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Introduction to the California Bar Exam

Introduction to the California Bar Exam

The California Bar Exam is a two-day exam that consists of six essay questions (five substantive essay questions and one performance test) on the first day of the exam and 200 multiple choice questions on the second day of the exam. Below is more information about the three components of the bar exam: (1) Essay Questions; (2) Performance Tests; and (3) the MBE (multiple choice questions).

I. Essay Questions

There are five essay questions on the bar exam, which are designed to test your substantive understanding of the law. The five essay questions can be on any of the following topics (and can combine more than one topic, such as community property and wills): Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Community Property, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Remedies, Torts, Trusts, and Wills and Succession. Note: While you need to study every topic in-depth, there are several resources that you can use to potentially help you prioritize which topics to study because of the frequency of which they are tested. For example, as shown in the following link, a professional responsibility question is asked 97% of the time on the California bar exam: Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that you will need to be prepared to answer a professional responsibility question on the bar exam.


On the first day of the bar exam, you will answer three questions in the morning session and two essay questions (plus the performance test) in the afternoon session. The essay questions are designed to be answered in an hour but for the morning session, you will be given three hours to complete all three essay questions (meaning you could take more than an hour on one question if need be, but will have less time on another).

For each essay question, you are being tested on both your substantive knowledge and your ability to follow the CRAC/IRAC format. Thus, you need to write at least one sentence for each portion of CRAC/IRAC (for rule statements and analysis, you will in all likelihood be writing several sentences).

Study tip: Practice writing out your rule statements when studying. It is not enough to only memorize rule statements. Rather, you need to practice writing them out so you are comfortable reciting the rule on the bar exam.

II. Performance Tests

The Performance Test is a 90-minute closed-universe question that tests your legal writing abilities. Generally, you will be asked to draft a legal document, such as a memorandum. The question will have a file and a library. The file will generally contain the instructions and facts of your case. The library will generally consist of statutes, cases, and other decisions that you will cite to support your memo.

For approximately the first 45 minutes, you will focus on reading the case materials and typing an outline of your answer. You will spend the second 45 minutes filling in your outline and writing your answer. Please see the ASC’s Guide to Performance Tests for how to read, outline, and write your performance tests.

Past Performance Tests and selected answers are available here:


The MBE is the multiple-choice portion of the bar exam and consists of a total of 200 multiple choice questions (25 of which are unscored). The MBE is divided into a 3-hour morning session of 100 questions and a 3-hour afternoon session of 100 questions. Each question has four answer choices. The 175 scored MBE questions will consist of exactly 25 questions from each of the following seven topics: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. Note: You will not know which 25 questions are unscored, however, the MBE is usually curved by 12-18 points (meaning if you got 120 questions correct, your score would be curved to be 138). You generally want to get around 120 questions correct (not including the curve).

A few MBE sample questions, and their answers, are available here:

If you need more practice MBE questions, you may subscribe to Adapti Bar, which includes 1,758 real MBE questions from past bar exams: Note: practice MBE questions from Kaplan, Barbari, Themis, etc. are not actual MBE question, but rather have been written by those companies. Adapti Bar provides you with questions that have actually been on the bar exam before.

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