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New York Bar Essay

Studying for the bar is stressful enough. Students don’t want to be unprepared because they didn’t have a clear idea about the format or the material covered. With the first Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) taking place in New York State this July, law students might wonder exactly how the UBE differs from the outgoing NY bar exam.

Let’s take the time to compare both exams.

What’s the difference between the outgoing NY Bar Exam and the UBE?

The NY Bar Exam (administered for the last time on February 23 and 24)

The format for the NY bar exam since 2001 has consisted of: 

  • 5 essays on New York law (40 percent)
  • 50 multiple choice questions on New York law (10 percent)
  • 1 Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (10 percent)
  • 200 Questions on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (40 percent)


The UBE (to be administered in NY for the first time July 26 and 27)

The format of the UBE consists of:

  •  6 essays on “fundamental principles of law” (MEE) (30 percent)
  •  2 MPTs (20 percent)
  •  200 questions on the Multistate Bar Exam (50 percent)

On the MPT, which has been part of the outgoing NY Bar Exam since 2001, test takers receive an assignment from a fictional employer that requires them to review memos, interview transcripts, contracts, newspaper articles, and other fact-related documents in the “File” section of the MPT.  They then review cases, statutes, and other legislative information in the “Library” section of the MPT.  Armed with an understanding of both the facts and the law, examinees must closely adhere to their employer’s instructions, determine what information is relevant, map how it can be organized to resolve the issues posed by their employer, and draft a document that showcases their writing skills.  The hardest part is completing the assignment within the 90-minute time limitation.

The MBE is a 6-hour test consisting of 200 multiple choice questions that has been part of the outgoing New York Exam since the early 1980s.   Administered in every state except Louisiana, it doesn’t test on the law of any particular jurisdiction, rather it focuses on “fundamental principles of law” like the common law, Restatements, and uniform laws. Examinees complete 100 questions in three hours in the morning, and then complete the second 100 questions in 3-hour after lunch.  Twenty-five of the 200 questions aren’t actually scored.  They are “pretest” questions that are being vetted for future exams, though they are indistinguishable from the other questions.  Since the bar examiners do not deduct for incorrect answers on the MBE, test takers are encouraged to guess even when they are not sure of an answer (or if their time is running out!)

The MBE only tests on seven subjects:

  • Evidence (27 questions)
  • Constitutional Law (27 questions)
  • Torts (27 questions)
  • Civil Procedure (27 questions)
  • Criminal Law and Procedure (27 questions)
  • Contracts (28 questions)
  • Real Property (27 questions)

The MEE, which consists of six 30-minute essays, focuses on “fundamental principles of law” just like the MBE.  With less time to complete the questions (on the outgoing NY Bar Exam, examinees had 40 or 45 minutes to complete each of five essays), examinees must efficiently spot issues, succinctly deliver the relevant legal principles, apply the facts, and answer the questions posed.  There is less time for explaining the more general concepts as examinees were encouraged to do on the outgoing NY Bar Exam.

The MEE tests on each of the MBE subjects listed above, as well as:

  • Family Law
  • Decedents’ Estates (Wills)
  • Future Interests
  • Corporations
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Trusts
  • Agency
  • Partnership
  • UCC Article 9

All in all, 70 percent of the UBE is identical to the outgoing NY Bar Exam, and law students from the Empire State may actually find preparing for the UBE a bit easier because they’ll no longer need to worry about the so-called “New York distinctions” that students have had to learn in addition to “fundamental legal principles” on the MBE.

Plan on Using Your UBE Score for Admission Elsewhere—Don’t forget to check each state’s  admissions criteria.

It’s important to remember a solid score on the UBE does not allow examinees to practice law in every UBE jurisdiction.  Rather, it permits them to apply for admission in other UBE states, and there are typically other admission requirements that applicants need to fulfill.

For example, New York State requires that students must also:

  • Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
  • Complete New York Law Course (NYLC)
  • Pass the New York Law Exam (NYLE)
  • Complete 50 Hours of Pro Bono Service
  • Complete an Interview with the Committee on Character and Fitness

Keep in mind that the UBE provides examinees with flexibility.  If you come up short in the state where you take the exam, you can still transfer your “failing” score to another jurisdiction that will accept it.  For example, if you receive a 267 on the UBE in New Hampshire (which requires a 270 to pass), you can easily transfer that score to New York where a passing score is 266.  From there, once you complete the NYLC, pass the NYLE, complete your pro bono service requirement, pass the MPRE, and complete your interview with the committee on character and fitness you would be able to apply for admission to practice in New York.


Let the studying begin

Fortunately, when it comes to studying for the bar exam, you won’t have to figure out how or what to review on your own because there are many courses available. By signing up for a UBE prep course, you can review with other students and work directly with informative instructors who have already been through the trials and tribulations of studying for the bar.


Update: Since this blog post's publication, the format of the MBE has slightly changed. Starting in Feburary 2017, 25 of the 200 questions will not be scored, as opposed to the previous 10. This information has been updated above.

In order to pass the New York Bar exam, a candidate is required to earn a score of 266 out of 400. 50% of the score is derived from the MBE, and 50% from the written score representing the essay portion of the exam.

When a candidate for the New York Bar is unsuccessful, the bar examiners provide a breakdown of the score. This breakdown includes a score between 1- 200 for the MBE, and a score between 1 – 200 summarizing the written portion of the exam. In order for a student to achieve a passing score, the MBE and written score must total 266 or better. Therefore, a student achieving a score of 133 or better on each section of the bar exam is in a safe harbor and passes. Students who score less than 133 on either section can pass, provided that the score on the other half of the exam is sufficient to bring the total to 266.

For an unsuccessful NY bar exam, the examiners provide a detailed breakdown of the failing score.

In any given year, on the MBE portion of the exam, a student needs to correctly answer between 115 – 120 of the 200 questions to achieve a score of 133. Therefore, a score of 60% or better on the MBE consistently translates to a score of 133 or higher.

Similarly, on the written portion of the exam, an essay/MPT average of 50 or better translates to a written score of 133 or higher. Specifically, the written score is comprised of scores for each individual written essay and MPT. Those individual scores are each a number between 1 – 80 which are tallied and weighted. Individual essays covering the substantive law are each worth 5% of the grade for a total of six essays comprising 30%, and the two MPTs are each worth 10% for an additional 20% of the final grade. Like with the MBE, in which there is some deviation each year as to the minimum score or average required to achieve 133, an essay average of 50 or better always translates to a 133 or better.

In assessing success or lack thereof on a particular essay or MPT, students should consider essays that fall below a score of 50 as being representative of an area that may need additional attention or practice. Essays that fall below a score of 40 are indicative of serious deficiencies that require more individualized attention.

For this reason, a student examining their score report in anticipation of retaking the bar exam should pay particular attention to whether their written or MBE scores are above or below 133. Any score that is less than 133 suggests an area that needs additional work and attention. Similarly, in assessing individual essay, scores below 50 require work.

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