on memorization rather than analysis based on research and case law, which is the kind of analysis practicing lawyers do.
Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), Moral Fitness Screening
In addition to the bar exam, applicants in most states must take and pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), a multiple-choice test on professional responsibility.
Most states require applicants to pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).70 This exam is a fifty-question multiple-choice test that measures familiarity with professional codes of
conduct. It does not test an applicant's commitment to professional values, nor is it supposed to.
The exam simply tests whether the applicant has memorized the ethics rules and can apply them to a
multiple-choice question. Although it is important to test for a basic knowledge of ethical rules, one wonders whether this single test is sufficient.
This test, after all, in no way reflects whether new lawyers will actually follow the rules of ethics. Moreover, the entire moral fitness screening process does not even attempt to measure important
qualities like a commitment to promote social justice and a willingness to perform public service, qualities some members of the bench and bar repeatedly emphasize as extremely important.
Multi-State Performance Test (MPT)
Multi-State Performance Test (MPT), has gained popularity since its introduction by the NCBE in
In many states, it replaces one or two essay questions. The MPT is designed to "measure an applicant's ability to use fundamental lawyering skills by requiring the applicant to complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to carry out."
It seeks to test "factual analysis, legal analysis and reasoning, communication, problem solving, organization and management of a legal task, and recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas
MPT requires the applicant to digest a lot of information in a short amount of time and then produce a written product
The MPT uses a case file consisting of factual documents like written summaries of client interviews, police reports, and contracts, as well as case law and statutes. Some of the factual documents are
ambiguous or contain conflicting information. Some of the law contained in the problem is irrelevant. The case files are approximately fifteen pages in length. The test taker is given ninety minutes to
read and digest all this material and perform the appointed task, whether it be drafting a persuasive brief, writing an objective opinion letter to a client, or drafting a settlement proposal, discovery plan, or a closing argument.
This portion of the bar exam does give applicants tasks much like those they will face in practice. However, it presents situations most lawyers seldom face: the need to read and digest the applicable law and a large amount of information about a new case and draft a legal document with virtually no time for reflection or editing. In fact, applicants taking MPT problems for the first time often state that they cannot finish in the allotted time.
In most states, after taking and passing a state's bar exam and the MPRE, a person may be sworn in
as a lawyer.
Because most states' bar exams have at least three different sections (the MPRE, the MBE, and the essay exam) and other states' exams have a fourth (the MPT, a "performance test"), it is logical to
assume that these exams test a wide variety of skills.
This, however, is not the case. All these different sections of the bar exam essentially test the same narrow range of skills: the applicant's ability to identify issues and analyze and apply the law. For example, no section of the bar exam tests, or purports to test, skills like the applicant's ability to perform legal research, perform factual investigation, negotiate, counsel clients, or orally argue a legal issue.
Curcio, A. A. (2002). A Better Bar: Why and How the Existing Bar Exam Should Change. Nebraska Law Review, 81(1), 363-423.