What Is the Uniform Bar Exam?

Ah, the bar exam. There’s nothing like it. Freshly minted law school graduates get exactly one week, sometimes less, before they have to hit the books one more time. Only this time around, they are forced to learn 18 substantive areas of law in the span of two months.

It’s brutal.

Believe me, I took it twice. (I passed it both times too, fortunately.)

A Short History of the Bar Exam

In case you didn’t know, the bar exam is the test that every new law school graduate (with very few exceptions) needs to take in order to become a lawyer. The test hasn’t been around forever.


Prior to 1885 the United States had never seen a bar exam before. It used to be enough to simply get through the rigors of law school. Oh, and the other requirement was to get a document from the local county court certifying his good moral character.

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Massachusetts has the honor of offering the first official, written bar exam. It consisted of several essays on relevant state laws.

The essay exam continued until 1972, when the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

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was added. So, in addition to a bunch of essays, students now had to answer a bunch of multiple choice questions. The essays and multiple choice questions continued in this manner until 2011, when the first batch of Uniform Bar Exams were administered.

Somewhere in there the bar examiners also added some performance tests, which tested the graduate’s abilities to do actual “lawyer-like” things, like drafting memorandums and briefs.

What Is the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)?

Up until 2011, almost every state contributed various essay questions to their state’s bar exam. These essays consisted of multistate essays, and state specific essays, depending on what state you were taking it in. But none of the test scores were transferable between states.

That’s a big bummer for those graduates wanting to get licensed in multiple states at the same time. Separate states all requiring their own test has locked lawyers into either:

  • spending their entire lives and careers in the same state in which they took the bar exam, or
  • jumping through MANY hoops to get licensed in any state that they want to move to, and practice in.

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Sometimes, these hoops include taking the bar exam all over again! This is no small hurdle. I mean, who wants to go through this type of stress more than once?

But, in 2011 all of that changed … at least with two states: North Dakota and Missouri. Since these two states administered the “UBE” (Uniform Bar Exam) the scores were transferable between these states.

Now, fast forward to 2016, there are now 26 states that offer the Uniform Bar Exam! Here’s a list:

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  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Washington D.C.
  7. Idaho
  8. Iowa
  9. Kansas
  10. Massachusetts
  11. Minnesota
  12. Missouri
  13. Montana
  14. Nebraska
  15. New Hampshire
  16. New Jersey
  17. New Mexico
  18. New York
  19. North Dakota
  20. Oregon
  21. South Carolina
  22. Utah
  23. Vermont
  24. Washington State
  25. West Virginia
  26. Wyoming

This is a pretty big deal! Now if you take the exam in any one of these states, your scores will transfer to any of the other Uniform Bar Exam states. That means much easier mobility for lawyers during the course of their career, with much less effort.

Now if only those pesky bar exam scores didn’t keep going down every year!

If you want some more information on the bar exam, go here and here!

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