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Information for LL.M. Candidates about Bar Preparation, Examination, and Admission

Many LL.M. students have the goal of passing a U.S. state bar exam. We have designed an LL.M. program to help students achieve their goal. The Penn State Law LL.M. program provides students with the curriculum necessary to understand the U.S. legal system at a high level. A student interested in sitting for a bar exam has the freedom to select from a wide-array of courses covering all aspects of the American legal system.

Bar Exam Overview

In general, the bar exam is offered twice a year, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday in July and February. The bar exam is administered in each state in the U.S., and each state has its own bar exam and rules for bar admission.  For most states, one day covers state law and the second day is for the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). For a detailed and accurate list of the subjects tested in particular state(s), contact the state’s bar admission office directly. Most states also require the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is offered in March, August, and November. The MPRE can be, and almost always is, taken before the bar exam.

Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The MBE is a six-hour, 200 question multiple-choice exam covering constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. The MBE is mandatory in all states except Louisiana and Washington.

NEW — Effective February 2015, Civil Procedure will be tested on the MBE. Effective with the February 2015 administration of the MBE, a seventh content area — Civil Procedure — will be covered for the first time. The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, of which 190 are scored items and 10 are unscored pretest items. The current list of topics includes Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. The addition of Civil Procedure will mean that the number of questions per topic will decrease. Starting in 2015, there will be 28 questions covering Contracts, and 27 questions covering each of the six remaining topics, for a total of 190.

Test specifications for the MBE Civil Procedure items will be announced no later than June 30, 2013. In the meantime, the specifications for Civil Procedure, already a topic on the Multistate Essay Examination, are available on the National Conference of Bar Examiners website, The website is the best source for obtaining information about all NCBE tests.

Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

The MPRE is a two-hour, 60 question multiple-choice exam that measures your knowledge of ethical standards in the legal profession. It is required in all states except Maryland, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Character and Fitness to Practice Law

All states have a character and fitness requirement. The Pennsylvania standard is a good example: "The character and fitness standards require that an applicant to the bar be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts and others. The hallmark of such a person is honesty, especially in connection with the application for admission to the bar. Persons with a record showing a deficiency in honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability may not be recommended for admission."

New York Bar Exam Overview

Most LL.M. students sit for the bar exam in New York State because its admission rules are hospitable to attorneys trained outside the U.S.  It is important to become familiar with the rules of eligibility. Students interested in taking the New York bar exam should review eligibility requirements posted on the New York State Bar Examiners website.

LL.M. candidates thinking about taking the NY Bar Exam after completing the Penn State Law LL.M. degree should submit their credentials to the NY BOLE simultaneously with their Penn State Law Admission application (or immediately upon notification of admission). Penn State Law strongly recommends that applicants interested in taking the NY bar exam complete the New York Foreign Evaluation Form and submit all required documentation upon admission to the LL.M. program and prior to their arrival in the United States. The NY BOLE credential evaluation could disqualify a candidate from sitting for the NY Bar Exam even if s/he successfully completes the LL.M. degree; this important step should be part of your Penn State Law admissions planning.

NEW Education Credentials Evaluation:

New York has imposed a new deadline for bar exam applicants educated outside the United States for submitting the Foreign Evaluation Form as well as all required documentation: All foreign-educated applicants MUSTcomplete the Foreign Evaluation Form and have all required foreign education documentation to the Board at least six months prior to the first day of the application filing period for the exam they wish to take. This new requirement will apply to applicants for the February, 2014 bar exam, and all subsequent bar exams. Applicants should carefully consult the eligibility requirements for details. 

All LL.M. students applying to take the New York Bar Exam will be required to submit a final official transcript showing degree confirmed and an LL.M. Certificate of Attendance Form to the New York Board of Law Examiners.

  1. Request an official transcript on eLion. Select Students, then Advising and Transcripts on the left menu. Have your transcript sent to:

    New York State Board of Law Examiners
    Corporate Plaza – Building 3
    254 Washington Avenue Extension
    Albany, NY 12203-5195.
  2. Complete the LL.M. Certificate of Attendance Form (items #1 – 12), print the completed form and submit it to the Law School Registrar, 250D Lewis Katz Building, University Park, PA 16802.

The NY State Board of Law Examiners strongly recommends that foreign-educated applicants who may need to complete an LL.M. degree to cure a deficiency in their foreign legal education obtain an advance determination of their eligibility prior to enrolling in and attending an LL.M. program. The Board cautions that not every foreign law school program is eligible to be cured by an LL.M. degree from a U.S. law school. Penn State Law strongly recommends that applicants interested in taking the NY bar exam complete the NY Foreign Evaluation Form and submit all required documentation upon admission to the LL.M. program and prior to their arrival in the United States.

