You’re nearly there. After years of work earning your JD, you’ve earned a seat to take the bar exam. Passing this test is the final obstacle before you become a licensed lawyer.

With so much at stake, the bar exam may seem formidable. But as with any test, following a few simple principles can see you through. Develop a study schedule — and stick to it. Understand what the exam is testing for and use your resources. 

Seems more doable already, right?

Follow these quick tips to study (better) for the bar exam.

Person studying and working on laptop

What Is the Bar Exam?  

The bar exam assesses your knowledge of legal principles, reasoning, and many other skills and competencies crucial to working as a lawyer. By passing the bar exam, you gain membership to the state bar and licensure to practice law in your state. 

You must be admitted to the bar in every state where you want to practice. So, if you live in New York, you need to pass the bar exam as defined by the New York State Bar Association. 

Each state has its own standards and requirements for the bar exam. Increasingly, states are adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which includes three unique tests you’ll take over two days: 

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): You’ll respond to 200 multiple-choice questions over a six-hour test period. The questions assess your legal reasoning and ability to identify fact patterns, among other competencies.
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): By responding to six, 30-minute essay questions about real-life legal issues, you’ll convey your writing communication skills.
  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): This is not a knowledge test. Instead, you’ll apply your skills as a new lawyer through this test based on real-life scenarios. 

How to Study for the Bar Exam 

We get it: It’s a lot of testing. 

But you finished law school. That’s a major feat. So, you already likely have all the habits and skills to study and pass one more test. Review these tips to stay organized with your test prep.  

Create a Study Schedule 

As with any test, establishing a routine to study and practice will pay off. Incorporate your bar review course into your calendar, and let your friends and family know that you’ll need some space for study hours. Build in committed study days and times — as well as time off to decompress and let your practice sink in.

Top test takers often recommend studying strategically. That means identifying your weak areas and intentionally practicing to build those skills.  

Plus, keep yourself — and your brain — in good functioning condition as you study. You might feel tempted to cram all night in the weeks leading up to the exam but get enough rest. Study in manageable sessions. Eat well, too, so you’re prepared to think clearly. 

As you study, keep in mind that every state jurisdiction has its own requirements for the bar exam. Be sure to review those specifics before you dive into the material; see the state-by-state breakdown from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)

Understand the Test’s Core Competencies 

Break down the test and understand what it’s asking of you. Knowing what to expect from the test and the core competencies it’s testing for can increase your confidence. 

For the MBE, you’ll have 25 questions from each of these seven subject areas: Criminal Law and Procedure, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Torts, Evidence, Real Property, and Contracts. 

Get Your Study Materials

You don’t have to try to pass the bar exam in a vacuum. And you probably shouldn’t. 

It’s best to understand your resources — free or paid. The American Bar Association (ABA) says that your chances of passing the exam are likely higher by enrolling in a commercial bar review course. 

From bar review courses to private coaching, from podcasts to books, there’s a world of materials available for new lawyers to equip themselves with the tools to pass the bar exam.

Person working on laptop with PracticePanther law practice management software

After the Bar Exam  

Congratulations: You’re a licensed lawyer. 

Now the real work begins on how you want to define your career path. Maybe you’ll start out as an associate at an established law firm. You may choose to stay with the firm long-term and look to become a partner or branch out on your own to start a solo practice

If you’re thinking of going solo, you may want to start thinking about the business fundamentals and operational must-haves involved in running a small firm. Thankfully, however, more resources are available than ever to help you with your practice management needs. 

But with a JD and your new license, you can take your law career in many directions or practice areas.

From personal injury law to family law, from corporate counsel to litigation, you have plenty of options. And as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows, career prospects for lawyers are expected to keep growing faster than the average job growth. 

The good news: The future after the bar exam is bright.

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