How Hard Is It to Pass the Pennsylvania Bar Exam?

No matter the state, passing the bar exam is one thing law school graduates dread the most. And it is little wonder why. In many states, the bar exam is a grueling two-day test that includes multiple essays and the Multistate Bar Exam (a 200 question multiple-choice test that is used in most bar exams across the country).

And while there are several ways to measure which states are the hardest and which are the easiest, there is fairly strong consensus for both. 

By most accounts, California is known to have the toughest bar exam in the nation with an overall pass rate of around 66%. On the other hand, Wisconsin is said to have the easiest in that. For law students who go to a Wisconsin law school, there isn’t one. Wisconsin has something known as diploma privilege which automatically grants admission to the Wisconsin bar for graduates of Wisconsin law schools.

In case you’re wondering, here are some of the other states with the most difficult bar exams:

  • Nevada: because of its unique laws and higher pass rate, Nevada has one of the lowest pass rates in the country.
  • Virginia: The reason the bar exam is so hard in Old Dominion is because of the sheer breadth of topics covered.
  • Louisiana: The legal system in Louisiana is based on both English Common Law and French Civil Law and is unlike any other state in the country

But what about the Pennsylvania bar exam? How does it compare to other states in its region and around the country? If you are thinking about taking the Pennsylvania bar exam, read on to see how hard it is to pass.

The Pennsylvania Bar Exam

Like many other states, the Pennsylvania bar exam is a two-day test that includes one day of essay writing and one day for the Multistate Bar Exam. The test takes place two times every year, once at the end of February and once at the end of July. 

On the morning of the first day, examinees answer two 45-minutes essay questions followed by a 90-minute Performance Test (PT) question. In the afternoon there are four 45-minute essay questions. On the second day of the exam, students take the MBE which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.

Topics that are covered on the Pennsylvania bar exam include a range of legal topics. For example, questions related to employment discrimination, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, evidence, and many more can be found on the test.

Results are calculated with 45% of the weight going to the combined essay and PT score with 55% going to the MBE. In order to pass the exam, examinees need a combined score of 272.

The overall pass rate for the Pennsylvania bar exam is just under 80%, though it does fluctuate from year to year. That puts Pennsylvania near the top of the states with the highest pass rates. Whether or not that is the best way to gauge how difficult it is, it does seem to indicate that the Pennsylvania bar exam is not all that difficult as far as bar exams go.

It should be noted that the Pennsylvania bar does not accept MBE scores from other states. Other than those who pass the Pennsylvania bar exam, only applicants who have passed bar exams with states who have reciprocity and have practiced law for at least five of the seven years preceding the application will be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.

What About Diploma Privilege?

As noted above, the state of Wisconsin has something called diploma privilege, where applicants who have graduated from a Wisconsin law school are automatically admitted to the Wisconsin bar and can begin practicing law immediately. 

Because of how the coronavirus has affected and in some cases postponed bar exams in various states, several bar associations have adopted diploma privilege for at least this year. Those states include Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Louisiana. 

The July Pennsylvania bar exam has likewise been delayed and recent graduates have petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to consider granting diploma privilege to them as well. While there has yet to be an official ruling, some are arguing that students who are waiting in a legal limbo between graduating law school and being allowed to practice law, could face undue hardship and financial burden if they are unable to begin working in the near future.