You may have heard that a major overhaul of the bar exam is coming. Some students have even piloted the changes. Over the years the exam has seen changes to its format and even went remote during Covid. But, there are more changes to come, bar candidates!
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), the new version of the bar exam, known as the “NextGen bar exam” is expected to launch July 2026. The NextGen bar exam will replace the current Uniform Bar Exam, or UBE.
Whether you have taken the exam already or not, it may be helpful to gain a better sense of the changes to come and how to effectively prepare. This exam can affect all kinds of students from different walks of life and law career paths.
For 1Ls starting law school in the fall of 2023 and expected to graduate in 2026 – this is the year of the expected implementation. If you are currently in law school, you may be graduating right before the change, you may still end up taking the new exam depending on when you are registered to take it. If you have already graduated, this change may be relevant to you if you take the exam later on. Some law graduates may elect to take the exam at a later date or retake it again for various reasons including scoring higher for another jurisdiction and for career opportunities.
What will the Exam Test?
According to the NCBE, the exam is said to test a broad range of foundational lawyering skills by focusing on fundamental legal concepts and principles. The questions will be aimed to test your practical legal skills and abilities.
This means that the bar exam’s three separate sections known as the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test will be replaced with questions testing practical legal knowledge and skills. Additionally, some topics are being taken out. According to the NCBE, the following subjects will not be tested: conflict of laws, family law, wills and trusts, and secured transactions. This can be a huge sigh of relief if you did not plan on taking these classes. Many students are unable to fit these electives into their schedule, and these important subjects on the essay portion can be challenging to learn in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, you can spend a lot of your short time trying to get these topics down, and they don’t always appear on the test as not everything can be tested, but it is all testable or fair game.
The shift to focus on practical law is designed to test skills and knowledge utilized in litigation and transactional practice of law, many of the skills you’ve seen hands-on in clinic, legal writing classes, and mock trial.
How Can I Prepare?
- Embrace Change: Generally, a positive attitude can go a long way when you approach this exam. One of the best things you can do to prepare for or adapt to the new exam is to embrace the revamp. Remember, while change may seem challenging, it also presents an opportunity for growth and improvement. You will likely hear about the new exam at some point whether at work, school, by peers, graduates, or social media. Navigating through this major shift is a lot easier when you decide to embrace what comes your way and even take on a growth mindset.
- Take a Proactive Approach: Change can be stressful and confusing. However, we can reduce that stress by familiarizing ourselves with the new exam. For example, take steps to understand the new exam structure. Before the changes go into effect, get your hands on any official practice materials, sample questions, or mock exams provided by the NCBE. In addition, consider what study techniques you want to adapt for exam success.
- Stay informed about the latest changes to the bar exam by Subscribing to NCBE Updates here. For help staying on course, motivated and updated, the Bar Exam Toolbox is here for you. This Bar Exam Toolbox podcast episode discusses aspects of the new exam. The podcast points out that a major upside of reduced subject matter coverage is reduced memorization which results in less stress and overwhelm for bar takers. This is a huge relief!
- Maintain Balance: Preparing for the bar exam can be stressful, particularly when faced with new challenges. Implement effective stress management techniques, such as regular exercise, mindfulness, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
Aspiring lawyers can position themselves for success by embracing change, staying informed, learning the new exam structure, adapting study techniques, and managing stress. With preparation and a positive mindset, you can confidently tackle the changing bar exam and reach your goals!