What is the Uniform Bar Exam?

uniform bar exam

The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is the answer to the wishes of many law students and lawyers around the country. It’s a bar exam that is uniformly administered and scored across participating jurisdictions, which means your score on the bar exam can be transferred among different states.
 
Prior to the existence of the UBE, potential lawyers had to take multiple bar exams to be admitted to more than one state to practice law, or wait for years to waive into another state. Now, with the UBE, you can take one exam and use the score from that exam to be admitted to practice law in any state that accepts the UBE.
 
The UBE represents a big shift in the bar exam world, and it seems like even more states will be adopting the UBE in the future. Let’s take a look at which states use the UBE, which states are considering the UBE, and the structure, format, and scoring of the UBE.

States that administer the Uniform Bar Exam

As of the writing of this post, there are 27 jurisdictions (26 states and the Virgin Islands) that use the UBE as part of their bar admissions process. That’s too many to list here, so check the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ handy map to see if your state has adopted the UBE.

 
One of the larger, more prominent states to change to the UBE is New York, which began using the UBE in 2016. Before the change, New York and California were known to be the two hardest bars to prepare for and pass. So, when New York made the change, it was not surprising that many states followed suit. California still administers its own, state-specific bar exam, but it has changed from a two to three-day bar exam, noting some flexibility and understanding that perhaps the California bar is too burdensome, as some have argued.

Structure and format of the Uniform Bar Exam

The UBE is made up of three parts, two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Let’s look at each of these sections briefly so you can get a better understanding of how they’re structured and what exactly they’re testing.

Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT on the UBE has two parts, both of which are tasks designed for new lawyers to be able to complete. As explained by the NCBE, the MPT is designed to evaluate certain fundamental skills lawyers are expected to demonstrate regardless of the area of law in which the skills are applied. The good news is that this means there’s no substantive knowledge of the law tested in this UBE section, and it’s worth 20% of your overall UBE score!

 
For the MPT tasks, you will be given the laws that you need to apply to a fact scenario and asked to analyze those laws and write a brief, a memo, or other written product. You have 90 minutes for each MPT task, so you have to plan your time accordingly to read all the documents, prepare your outline, and write the assignment.

Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)

The MEE is made up of six essay questions, and you’ll have 30 minutes to answer each one. The MEE is worth 30% of your total score on the UBE, which means each essay is worth 5% of your overall score. (Note: if you’re in a jurisdiction that uses the MEE apart from the UBE, the weight it’s given likely differs.)
 
The NCBE is very specific about what it’s trying to test with the MEE. In particular, the MEE is designed to test your ability to do the following:

  • Spot legal issues in the hypothetical situation presented. In this way, the MEE is very similar to all of the first-year exams you took, which is great because the structure will be very familiar.
  • Use only the material presented that is relevant to the question you are answering and weed out the material that is not relevant. Again, this should be very familiar from your law school exams.
  • Write a well-reasoned analysis of only the relevant issues presented in a “clear, concise, and well-organized composition.”
  • Show your comprehension of the essential legal principles relevant to the potential solution to the issues you spotted in the situation presented.

 
While this may sound like a very difficult task—or, six very difficult tasks for that matter—you’ll be ready for this section of the UBE by completing plenty of practice MEE questions.

Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The exam to end all exams, the MBE is basically every multiple choice test you’ve ever taken wrapped up into one delightful package. You have six hours to answer 200 multiple choice questions that span all the first year law subjects, from Constitutional Law to Real Property.
 
The MBE accounts for half of your UBE score. The good news is that you get a lunch break halfway through. So, you have two, three-hour blocks of time where you have to answer 100 multiple choice questions. That’s not so bad, right? Maybe it’s not much better, but you have a ton of options when it comes to preparing for the MBE, including online practice MBE questions from the NCBE with explanations.

Uniform Bar Exam scoring

Now that you have a clear sense of what the Uniform Bar Exam consists of and how each of those parts are structured, let’s take a look at how the UBE is scored. The UBE score is out of a possible 400—the MBE is worth 50%, the MPT is worth 20%, and the MEE is worth 30% of your UBE score.
 
It’s important to understand who scores the various parts of the UBE. The MBE—those 200 multiple choice questions you can’t wait to tackle—is scored by the NCBE. The jurisdiction where you sit to take the exam, such as Texas or the Virgin Islands, will score the MEE and MPT sections and send those scores to the NCBE. Those scores are scaled to the MBE, and then the NCBE calculates your overall UBE score.
 
While the UBE is uniformly graded, jurisdictions set their own UBE passing scores. This means that you need to check with the particular board of bar examiners for the jurisdiction where you’re planning to sit for the UBE to determine the score you need to pass. As a quick point of reference, the passing score in New York is a 266, and some passing scores in other states range between 260 and 280.

Uniform Bar Exam registration and key dates

As mentioned above, the UBE is administered only in certain jurisdictions. It’s administered over two days, with the MBE given on the last Wednesday of February and July, and the MEE and MPT given on the Tuesday prior to that. Jurisdictions that use the UBE may also require applicants to complete a jurisdiction-specific educational component and/or pass a test on jurisdiction-specific law in addition to passing the UBE.
 
To register for the UBE, you’ll need to create an account with NCBE. By registering, you’ll receive a special NCBE number, which you’ll need in order to register with the board of bar examiners for your state. You’ll also use this number to register for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), which is administered separately from the bar exam.

Recap

The UBE is made up of three difficult components: the MPT, the MEE, and the MBE. While this may seem like an overwhelming exam, the good news is you’ll likely only need to pass it once to become licensed in many different states. So, stick with a solid study schedule, spend a few months holed up studying, and then rock the UBE.

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