How is the New Uniform Bar Exam Going To Be Different?
After conducting a months-long study, in January 2021 the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), the organization that writes the Uniform Bar Exam, announced that significant changes are coming to the Uniform Bar Exam. The NCBE plans to implement the changes in 2024 or 2025. You may be wondering how this “new” bar exam will differ from the current bar exam. In this post, we discuss four of the major differences between the current Uniform Bar Exam and the new Uniform Bar Exam.
How is the New Uniform Bar Exam Going To Be Different?
1. Fewer subjects will be tested.
Right now, there are 14 testable subjects on the Uniform Bar Exam. This includes 7 subjects that appear on the MBE portion of the exam and an additional 7 subjects that could appear on the MEE portion of the exam. The NCBE announced that the new exam will include the 7 MBE subjects (Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts and Sales, Criminal Law and (some) Procedure, Evidence, Torts, and Real Property). The NCBE stated that Criminal Procedure will only test Constitutional protections on the new exam, and not additional procedural rules. Additionally, Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, and Partnership) will remain on the exam.
That means that Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Secured Transactions, Trusts and Future Interests, and Wills will no longer be tested on the bar exam. The NCBE also indicated that the subjects that remain testable will not be tested in as much depth as is currently tested on the bar exam.
2. It will be an “integrated” exam and will no longer be divided by question type.
Perhaps the largest change to the bar exam is that the new exam will be an “integrated” exam. The current exam is broken into three distinct sections: the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The new exam will not be administered in this format, but instead could include a fact pattern, and then a number of questions following that fact pattern, and the questions could be multiple-choice, short answer, essay, and practical assignments testing lawyerly skills. So, as an example, this is what the new bar exam could look like:
The NCBE also stated that stand-alone questions can still be included in the exam, but did not indicate if stand-alone questions would be exclusively multiple-choice or essay. The NCBE also indicated that it would like to keep the exam short, but anticipates that it may still be a two-day exam. It is unclear exactly how the exam will be broken down between the multiple testing days.
3. The exam will be entirely administered on a computer.
We have seen computer-based testing slowly incorporated into the bar exam, from taking the essay portion on a computer to the more recent computer-based exam administered in light of COVID-19. The NCBE proposes that the new exam will be entirely computer-based. However, unlike the exams administered during COVID-19, the new exam will be administered at either computer testing centers or at jurisdiction-managed testing sites, and will not be offered as a remote exam. The NCBE explained, “uniform testing conditions and accessibility for all candidates can be best ensured by in-person administration.”
4. More skills-based questions will be included.
The NCBE Task Force seemed to believe that the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) is the most useful portion of the current bar exam. The new bar exam proposes the inclusion of more skills-based assessments, and may even measure additional skills that are not currently measured, such as negotiation. The NCBE identified the following skills as being most important in the practice of law, and thus they aim to incorporate assessment of these skills on the exam:
- Legal Research
- Legal Writing
- Issue Spotting and Analysis
- Investigation and Evaluation
- Client Counseling and Advising
- Negotiation and Dispute Resolution
- Client Relationship and Management
5. Additional guidance will be provided
The NCBE also stated that they plan to release additional guidance regarding what is tested on the bar exam. As of right now, the NCBE has released a short outline of testable subjects and topics for the MBE portion of the bar exam, and does not provide much guidance beyond stating which subjects are testable on the MEE portion of the exam. The new guidance should provide more detail and a clearer outline of the scope of material that is testable on the bar exam. The NCBE has indicated that they would like to develop this subject-matter outline sometime in 2021, so we are hopeful that we will have greater clarity on what is testable soon!
What is staying the same?
Although the NCBE contemplated some other changes, many things about the current bar exam will remain the same. For instance,
- The exam will still be administered twice per year.
- Students will take the exam after completion of law school (rather than completing some portion of it while in law school).
- It will remain a closed-book exam.
- The MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Test) will remain.
We will provide more information about the new Uniform Bar Exam as it becomes available!
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