Looking To Become A Lawyer?
The bar exam can vary from state to state but generally consists of an essay section and multiple choice section. Additionally, different states also have their own “advisory” or “character” portion of their bar exams. The essay portion tests how well you know the law, while the multiple-choice tests your ability to apply it. Generally speaking, there are three types of questions on both portions: direct examination (factual scenarios), issue spotter (issue identification), and policy spotter (application). The scoring system can either be based on an answer’s correctness or its likelihood of providing the legal authority needed to pass the essay portion.
Essay portion: The essay section is an “open book” test, meaning you can use any source you would like during your answer. This means that for the essay section, law school will come in especially useful to anyone taking the bar exam. You are not able to bring into the examination room anything you have used or could have potentially seen while studying, which makes it that much harder when trying to remember specific details of certain topics covered in class A few weeks back. This includes notes and outlines, so cramming is out of the question here! Also, note that most states require a completed “issue-spotter” or two in order to successfully complete this section of the test. It’s almost as if the bar examiners want to be sure you at least have a basic understanding of legal concepts.
Multiple choice portion: The multiple-choice section consists of 200 questions that are answered in 90 minutes. This is the most straight forward part of the test, as it’s simply recalling knowledge you have acquired over your three years in law school. Some states also include an “advisory” section with only 25-50 questions on it, which requires much more explanation and focus than what you would find on your typical multiple choice tests. Since this portion of the test is much quicker (75 minutes), review sessions may be recommended by some or advised against by others for those who are not used to working under time constraints. There are no partial credit answers given on the bar exam, so don’t be fooled by any tricky wording.
Character portion: The character section of the bar exam requires you to write a brief essay about why you would make a good lawyer and whether or not you have ever done anything that could potentially result in disbarment. This is an “open book” test as well, with most states requiring at least two issue spotters completed before being allowed to complete the character section of the exam. Some states even require students to attach their law school transcript, which can obviously give away your identity if it contains identifying information such as addresses and social security numbers.
Just like the essay portion, this section too is scored on a pass-fail basis… Meaning the character portion of your state’s bar exam is entirely subjective. You could be an upstanding citizen but get dinged for not knowing proper handwriting etiquette or some similarly silly rule. If you think that sounds unfair (and it should), don’t worry; only 0.03% of lawyers are disbarred every year, and many of those come from attorneys who self-report themselves to their respective state bars rather than following through with the procedure themselves.
To anyone looking to take the bar exam in another state other than your own, be sure to check whether your home state will “reciprocate” by accepting your scores! There are some states that will not recognize scores from other jurisdictions, so be mindful of the state you are living in during law school. It would be a shame to up and move after three years of hard work just to realize that your bar exam is invalid.
The bottom line: The bar exam is an incredibly rigorous test meant to weed out those who are not ready for the real world of lawyering. Be sure you know all there is to know about the test before signing up, as it can have some serious consequences on your life if you fail or find yourself unable to continue studying for any reason!