What We Do and Don’t Know about the New “NextGen” Bar Exam
The NextGen Bar Exam is not the same as the current Uniform Bar Exam, but it is also not as different as one may think.
The New Bar Exam – Same As the Old Bar Exam?
When a “new” bar exam was proposed a few years ago, everything was on the table. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) set up a Testing Task Force to reimagine the bar exam. Some ideas that were considered were: The bar exam could be offered multiple times a year. It could be offered during law school rather than after graduation. Or it could be offered in a step-wise fashion with the ability to retake sections that one failed.
After exploring several ideas, the Task Force settled on the following specifics for the NextGen Bar Exam (which are not that different from the current UBE!):
- Who? Graduates (with exceptions for jurisdictions that permit students to take the test in their final year of law school, as some currently do).
- When? Twice a year at the point of licensure, as it is now.
- How? An in-person exam, as it is offered now.
(All of this information on the New NextGen Bar Exam is found in the Final Report of the Testing Task Force.)
One of the major promises of the NextGen Bar Exam was that, unlike the current Uniform Bar Exam, the “Bar Exam of the Future” would contain integrated exam questions which “includes item sets and a combination of item formats (e.g., selected-response, short-answer, and extended constructed-response items) within the same component.”
This is an intriguing new format. However, this statement was vague. How much of the NextGen Bar Exam would contain “integrated exam questions?” And what do these questions look like?
Up until recently, very few sample questions of the NextGen Bar Exam were available, making it difficult to predict much about the NextGen Bar Exam. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners recently released some practice problems that show samples of this new exam.
While the new sample NextGen questions do have an integrated exam question component as promised, the new NextGen Bar Exam looks more like the current Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) than one may have originally thought. This is for two reasons. First, the UBE is changing slightly to look like the NextGen Bar Exam. And second, the NextGen Bar Exam description is starting to sound more like the current UBE.
How is the Uniform Bar Exam going to change to look more like the NextGen Bar Exam?
The current UBE has three components:
- (1) 200 multiple-choice questions (the Multistate Bar Exam, or MBE),
- (2) six essay questions testing various areas of law (the Multistate Essay Exam, or MEE), and
- (3) two “performance tests” that test legal skills (the Multistate Performance Test, or MPT) but do not require outside legal knowledge.
The Uniform Bar Exam currently tests numerous subjects (Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, Torts, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trusts and Estates, and Secured Transactions).
However, according to a June 8, 2023 NCBE memorandum, the UBE is changing in 2026 to test the same subjects as the NextGen Bar Exam (Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts) and eliminating the other subjects (Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trusts and Estates, and Secured Transactions).
So, with the new change in the UBE, the actual subjects that an examinee is expected to be familiar with on the UBE and the NextGen Bar Exam are the same. Note that one difference is that the current Uniform Bar Exam requires all subjects to be memorized. On the NextGen Bar Exam, the examiners have distinguished between areas of law that need to be memorized versus areas of law that an examinee need only be familiar with. (See the NextGen Bar Exam Content Scope here.)
Thus, by eliminating several subjects that an examinee must know, the current UBE is beginning to look more like the NextGen Bar Exam.
How will the NextGen Bar Exam resemble the current UBE?
In its release of NextGen Bar Exam Sample Questions, the NCBE states that the “NextGen bar exam will feature three broad categories of question types.” This is very similar to the UBE, which also has three broad categories of question types (multiple-choice, essay, and performance tests.) The components of the NextGen Bar Exam are detailed below.
Multiple Choice Questions:
The examiners state that on the NextGen Bar Exam, “[a]lmost half of the exam time will be devoted to stand-alone multiple-choice questions with between four and six answer options and one or more correct answers.” This sounds a lot like the current Multistate Bar Exam, which also makes up half the current bar exam (it comprises six hours of a twelve-hour exam). However, the current MBE only has four answer options with one correct answer.
