Where to take the bar exam in 2020
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to the postponement of several bar exams. You may consider a different or additional bar exam if:
- the state where you were planning to take the bar exam has canceled the July 2020 exam,
- you are unsure if the state you were planning to take the bar exam will cancel it and you want a “back up” state to take the bar exam,
- you are unsure you will be able to take the bar exam in the state where you wish to take it (for example, New York has stated not all applicants can take the bar exam and it needs to prioritize applicants)
- you are nervous about taking the bar exam in your state due to the coronavirus
- you want more than one “bite at the apple” and a chance to pass the bar exam two or three times this year
If you decide you do want to consider a different or additional bar exam, there are multiple factors you should think about. We discuss these factors in-depth in this post.
Where to take the bar exam in 2020
If the 2020 bar exam you were planning to take has been postponed, or if you want to consider taking an additional bar exam, there are two main options and many factors within those options to consider.
1. Sign up for the bar exam in your state
Your first and obvious choice when deciding where to take the bar is to just stick with your original state’s bar exam. Your state may offer a July bar exam or a fall bar exam. The NCBE recently announced two fall bar exam dates.
It is possible your state is planning on administering a bar exam in July or it has moved the July bar exam to early or late September. States like New York and Massachusetts have merely delayed the bar exam six weeks until the fall. You can check out this post for an updated list of the postponed bar exams.
2. Go to another jurisdiction.
There are many more factors to consider if you decide to go to another jurisdiction to take the bar exam. Here are a few of the factors to consider:
State bar exam vs. Uniform Bar Exam
If you were hoping to take a state bar exam that is canceled, unfortunately, there is no alternative to that state bar exam. But, if there another exam that you also want to take, maybe now is your opportunity! In theory, you could take two exams this summer and fall (or even three)! However, do not just pick a bar exam at random! Make sure the bar exam has value to you — many students will go to a state that offers the Uniform Bar Exam.
If you want to take the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) (instead of a state exam), you may be able to take the exam in another jurisdiction and transfer your score. States that administer the UBE all administer the same MBE, MEE, and MPT portions. You will receive a score that can then, in most cases, be transferred to another UBE jurisdiction.
Thus, if you are going to take the bar exam another UBE jurisdiction, make sure to consider:
- If the jurisdiction has adopted the UBE
- These rules and considerations for the portability of UBE scores
- Transferring your UBE score to New York
- How long your UBE score is good for
- Passing scores (more on this below)
- Licensing requirements: including perhaps passing a state law portion of the exam, passing character and fitness/the MPRE, paying fees, etc.
If you do decide to take the bar exam in another jurisdiction, consider these points:
a. Take the bar exam where there is a decent pass rate
If you choose a state where there is a higher passage rate, then you theoretically have a higher chance of passing! Check out this post for trends in pass rates, including a link to look up each jurisdiction’s pass rates. And, this post gives you a breakdown of pass rates.
However, keep in mind that a higher pass rate doesn’t always mean an easier exam for a few reasons:
- The bar pass rate might be higher because the passing score is lower (e.g., it is 260 whereas your jurisdiction requires a 266).
- The grader(s) may be different by the time you take the exam (so even if your friend had an “easy grader”—which is hard to verify in many cases—you might get a different grader). Grading is very subjective!
And, for UBE takers, even if the passing score is lower in the state you are considering, remember you need a passing score in whatever jurisdiction you want to practice in. So if you want to practice in New York, you will need a score of 266 no matter where you ultimately take the exam. If you are planning to take the UBE, check out this post for the minimum passing scores by state. A state with a lower minimum passing score will theoretically be easier.
b. Take the bar exam where there is a lower number of COVID-19 cases
The best option would be to take the bar exam where there are less than 2,000 registered coronavirus cases. However, as the coronavirus spreads rapidly, that may not be the best indicator. You can also look at the measures the state implemented and whether those are slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
If a state has a lot of COVID-19 cases, check to see if the convention center where the bar exam is typically offered is being used as a makeshift hospital. Consider not applying in that jurisdiction as you may run into the issue of the space’s unavailability come exam time. Here are some examples of convention centers that are currently being used for medical purposes (or are slated to be used for medical purposes) (not all are necessarily the location used for the bar exam, but instead provide an idea of whether there are spacing issues in your state!):
- New Jersey
- New York
The above list is only some convention centers. Make sure to check the news in your state for the most up-to-date information.
Stay up-to-date on the number of COVID-19 cases by referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. These numbers are constantly changing, so make sure to keep checking this site.
c. Take the bar exam in a less popular jurisdiction
You can refer to this link for the number of takers in each state. A lower amount of takers is theoretically a better jurisdiction to take the bar exam in. This is because the exam is less likely to get postponed or canceled, and you will be exposed to less people on exam day. However, this point should be taken in conjunction with the point above, since you also want to take into account if there is a large coronavirus outbreak in that state.
For example, New York is not the best choice. Especially since it recently announced it would “prioritize” students for the fall 2020 bar.
d. Consider travel costs to and from the jurisdiction
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a downturn in the economy, so we understand that money is tight for many right now. Thus, if you travel to a different state to take the bar exam, keep in mind there are extra expenses involved. For example:
- You may have to fly or drive a long distance (cost, time)
- You will likely have to book a hotel room for at least two evenings (cost)
- You will have to consider other expenses (e.g., food, rental car, etc.)
- You may be in a different time zone, depending on which state you choose, so you should plan to give your body time to acclimate
Traveling adds a different layer to the exam that may negatively (or positively!) impact you. Ultimately, it could add up to thousands of dollars to travel in a different state. In many cases, that money might be better spent on a new bar prep course or tutoring. (You can see some options we offer below!)
e. Consider where it is still possible to apply
Some states may change application deadlines due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, refer to each state’s application deadlines before deciding where to take the bar exam in 2020. The application deadlines can be found on each state’s bar website.
When choosing where to take the bar exam in 2020, we suggest looking at all the factors above to make an informed decision.
We understand that the coronavirus has led to a lot of uncertainties, so it is ok to wait on making a decision. However, law students oftentimes like to plan ahead, so if you do need or want to make a decision right now, make sure to weigh all the options! Remember that if you do make a decision on where to take the bar exam, there is a chance that exam could be canceled!
Our general recommendation is:
- Overall, based on the current number of reported COVID-19 cases, we suggest students apply for the Minnesota Bar Exam if students still want to sign up for July. Refer to the chart below for the numbers to base this decision.
- If students want to sign for a possible fall exam (assuming there is no July 2020 bar exam), based on the current number of reported COVID-19 cases, we suggest students apply for the bar exam in Iowa, Kansas, Montana, or Minnesota. Refer to the chart below for these numbers.
As far as when to start studying for the bar exam, JD Advising has created multiple study schedules for the July bar and both September dates. We also include scheduling options for starting early! Also, here are our tips on how to start bar prep during the coronavirus outbreak!
We also have a great (free) early bar prep series if you are looking to get a head start on bar prep.
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