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Which Bar Exam Should You Take?

Depending on where you choose to practice, the guidelines for which test you need to take and how long the scores last differ significantly. dusanpetkovic via iStock

The information in this article is based on the July 2021 bar exam.

The bar exam has been around since the 1800s and has allowed many law students to become lawyers. Each year, thousands of students study for this 12-hour exam that could either gain them their license or leave them heartbroken and forced to study all over again.

When trying to decipher which bar exam is best for you to take following law school, you must consider two important points:

  1. where you want to practice law, and
  2. whether the state you’re choosing is one you can see yourself in long into your future.

Depending on where you choose to practice, the guidelines for which test you need to take and how long the scores last differ significantly. Below you will find some further information about reciprocity in some states, which bar exams are the hardest to pass, and how long your bar exam results could be used for when it comes to practicing law. Understanding the bar exam process may be confusing for you, so please feel free to reach out to our team here at Ostroff Injury Lawyers if you have any questions. We have personally been through the process, and we would love to make your process easier for you!

Two Types of Bar Exams

Right now, all individuals exiting law school have the option to take either the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) or the state bar exam.

The UBE is the same in all places where the UBE is an option. For Example, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky have all adopted the UBE and, as a result, have identical exams.

The state bar exam is different because it contains state-specific questions on each exam. While the multiple-choice questions are the same across jurisdictions, the essay questions are specific to the state where you take the exam.

When deciding between the UBE and the state bar exam, the main two things to consider are where you will work and live.

In many cases, you might already have a job lined up following law school, so it is essential to ask which exam your firm would prefer. If you do not have a job lined up, it may be necessary to visualize where you want to be in the coming years and take whichever exam is best for that particular area.

The Difficulty of the Bar Exam across States

Some states are known for having an especially challenging exam. When considering which state is best for you to take the exam, two things may help sway your decision.

  1. What test does your state allow (UBE or State)?
  2. How long are scores valid?

For example, California, Arkansas, Washington, and Nevada have challenging exams. If you do not see yourself living in one of these states for a large sum of time, a different bar exam may be the better option.


Reciprocity is the act of transferring a bar exam score from one jurisdiction to another without needing to retake the test. For example, New York is a reciprocity state, which means anyone from Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, and many more states can practice in New York without retaking the exam. The reciprocity process makes it easier for lawyers to move from one state to another while practicing. It also helps give individuals more opportunities to practice law in different areas of the country. Additionally, in some circumstances, like in the case of Missouri, they will admit lawyers from states that have similar reciprocity for Missouri lawyers.

Along with reciprocity, some states such as Michigan, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, and more, allow individuals who have practiced law for more than five years to be admitted to practice law in respective states without taking that state’s specific bar exam.

When considering which bar exam is best for you, a key factor to keep in mind is how challenging it might be to switch where you live down the line. Suppose you decide to move to an area where reciprocity is not common; leaving that state down the line may be a hassle. Knowing how reciprocity affects your ability to transition to a new area later in life is essential when deciding where to settle down and what bar exam to take.

State-by-State Pass Rate

Below you will find the overall pass rate for the July 2021 bar exam, provided by the National Conference of Bar Examinations. Use this table to help you decide which bar exam is right for you.

July 2021 Pass Rate Percentage

  • Alabama–52.6%
  • Alaska–58%
  • Arizona–65%
  • Arkansas–70%
  • California–53%
  • Colorado–74%
  • Connecticut–59%
  • Delaware–66.58%
  • District of Columbia–73%
  • Florida–61%
  • Georgia–64.4%
  • Hawaii–70.2%
  • Idaho–65.6%
  • Illinois–67%
  • Indiana–69%
  • Iowa–71%
  • Kansas–No data for July 2021 exam
  • Kentucky–72.17%
  • Louisiana–69.78%
  • Maine–59%
  • Maryland–68%
  • Massachusetts–74.7%
  • Michigan–No data for July 2021 exam 
  • Minnesota–73.50%
  • Mississippi–68.2%
  • Missouri–75.5%
  • Montana–74%
  • Nebraska–72%
  • Nevada–62%
  • New Hampshire–63.7%
  • New Jersey–58.31%
  • New Mexico–71%
  • New York–63%
  • North Carolina–75%
  • North Dakota–65%
  • Ohio–73.4%
  • Oklahoma–73%
  • Oregon–79%
  • Pennsylvania–69.43%
  • Rhode Island–77%
  • South Carolina–65.25%
  • South Dakota–73%
  • Tennessee–62.5%
  • Texas–68.29%
  • Utah–86%
  • Vermont–54%
  • Virginia–74.77%
  • Washington–73.8%
  • West Virginia–57.5%
  • Wisconsin–63%
  • Wyoming–72%

How Long Are Bar Exam Scores Valid?

Understanding how long your scores are valid across jurisdictions for the UBE is essential so that you do not try to use your scores only to find out they are no longer accepted. Scores may last anywhere from two to five years, depending on the jurisdiction.

Length of Validity by Jurisdiction

  • 2 years–North Dakota, Rhode Island
  • 2 years/5 years–Iowa, Utah
  • 25 months–Alabama
  • 3 years–Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wyoming
  • 3 years/5 years–Colorado, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont
  • 37 months–Idaho
  • 40 months–Washington
  • 4 years–Illinois
  • 5 years–Alaska, Arizona, District of Columbia, Missouri, Ohio