Sign up to our Newsletter

Which States Have the Hardest Bar Exams?

February 29, 2024
3 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 2/29/24

We all know the bar exam is a major challenge, but which states have the hardest bar exams? Follow along for a list of the hardest bar exams by state. 

Did you know the contents of the bar exam vary from state to state? Due to these variations, you may have heard that some tests are widely considered more difficult than others. But how does the bar exam vary from state to state? And which states have the hardest bar exam? 

Here, we’ve compiled a complete list of states with the hardest bar exams, including what makes the exams slightly more challenging than others. We’ll also explore what the bar exam is like, the easiest bar exams by state and more helpful information on each exam.

Let’s get started!

How Hard Is The Bar Exam

The bar exam is difficult. It's a two-day test with low pass rates, making it a big challenge for those aiming to become lawyers. While some other exams, like the CFA or CPA, might be tough, the bar exam is widely considered one of the hardest. Passing it requires serious studying and dedication.

Gaining experience as a legal apprentice gives you some basic knowledge, but passing the bar exam also requires focused study. 

Hardest Bar Exams By State

Here’s our list of the hardest bar exams by state. We’ve included information on each state exam, including the pass rate, length, and contents of the exam. Keep in mind that while you can consider the pass rate as an indicator of the difficulty of the exam, it is only one factor and can not accurately describe how difficult the exam is on its own. 

1. California 

Length: Two days 

Pass rate: 52%

Law students across the US may be familiar with the famed “impossible” California bar exam. But why is the California bar exam so hard? For starters, the cut score (the score needed to pass the test) of the California bar is 1390 out of 2000, which is 40 points above the national average. 

The California bar exam is given twice a year over two days and is made up of the following components:

  • Five essay questions (60 minutes each)
  • One Performance Test (90 minutes)
  • The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), around 200 multiple-choice questions 

The pass rate of California’s bar exam has slightly increased since the state announced it would be lowering the cut score from 1440 to 1390 and spreading the exam over two days rather than three, but it is still widely considered the most challenging in the country.

2. Arkansas 

Length: Two days 

Pass rate: 48%  

Arkansas is considered to have the second most difficult bar exam in the US due to the amount of information included in the exam. However, Hillary Clinton once famously passed the bar exam in Arkansas after failing the test in DC, which could lead some to believe otherwise.

Like California, the bar exam in Arkansas is administered twice a year and is spread across two days. The cut score is 270, which equates to 135 on the MBE's 200-point scale.

3. Washington 

Length: Two days 

Pass rate: 47%

At number three on our list, Washington’s bar exam is also considered significantly more difficult than the average bar exam in the US. The test is spread across two days and consists of six Multistate Essay Exam questions (MEE), two Multistate Performance Test questions (MPT), and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).

The Washington bar is considered especially difficult because of the immense volume of subject matter on the test. Washington’s bar exam cut score is 270. It was temporarily lowered to 266 for specific exams during the COVID-19 pandemic, however is back to normal now. 

4. Louisiana 

Length: Three days

Pass rate: 70%

Not only is the Louisiana bar exam long, but the material is unlike any other. The bar exam in Louisiana is unique to the material taught in law schools throughout the state, so it’s a good idea to study in Louisiana if you want to practice there later on.

The cut score of the Louisiana bar is 650 out of a possible 900. The exam is in two parts that are spread across three days and contains many subjects that are unique to the state of Louisiana. There is no portability of scores in Louisiana due to the uniqueness of the material. 

5. Nevada 

Length: 2.5 days

Pass rate: 56%

Although on the rise, Nevada’s bar exam pass rates have historically teetered toward those of California. The Nevada bar exam includes the nationwide MBE and MPT portions, as well as a state essay portion that has been reported by students to be particularly challenging. 

Nevada’s bar exam cut score is 140 on a 200-point scale or a total scaled score of 75 or higher. The exam is spread across two and a half days, longer than most bar exams on our list. 

Other States With Difficult Bar Exams

Here are some other states with particularly challenging bar exams in order of most difficult to least:

  • Delaware (Pass rate: 64%)
  • Oregon (Pass rate: 40%)
  • West Virginia (Pass rate: 55%)
  • Vermont (Pass rate: 50%)
  • Maryland (Pass rate: 59%)

The above states each have challenging bar exams due to a number of factors. We have included the pass rate, although the pass rate is not the only factor we use to determine the difficulty of the bar. We calculate bar exam difficulty by length, subject matter, pass rate, and popular opinion. 

Note: Pass rates have been rounded to the nearest percentage 

Easiest Bar Exams

Now that we’ve gone over the hardest bar exams by state let’s talk about the easiest. Keep in mind the bar exam is a high-level test and is not easy in any state. The following are simply considered to be less challenging than others in the US:

  • Northern Mariana Islands (Pass rate: 100%)
  • South Dakota (Pass rate: 74%)
  • Minnesota (Pass rate: 83%)
  • Iowa (Pass rate: 79%)
  • Montana (Pass rate: 77%)

The above states each have comparatively easy bar exams. We have included the pass rate for each, but the pass rate is not the only factor we use to determine the difficulty of the bar. We calculate bar exam difficulty by length, subject matter, pass rate, and popular opinion. 

Note: Pass rates have been rounded to the nearest percentage 

FAQs: Hardest Bar Exams

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the hardest bar exams. If you’re having trouble studying for the bar, consider reaching out to an experienced admissions advisor for end-to-end support. 

1. Which State Bar Is Most Difficult?

California is widely considered to have the hardest bar exam, due to its low pass rate and the difficulty of the content and constraints of the exam. 

2. Is The California Bar Exam Hard?

Yes, the California bar exam is widely considered to be the most difficult of all state bar exams in the US. The California bar exam has a pass rate of 34%.

3. What Percentage Of People Pass The Bar?

Each state has a different percentage of test-takers who pass the bar exam. Bar exam difficulty also varies from state to state. Averaged out across the US, about 80% of people who take the bar pass the exam. 

4. Do Most People Pass The Bar The First Time?

The American Bar Association that slightly more than 78% of U.S. law school graduates who took the bar exam for the first time in 2022 successfully passed the mandatory licensing test.

However, the success rate of first-time test-takers largely depends on the law school they have attended and the state they are in. Pass rates can vary anywhere from 30% to 90%, depending on these factors.

If you have received accurate support and you are well-prepared for the bar, you should be able to pass the bar the first time. That said, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. If you’re looking for help preparing for the bar, consider contacting a specialized bar exam tutor

5. Is The NCLEX Harder Than The Bar Exam?

The Bar Exam is typically seen as harder than the NCLEX. This is because the Bar Exam covers many intricate legal topics and has a lower pass rate, around 60% on average. In contrast, the NCLEX focuses on nursing concepts and has a higher pass rate, around 80% on average.

Final Thoughts: Bar Exam Difficulty by State

Bar exam difficulty can have a lot of variation from state to state. Although some material is commonly found on each state bar exam, factors such as question length, total test time, cut scores, and pass rates vary depending on where you take your test.

What’s most important when deciding where to take the bar exam is to ensure that you are taking it in the state you intend to practice in. This is important for knowing the material on your exam, but even more for state licensure. 

In some states (like Louisiana), attending law school in the state you intend to take the bar in can also be crucial to your success. Make sure to research the bar exam in your state before you take the test. 

Good luck!

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.

You May Also Like