California currently administers what is widely considered one of the nation's most difficult bar examinations twice each year, in February and July.
As of July 2017, the California Bar Examination is administered over two days in four test sessions. The format is:
- Day One (Tuesday): 3 essay questions (9 am – 12 pm); 2 essay questions and one 90-minute performance test (2 pm – 5:30 pm)
- Day Two (Wednesday): 100 Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) questions (9 am – 12 pm); 100 MBE questions (2 pm – 5 pm)
The written portion (essays & PT) and MBE portions are equally weighted at 50% of the overall scaled score.
The exam currently tests 17 different subject areas:
- Constitutional Law (Federal)
- Contracts (Common Law and Uniform Commercial Code)
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Evidence (Federal Rules of Evidence and the California Evidence Code)
- Real Property
- Wills (California law)
- Civil Procedure (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the California Code of Civil Procedure)
- Community Property (California law)
- Professional Responsibility (California law and the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct)
- Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, all forms of Partnerships, and Limited Liability Entities)
- Contract and Tort Remedies
Applicants sitting for the California Bar Examination do not know which of the 17 subjects will be tested on the essay portion of the examination. In recent years, it has become common for the exam to feature one or more "crossover" questions, which test applicants in multiple subjects. Examples of past-tested essays with sample answers are available on the California State Bar’s website at http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Examinations/PastExams.aspx.
California-specific legal knowledge is required only for Evidence, Civil Procedure, Wills, Community Property, and Professional Responsibility; for the other topics, either general common law ("bar exam law") or the federal laws apply. Applicants may be tested on the California Evidence Code and the California Code of Civil Procedure in the essay portion of the exam in addition to the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Applicants have the option of using Examplify software to type on a laptop computers.
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) portion of the exam is a nationally-administered, 200-question multiple-choice exam. As of February 2017, only 175 questions will be scored, and the other 25 are unscored experimental questions used to gauge their appropriateness for future exams. The MBE covers only the topics of Contracts (including sales of goods under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code), Real Property, Torts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While the essay section of the exam may test one or more of these areas as well, the MBE section is dedicated to these subjects. The MBE currently counts for 50 percent of the total score in California.
Examples of past MBE questions can be found at:
The performance test portion of the exam is designed to test practical lawyering skills by presenting applicants with simulations of actual legal tasks such as client letters, motions, and memoranda. The performance exam is a "closed universe" setting, meaning that the only substantive information the applicant needs to know is provided during the exam. Even if cases and statutes are provided, they are often different from the real law in the area at issue, so that applicants who studied that area of law in law school will have no special advantage. Each performance test is worth as many points as two regular essays.