Bar Exam First Day of Application Period Deadline for Foreign Evaluation
Form and Documentation
February 2014 November 1, 2013 May 1, 2013
July 2014 April 1, 2014 October 1, 2013
February 2015 November 1, 2014* May 1, 2014*
July 2015 April 1, 2015* October 1, 2014*

*These are typical dates, but are subject to change. Students should consult the NY Bar Examiners website to confirm exact dates for each exam application.

Contents of Exam:

The New York bar examination consists of

  • Essay questions and 50 multiple choice questions drawn from the following subjects:
    • Business relationships including agency, business corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, and joint ventures
    • Civil practice and procedure (New York, except as noted)
    • Conflict of laws
    • New York and federal constitutional law
    • Contracts and contract remedies
    • Criminal law and procedure
    • Evidence
    • Matrimonial and family law
    • Professional responsibility
    • Real property
    • Torts and tort damages
    • Trusts, wills and estates
    • UCC Articles 2, 3, and 9
  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT, developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is a 90 minute skills question covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of a lawyering task, and communication.  Additional information on the MPT, including the availability of study aids, is available from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

NEW Pro Bono Rule (for students who have passed the bar and seek admission after 1/1/2015):

After passing the bar exam, students must apply for admission to the New York Bar. Applicants for admission to the bar after January 1, 2015 must comply with the New York Pro Bono Rule. This new rule requires that applicants complete fifty hours of qualifying pro bono legal work prior to admission to the bar, and submit an Affidavit of Compliance to demonstrate compliance with the requirement. New York Bar applicants are generally admitted to the bar several months after they pass the bar exam. Therefore, any students who plan to take the July 2014 bar exam, or any subsequent bar exam, will likely need to comply with the pro bono rule. Students taking the February 2013 or July 2013 bar exam will not need to comply with the pro bono rule, as long as they are admitted to the bar before January 1, 2015.

The Penn State Law Advantage: Help for LL.M. Candidates in Preparing for the Bar Examination

Students planning to take the bar exam should start preparing early. The bar exam covers a vast amount of material, and it is extremely important to prioritize preparing the bar admission application(s) and studying for the exam. Our LL.M. program has designed ways to help you prepare efficiently and well to take a U.S. bar exam:

Course Advising Tailored for LL.M. Candidates Taking a U.S. Bar Exam

Students planning to take the bar exam should start preparing early. The bar exam covers a vast amount of material, and it is extremely important to prioritize preparing the bar admission application(s) and studying for the exam. Our LL.M. program has designed ways to help you prepare efficiently and well to take a U.S. bar exam:

Civil Procedure
Introduction to U.S. Legal Systems
LL.M. Analysis, Writing, and Research Courses
Constitutional Law I
Professional Responsibility

Third Semester Option

A select number of LL.M. students at Penn State Law apply to stay an additional semester to take more courses and prepare for the bar exam. Students take bar related courses and begin an intensive study for the bar exam in this final, third semester. 

Another benefit of the third semester option is that some students are able to find research positions with law professors over the summer between the second and third semester. 

Law and English Language Development

A U.S. bar exam is a timed test.  A high level of Legal English language fluency is required to be successful.   The Penn State Law LL.M. Program recognizes this language challenge and offers a variety of tools for our LL.M. students to improve their Legal English language skills

Transfer to J.D. Program

We allow select LL.M. candidates to transfer to the J.D. program, where students may take additional bar related courses. Criteria for transferring to the J.D. program is set by the Dean of Admissions and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Important factors are excellent English language skills and strong performance in classes taken at Penn State Law. LL.M. candidates interested in this path should work closely with the Penn State Law faculty advisors to choose courses and build their academic program accordingly.

Commercial Bar Review Courses

Students are strongly encouraged to take a commercial bar review course in order to properly prepare for successful completion of the bar exam.  The Law School does not recommend any particular commercial bar review course and these commercial course links are provided to students as a convenience only. Providing this information does not constitute an endorsement of any programs or products by the Law School.


What is a Dean’s Certification form?

Most states require a certificate from your law school dean attesting to the fact that you have graduated from law school. These forms can be found online at the various state bar websites. You should download the form and turn it to the Registrar's Office.

What do I do if an official transcript is required as part of the Bar Examination Application Process?

You will need to order an official transcript from the University Registrar. There is a fee, per transcript, which must be paid with a credit card when ordering online.

What do I do if fingerprints are required as part of the Bar Examination Application Process?

If you are asked to provide fingerprints as a requirement for a bar examination, please check with your local police department for information regarding where fingerprints can be processed. The law school does not handle fingerprinting processing.