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What to expect after the bar exam

Bar Exam

Preparing for the bar exam is more physically draining and stressful than most people realize. This one exam can decide the future of law school graduates across the country, and it is only made available twice a year.

Once you do take it, however, what happens next? You might think the weight is off your shoulders until you find yourself waiting around to hear back about your results. And once you do, you may want to determine how well you did but might not know how. What to expect after taking the Bar exam varies, especially state to state.

Results waiting period

Aside from the actual results of the exam, waiting to hear back can be the most emotionally taxing part after taking the bar exam. You may not expect to wait long, especially with much of the exam being multiple choice. However, this is simply not the case.

The bar exam is given twice a year, in February and in July, and each has a significant waiting period. The majority of states take equal time grading their February and July exams, but there is a recurring trend in some states taking longer to release their July results. Some of these states include Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia to name a few.

The reason for the disparity in waiting times is due to the larger number of examinees in the July exam. The majority of law school students need to wait to take the bar exam until after they have graduated, so the first opportunity to take the exam usually comes in July.

As for actual waiting periods, North Carolina and Arkansas are usually the first two states to release grades at around four and five weeks after the exam, respectively. Most states release their results six to eight weeks afterwards in February and seven to nine in July. The biggest outliers are New York, California, and Michigan, who will have their examinees waiting almost 17 weeks to hear back.

The waiting period, unfortunately, is very long for the Bar exam. Even in North Carolina, where the wait for results is the shortest, it still takes around a month to hear back. During that time, examinees are forced to do nothing but wait, as they cannot enter into the job market without a license.

The main cause for the long delay in results is mostly due to the number of examinees in that state. According to, 10,071 individuals took the New York Bar exam in July of 2019. That helps explain why New York takes the longest time (17 weeks) to release the results of the exam.

The effects of the delay can be very detrimental. Because of the waiting period, candidates are unable to practice law and cannot seek employment. This offers no relief to any student debt or living expenses they might owe and proves to be an extremely tough time for examinees emotionally and financially.

To remedy the situation, some states are taking action to offer earlier test dates to students. Arizona, for example, has allowed 3L students to take the Bar offered in February, while they are still in school. So, by the time the students hear back on their results, they will have just graduated and can begin seeking employment right away.

Bar exam score report

While many states provide their own, state-specific bar exam, over half offer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). If you have taken the bar in a state that offers the UBE, you may be wondering what your scores mean and how well you performed.

The Uniform Bar Exam consists of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). Some states, like Illinois, may not reveal your test grade if you pass. Others may give your overall scores on the MBE, MPT, and MEE. And then some, like New York, will give an exact breakdown of each section of the exam. So, as long as your state offers enough detail, you can determine your ranking on the UBE.

The following percentiles are based on the 2019 February Bar exam results:

  • A 330 is the 99th percentile
  • A 300 is the 90th percentile
  • A 260 is the 44th percentile
  • A 240 is the 16th percentile
  • A 210 is the 2nd percentile

Your percentile shows how well you scored in relation to other examinees. For example, if you scored a 300 and are in the 90th percentile, you performed better than 90% of the other candidates. This is useful information to have especially if you did not pass the Bar on your first attempt.

Understanding where you lay can help you estimate how much preparation you may need for the next examination. If your state does not offer the Uniform Bar Exam, see if your state bar offers any information about percentiles.

To determine what score you needed on your MBE portion, provided you are in a Uniform Bar Exam state, take the overall score needed to pass and divide it by two. In most states, anywhere between 130 and 140 should be a passing score on the MBE. Keep in mind that the MBE is curved. Say, for example, you scored a 125 and needed a 135 to pass. A 10-point difference may seem small, but the percentile difference is much bigger, so you may need more preparation than you think to earn a passing score.

The written portion of the UBE consists of the Multistate Essay Exam and Multistate Performance Test. Most states grade on a scale of 1-6, with the six MEE essays worth 60% of your score and the two MPTs worth 40%. A 4 is considered a passing score in most states, so you can compare your scores and evaluate how well you performed.

Number of attempts to pass the bar exam

The bar exam is notorious for its high difficulty and low passing rate. Only 58% of candidates passed the Bar exam in February and July of 2019. And because not every state offers the Uniform Bar Exam, the passing rates vary. The lowest passing rate is seen in California’s state-specific exam at 45%, while the highest is around 81% in Oklahoma.

While the vast majority of states offer unlimited attempts, 21 states have either discretionary limits or absolute limits on the number of attempts. States like Maryland and Virginia have discretionary limits where you may be allowed to retake the Bar over the stated limit due to extraordinary circumstances. Kansas, Rhode Island, and a few other states have absolute limits, which offer no exception and do not let you attempt the exam once you reach the limit. This is important for you to know in case you’re reaching the limit in your jurisdiction and must prepare further in order to pass.

Taking the bar exam is a complex and strenuous process. The strain should not continue on after the exam finishes. Understanding what to expect after the bar exam can help you plan out your future goals and ease yourself after this difficult exam.

Seth Price Seth Price is a founding partner of Price Benowitz LLP. Seth is sometimes referred to as a transformational leader and is often asked to speak on law firm development and legal marketing strategy. Seth is also an accomplished attorney in the DC area, with a focus on personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation law. He has received countless awards and accolades for his dedication and ability to stand out as an exemplar for his peers.