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California Bar Exam and MPRE: Planning During Law School & Checklist

This California Bar Exam guide provides an overview of steps law students can take to prepare for the California Bar Exam and the MPRE. Information regarding deadlines, topics covered on the California Bar Exam, and other helpful resources are provided.

Helpful Information

Planning During Law School: First Year

The State Bar of California suggests that students who intend to sit for the California Bar Examination file their registrations to take the bar exam before submitting an Application for Determination of Moral Character (and to do so as soon as possible). 

The registration application is not the same as the bar exam application.  Once you register as a student, make sure to make a note of your registration number: you will use it on all subsequent applications and correspondence with the State Bar.

If you plan on taking a commercial bar review course, such as BARBRI, consider signing up for the course during your first year in order to lock-in lower prices.

Your required first-year courses will cover 6 of the 12 bar exam subjects: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Real Property, and Torts.  In other words, in total, you will be tested on these subjects three times - for the class itself, on the MBE, and on the bar exam!

Planning During Law School: Second and Third Years

During your second or third year, you are required to enroll in Professional Responsibility, which will help you prepare for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).  You are eligible to take the MPRE at any time during 2L or 3L.  Details about the MPRE may be found under the third tab of this Guide, titled About the MPRE.

You should also plan your second and third year course schedules with an eye toward what subjects are covered on the Bar Exam.  Elective courses offered at the law school that cover topics tested on the Bar Exam include:

  • Law 201: Constitutional Law II
  • Law 202: Criminal Procedure
  • Law 205: Wills and Trusts
  • Law 207: Community Property
  • Law 211: Evidence
  • Law 230: Business Associations
  • Law 300: Remedies

Planning During Law School: Third Year

Moral Character Application

In January of your third year of law school, make sure to submit your Moral Character Application.  The review process takes approximately six to nine months, and you will not be admitted to practice until your application is approved.  The application requires information dating as far back as high school.  Some of the required information includes:

  • Former name(s) with associated dates and the reason(s) for name change(s);
  • Residences for the past 8 years with associated dates, including college residences;
  • All colleges and postgraduate schools attended with associated dates, student ID numbers, and degrees earned;
  • Current and previous employment since age 18 that were law-related, current and previous employment that were not law-related and that lasted longer than six months (provide the name of the business, position, associated dates, supervisor, telephone number, and reason for leaving);
  • Personal references to include five reputable and responsible people who know you well (including at least one member of the Bar), with their addresses and telephone numbers;
  • Details of any professional or scholastic discipline, arrests, or convictions; and
  • Military service with associated dates, serial numbers, separation status, and a copy of Form DD214.

Fingerprinting and Passport Photo

An additional requirement is the submission of fingerprints through Live Scan.  Your Moral Character Application will not be considered complete without the appropriately processed fingerprints. 

An additional requirement for MPRE examinees is the presentation of a passport-style photograph on the day of the exam, along with government-issued identification.  UCLA law students will receive information about fingerprinting and photo services available at the law school from the Office of Student Services.

California Bar Examination Application Form

Make sure you submit your application to take the Bar Exam as soon as possible after the application becomes available.  Doing so will help ensure that you get the testing site of your choice.   

Petition for Testing Accommodations

If you are a student with a disability in need of testing accommodations for the Bar Exam, plan to make arrangements for testing accommodations well in advance of the examination date (ideally at the beginning of your third year).  You should plan to file a petition for accommodations before or at the same time as filing your application to take the examination. 

Applying to Take Non-California State Bar Exams

Because each state has its own requirements for admission to the Bar, you should investigate the rules for each state in which you intend to practice.  The ABA's Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements provides information about each state's bar exam.  A Directory of State Bar Admission Agencies is provided at the end of the aforementioned Guide.  You might also look for a bar-related LibGuide authored by a law school library in that state!

Preparing for the CA Bar Exam - Checklist

First Year

  • For students who are certain that they will be practicing law within the state of California, register with the State Bar of California.
  • If you are concerned about cost increases for commercial bar review courses, make a deposit on a bar prep course during your first year to lock-in the then-current price.

Second or Third Years

  • Take a Professional Responsibility course and the MPRE any time during your 2L or 3L year.  Try to take the MPRE late in 2L or early in 3L so that it does not interfere with studying for the bar exam.

Third Year

  • Submit your Moral Character Application in January of the year in which you plan to take the bar exam.  You should typically ask permission before using someone's name as a reference, including law school faculty or librarians.
  • Submit your fingerprints to the State Bar through Live Scan.  Keep an eye out for announcements from the law school regarding fingerprinting and passport photograph services.
  • BEFORE April 1: submit your application to take the July Bar Exam.  Make every effort to submit your application as soon as possible to ensure that you get the testing center of your choice.  If you plan to use your laptop for the exam, payment of an additional fee and certification of your laptop is required.  Students with disabilities should file a petition for testing accommodations before or during the time that they file an application to take the exam.
  • Make hotel reservations, if you plan on staying at a hotel while you take the bar exam.  Special rates are provided through the State Bar - act fast on these rates, as rooms at nearby hotels will go fast!

The Months Leading Up To the Bar Exam

  • Make sure to follow the study schedule given to you and take every practice test providedCommercial bar review courses are expensive but are often effective in teaching students how to pass the California Bar Exam.
  • Think of studying for the exam as your full-time job this summer.
  • Manage your stress.  Build exercise and entertainment into your schedule.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed about the exam, talk to someone about how you're feeling!

The Week of the Exam

  • Night before the exam: Eat a good dinner and try to get a good night's rest.  Try not to stay up late or study the night before the first day of the exam.
  • Every day of the exam: Make sure to bring all of the following with you: photo ID, your admission information from the State Bar, several pencils, erasers, highlighters, ear plugs, eyeglasses (if you wear them), and, if you are taking the exam on your laptop, all cords, batteries, and equipment needed to operate your laptop (make sure your batteries are charged!).  Some students also find it helpful to bring a silent analog watch, timer, or clock to keep track of time.  The State Bar provides information about what materials you may bring to the test center.
  • FIRST DAY OF BAR EXAM: Applicants using laptop computers must be seated at the test centers by no later than 8:20 a.m.  All other applicants must be seated by no later than 8:30 a.m.  The examination will begin immediately after instructions are read.  Applicants who arrive at the test center after one hour of testing has elapsed will NOT be permitted to enter the test center.  There will be a lunch break on each day of the exam - try to bring your lunch so that you don't need to worry about finding something to eat.  If you eat with friends or other test-takers, don't rehash the part of the exam you just completed.  On this first day, you will be tested on essays in the morning and a performance test in the afternoon.  As with the night before the exam, don't stay up late studying for the next test day.  Eat well, and go to bed!
  • SECOND DAY OF BAR EXAM: On the second day, you will be tested on the MBE, the multiple-choice part of the Bar Exam.  Make sure to answer all questions on the MBE, as your score is calculated based on the number of questions answered correctly.  A guess is better than an empty bubble!  During your lunch break, follow the advice given above for the first test day about bringing a lunch and not rehashing what you just experienced.  When you are done for the day, GO OUT AND CELEBRATE!