Commonly Asked California Bar Exam Questions
Whether it is the technology industry in the northern region of the state or the sunshine, stars, and beaches in the southern region of the state, California has one of the most sought-after law licenses anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, for bar examinees, the California Bar Exam is also one of the hardest state bar exams to pass. This post will answer 9 of the most commonly asked questions bar examinees have about the California Bar Exam!
Commonly Asked California Bar Exam Questions
What is the structure of the California Bar Exam?
Currently, the California Bar Exam is a two-day exam.
The first day of the exam consists of the following:
- three 1-hour essays in the morning;
- two 1-hour essays in the afternoon; and
- one 90-minute performance test in the afternoon.
The second day of the exam consists of the following:
- one 3-hour 100-question Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) session in the morning; and
- one 3-hour 100-question MBE session in the afternoon.
There is a lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions on each of the two days. The California Bar Exam is similar to the structure of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) with a couple of differences which are described later in this post.
Which subjects appear on the California Bar Exam?
The California Bar Exam tests a multitude of subjects on the essays, performance test, and MBE. The breakdown of subjects for each of these three portions of the bar exam is examined below.
The performance test is a closed-world problem and requires no outside knowledge of the law. This means that there is no external legal knowledge a bar examinee needs to be familiar with in order to complete the assigned task. The California Performance Test includes assigned tasks such as drafting a letter or brief using facts and law provided.
Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The MBE portion of the California Bar Exam tests the following:
- Civil Procedure;
- Constitutional Law;
- Criminal Law and Procedure;
- Real Property; and
These are the standard topics for the MBE portion of the exam in all locations where the MBE is a part of the bar exam, including the Uniform Bar Exam. You are not tested on California-specific law for this portion of the exam.
The essay portion of the California Bar Exam might include all of the MBE topics listed above (Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence Real Property, and Torts) as well as Business Associations, Community Property, Professional Responsibility, Remedies, Trusts, and Wills and Succession. Additionally, the essay portion does cover California-specific law (discussed below)!
For more information on what might appear on the California Bar Exam, see this post.
Do you need to know California law to pass the California Bar Exam?
While you may not technically need to know much of or any California law to pass the bar exam, it is highly recommended that you learn the California law that might appear on the exam. Bar examinees may be able to pass the bar without knowing California law because the MBE and performance tests portions of the exam do not test California law. Also, not all essays require knowledge of California law. Therefore, if an examinee scores extremely well on the non-California law portions of the exam, they may have enough points to pass the bar without technically knowing any California-specific law.
However, we don’t recommend doing this! The reason we cannot recommend this course of action is that no examinee can guarantee they will do well enough on the MBE and PT portions of the bar exam to compensate for not knowing any California law. Therefore, we recommend all examinees learn the portions of California law that might appear on the bar exam. In short, do not leave points on the table!
For more information on how the California Bar Exam is scored see this post.
How much is California law actually tested on the California Bar Exam?
Luckily, for students taking the California Bar Exam, there is not a large amount of California-specific law that you need to memorize in order to do well on the essay portion of the exam.
The table below shows the different subjects tested in the essay section of the California Bar Exam. The table also highlights those subjects, in particular, where examiners have required knowledge of California law.
Professional Responsibility has frequently tested California law. See the following blog post for more information regarding California law tested subject frequency on the California Bar Exam.
From the table above, it is clear that California law is sometimes tested in Civil Procedure, Evidence, Trusts, Community Property, Professional Responsibility, and Wills and Succession. Therefore, studying this material is highly recommended as it only makes up a small portion of the material for the bar exam but protects the bar examinee from being blindsided with questions regarding California law that they are not prepared to answer.
See this post to get a more in-depth analysis of how California law is tested on the California Bar Exam.
How do I pass the California Bar Exam on the first try?
Passing the California Bar Exam on the first try is similar to passing any other bar exam on the first try. It is the bar examinee’s responsibility to:
- memorize and be able to recall enough law; and
- be able to apply the recalled law to a variety of hypotheticals in both multiple-choice question and essay question formats.
While the performance test does not require any memorization of law, it does require the examinee to be proficient and able to:
- synthesize the laws given; and
- be able to apply the synthesized laws to the given facts.
So, you ask, how should the bar examinee do this? HAVE A PLAN! This plan should include enough time to work through each of the tested subjects in order to:
- Learn the legal concepts/rules
- Apply the legal concepts/rules
- Memorize the legal concepts/rules
- Reapply the legal concepts/rules under time constraints in order to be prepared for the exam conditions.
For more in-depth analysis on how to pass the California see this post on passing the California Bar Exam the first time.
How long is the California Bar Exam?
In 2017, the California Bar Exam changed the format from a three-days to two-days. For post-2017 exam takers, the first day consists of essays and the performance test (split up into a morning and an afternoon session). The morning session consists of three 1-hour essays followed by a lunch break. The afternoon session consists of two 1-hour essays and a 90-minute performance test.
The second day of the bar exam consists of the MBE. Examinees take a 100-question multiple-choice test in the morning followed by a lunch break. They return to the afternoon session consisting of another 100 question multiple-choice questions.
For more information about the exam’s structure see this post on the California Bar Exam format.
How long should I study for the California Bar Exam?
For bar examinees who do not have daily work obligations, 8 hours a day of studying is generally recommended. Anything less and they may not be giving themselves enough time to learn the law, memorize the law, and practice applying the law. With 8 hours of studying a day, a 55–60-day time period should be enough to put the examinee in a great place to be able to pass the California Bar Exam. And yes, this does include one day off a week.
For applicants who may work full-time or part-time or have other obligations that prevent them from setting aside 8 hours a day of studying, a different plan will be necessary. Starting a few weeks earlier than the traditional bar examinee, breaking up studying into morning, lunchtime, and evening sessions, and trying to study 8-hour days on weekends in order to compensate for the times when the bar examinee cannot study during the week can be a beneficial.
Is the California Bar Exam hard to pass?
The short answer to this question is a resounding yes! The long answer is that the California Bar Exam is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, state bar exam to pass. As an example, only 26.8 percent of applicants passed the February 2020 California Bar Exam. That is just a little bit less than 4 out of every 5 people failing the exam during that particular administration. Luckily for current bar examinees, the Committee of Bar Examiners has reduced its passing score frmn 1440 to 1390 in order to increase the overall pass rate of the exam.
In January 2021, California also retroactively allowed bar examinees who had received a score between 1390 and 1439 in the previous 5 years to become licensed after completing 300 hours of supervised legal practice. So, while the exam has not changed in content or structure since 2017, the overall pass rate has increased.
For more information about recent changes to the California Bar Exam, check out this post.
What are the similarities and differences between the California Bar Exam and the Uniform Bar Exam?
Beyond pass rates, compared to the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) the California Bar Exam has one less performance test, one fewer essay, and 1-hour long essays instead of the 30-minute MEEs found on the UBE. The table below illustrates the difference between the California Bar Exam and UBE structures.
Also, the table below shows the similarities and differences in subject matter between the California Bar Exam and the UBE. Note that California law is sometimes tested on essays for Civil Procedure, Community Property, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Trusts, and Wills.
We hope this post on the most commonly asked California Bar Exam questions was helpful!
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