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Repeating the Uniform Bar Exam

By Elizabeth Tharakan

The Uniform Bar Exam tests your ability to make sense out of all the strange concepts you learned about in law school. The test is a marathon, not a sprint. It lasts for two days, with six hours of testing each day plus a one-hour lunch break. The bar exam takes place the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February or July. You register on your state bar’s website.

The Multistate Bar Exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering seven subjects. These topics are: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. Different bar prep companies offer different materials, but I found that the Kaplan multiple-choice questions most resembled the questions I encountered on the day of the examination.

The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), the essay component administered on Tuesday, consists of six 30-minute short questions and two 90-minute Multistate Performance Tests. There are 12 subject areas tested on the MEE:

  • business associations
  • civil procedure
  • conflict of laws
  • constitutional law
  • contracts and sales
  • criminal law and procedure
  • evidence
  • family law
  • real property
  • torts
  • trusts and estates
  • Article 9 (secured transactions) of the Uniform Commercial Code

The MEE is the component of the bar exam that most closely mirrors standard law-school exams. Examiners are looking for lengthy, complete answers using the issue, rule, analysis, conclusion format. Rumor has it that points awarded correlate with answer word count. I earned very high Multistate Performance Test scores while knowing nothing about the dummy subjects tested simply by citing to all the materials in their case file and library of statutes and then organizing and editing the hell out of my essay answers.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners websites has old versions of the Multistate Essay Exam. Bar prep programs often have databases of old essays as well, but the NCBE keeps old multiple-choice questions secret because it recycles those questions. These are incredibly useful, but I would focus on writing out real essays that have actually been administered in the past than a bar prep company’s made-up essays. One tip to practicing essays before you’re fully familiar with the material on which they’re testing is to sneak a peek at the model answer before writing out your own, so that you know you’re on the right track as to what rules they’re testing. I also recommend looking at a subject frequency chart to take note of which subjects appear most often and to study those more heavily.

Between 59% to 81% of total takers pass the Colorado bar exam. From 71% to 89% of first-time takers pass the exam. Between 21% and 52% of repeat takers pass the exam. The first time I tried the Uniform Bar Exam, I failed. Part of this had to do with not being psychologically ready to prepare every day straight for two months. But the second time I tried, I knew it would be easier because I was much more familiar with the subjects and format of the exam. I also trained for my first 5K race the second time, and I found that morning running improved my concentration throughout the day and the endorphins made me feel more optimistic about success. A law professor gave me gummy bears and KIND bars to give me a sugar rush during the exam. She also suggested mantras to repeat to myself during the bar exam, such as, “This too shall pass,” “Keep calm and carry on,” and “I accept this moment, I accept myself.”

I found study groups more helpful than solo studying. The second time I took the bar, I studied with two classmates who became good friends. I found it very helpful to sit next to someone in the library or in a coffee shop while banging out 200 multiple-choice questions. It was also helpful to review outlines with someone else and familiarize myself with material I hadn’t studied well in law school, such as trusts and estates. I also prepared outlines on my own and reviewed these with my mom, who didn’t know anything about the law but enjoyed learning the black-letter rules and quizzing me on them.

If you fail the bar the first time, I highly recommend hiring a tutor. Tutors range in price from $100 an hour to $300 an hour. They can review your substantive knowledge, help you attain subject mastery, and organize your study time effectively. I worked with LawTutors after I failed. They were so impressed with my efforts that once I passed, they hired me on as an Attorney-Instructor to impart my wisdom to the next cohort of test-takers.