Furthermore, the examiners elaborate that, “[i]nitially, many of these questions will closely resemble Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) questions; this will ensure stability between scores for the current and NextGen bar exams. In future administrations, the variety of multiple-choice question types will increase.” So, the same kind of MBE questions that are used now will be used at least in the initial bar exam(s) administered.
Thus, the NextGen Bar Exam will mirror the UBE in that half of the time an examinee spends will be spent on multiple-choice questions, with at least the initial batch of questions resembling the current MBE to a degree.
Some of the sample questions released look very similar to current MBE questions; the ones that differ from the current MBE-style questions seem admittedly easier as they require primarily issue-spotting rather than any profound knowledge of the rules of law. It will be interesting to see how many of the latter type of questions actually get tested on future administrations of the NextGen bar exam, given their relative simplicity.
Integrated Questions Sets:
Next, the NextGen Bar Exam will contain “Integrated Questions Sets” which will comprise “[j]ust under one-third of the exam time.” The NCBE’s description is as follows:
Each of these sets is based on a common fact scenario and may include some legal resources (e.g., excerpts of statutes or judicial opinions) and/or supplemental documents (e.g., a police report or excerpt from a deposition) and include a mixture of multiple-choice and short-answer questions. In addition to testing doctrinal law, some integrated question sets will be focused on drafting or editing a legal document; other sets will be focused on counseling and/or dispute resolution.
This component of the NextGen Bar Exam is the least similar to the current bar exam, which contains no “integrated” component. The NCBE released one sample integrated set, which required application of a statute to facts, advising a client on whether to sue, and listing claims that could be brought on behalf of the client, among other tasks.
This seems like a useful component to test lawyerly skills and it differs greatly from the current bar exam. However, it is still not entirely clear what this portion of the exam will look like as a whole given that only one question set (with six subparts) was released.
Longer Writing Tasks
Lastly, the NextGen Bar Exam will contain longer writing tasks, which will take “approximately a quarter of the exam time.” This section mimics the current MPT which also comprises one quarter of the exam time of the UBE.
The NCBE explicitly compares these longer writing tasks to the current MPT tasks and links to several MPTs on which these tasks are based. Unlike the MPT, the NCBE states that “[o]ne of the two longer writing tasks will include several multiple-choice questions and short constructed response questions focused on research skills, followed by a longer writing assignment.”
Samples of the longer writing tasks are not yet available for review.
As you can see from the graphic below, the breakdown of the Uniform Bar Exam and the breakdown of the NextGen Bar Exam look pretty similar. One key difference is that the NextGen Bar Exam does not have any component that resembles the Multistate Essay Exam and instead is replacing that portion with Integrated Question Sets.
Will states adopt the NextGen Bar Exam?
Overall, it seems like the UBE is changing to become a bit more like the NextGen Bar Exam, as the scope of subjects tested on the UBE gets narrowed. The NextGen Bar Exam is also shaping out to be more like the UBE – with two of the three exam sections mimicking current UBE exam sections. It will be interesting to compare these exams more closely once additional sample questions are released.
The NCBE hopes to administer the NextGen Bar Exam in July 2026, which would directly impact the incoming class of first-year law students. If a jurisdiction were to adopt this bar exam, for 2026, the jurisdiction would likely do it soon so that the 2026 class of law students could have advance notice.
However, advanced notice does not mean adequate preparation. Even with advance notice, it would be difficult for current law students to prepare adequately for the exam throughout law school. Indeed, the information about what this exam will actually look like is still pretty sparse. Even with the new release of sample questions, there are only eight multiple-choice questions, one integrated question set (with six subparts), and no examples of “longer writing tasks.”
Without even a full sample exam released, it is not surprising that this exam has not yet been adopted by any jurisdictions. We expect that few, if any, jurisdictions will want to “test out” this new bar exam on their July 2026 graduating class. Instead, once more information is available, a jurisdiction may choose to make an informed decision about whether this bar exam is right for them and may want to start by offering it during a February exam administration to a smaller pool of candidates.
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