Southern Illinois University School of Law

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

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General Information - Bar Exam

 Q: What does the “bar exam” or “being admitted to the bar” mean? 

Becoming licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction is often referred to as being “admitted to the bar.” The “bar exam” is the examination you must pass to be admitted to the bar. Taking and passing the bar exam is only part of the admission process. In the United States, each state has its own licensing requirements.

Q: Does the School of Law decide whether I can be licensed to practice law? 

Admission to the bar is determined by each jurisdiction (country or state), not by the applicant’s law school. For example, Kentucky may have different licensing requirements than Illinois. Further, only the licensing authority is capable of interpreting the rules for admission in that state. However, the dean is often asked by IL and some other jurisdictions to certify each student to the bar examiner. Bar examiners often obtain your law school file.

Q: What do I have to do to be licensed to practice law? 

While the requirements vary, most jurisdictions require 4 things: 

1)       a law degree (Juris Doctor or equivalent)

2)       passage of a bar exam;

3)       a certain score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE); and

4)       meeting certain character and fitness requirements.  

The bar exam, the MPRE, and the character and fitness registration may each have their own separate applications.  

The State of Illinois requires separate applications.  See Illinois Supreme Court Rule 706(a) or  United States federal courts usually require that a lawyer be admitted to the bar of a state or other jurisdiction; however, each district courts has its own requirements in addition to passing a state bar exam.  

Law students should research the requirements of the jurisdiction where they expect to practice.  Links to the websites for each jurisdiction can be found on this website. 

Q: When do I have to do as a first year student? 

Some jurisdictions, such as Illinois, either require or encourage students to make the character and fitness application during their first year of law school.  See e.g. Ill. S. Ct. Rule 706(a).  Most jurisdictions permit applicants to apply at a later time, though there is often a late fee.  See e.g. Ill. S. Ct. Rule 706 (b) and (a).  Students who apply as a first year law student can save a considerable amount in fees.

Q: What topics are covered in the bar exam? 

Each jurisdiction determines the nature of the bar exam.  Check with your jurisdiction concerning the topics to be examined.   

For the list of topics to be examined in Illinois, see below and go to Ill. S. Ct. Rule 704(d) or

Much of the essay exam and all of the multiple choice portion test on contracts (including sales), torts, evidence, property, constitutional law and criminal law/procedure. 


Q: How should I study for the bar exam? 

All law students are advised to take a commercial bar review course to help them prepare for the bar exam. The websites for these courses are available on this website. Students are also advised to take advantage of any and all workshops or presentations offered by the School of Law concerning the bar exam.

Q: How long is the bar exam, when is it offered? 

Each jurisdiction determines the length of the bar exam, exam sites, and test dates. The bar exam in Illinois is a two-day exam usually given in February and July.  Law students are advised to check with the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar at for up-to-date information.

 In Illinois, the first day usually consists of: 

1. Three essay questions on Illinois law. There are usually three multi-part questions, 30 minutes in length, expect civil procedure and equity (remedies) and any of the topics listed in Supreme Court Rule 704d. 

2.  The multistate performance exam (MPT). This is a 1.5 hour exam in which students are asked to perform a lawyering task such as writing a memoranda in support of a motion, a letter to a client, a legal instrument or a closing argument.   

3.  Six essay questions (MEE). Each is a multi-part question, about 30 minutes in length, on a topic such as sales, commercial paper, secured transactions, business organizations including corporations and limited liability companies, agency and partnership, wills and decedent’s estates, federal courts, federal civil procedure, trusts and future interests, family law, conflicts of law and any of the topics listed below as the MBE.  

In Illinois, the second day (MBE) usually consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, 33 or 34 are on each of these subjects: sales and contracts, torts, evidence, real property, constitutional law, and criminal law and procedure.  

In Missouri, the first day usually consists of: 

1. Two multistate performance exams (see Illinois above.) 

2. Six essay questions (see Illinois above.)