How Many Times Can You Retake the Bar Exam in California

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

Have you ever wondered how many times someone can take the California Bar Exam? The answer might surprise you. The California Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) defines a moral character admission penalty for applicants who were denied admission to the State Bar of California and subsequently prohibited from taking the exam. The penalty only applies under particular circumstances, which I’ll describe below.

The bar exam is a rite of passage for anyone who wants to be a part of the legal profession in a U.S. jurisdiction. And most law students, when they get close to the time they need to take the bar exam, have a mix of emotions going through their heads that include nerves, anxiety and excitement.

The Bar Exam is a big deal. It’s a painful, expensive, and time-intensive process that many people have to go through before they can practice law. So it’s understandable if you’re not quite ready for it after your first try.

Fortunately, you can retake the bar exam as often as you need to in order to pass! You may be wondering how many times you can take the Bar Exam in California. Luckily for you, we’re here to help!

This article will tell you everything you need to know about how many times you can take the Bar Exam in California. You’ll learn about the number of times you can retake the exam, how long it takes to get your results, what the expectations are around passing rates, and what happens if you fail too many times.

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February 2020 California Bar Exam Approaches - California Desert Trial  Academy College of Law

How Many Times Can You Retake the Bar Exam in California

States fall into three different categories in terms of their approach:

  • No limits: The vast majority of states do not limit the number of times that you are able to sit for the bar exam (so in theory, you can sit for the bar as many times as you want).
  • Discretionary limits: Some states impose limits (anywhere from 2 to 6) but allow you to take the exam more than that if you get special permission from the state bar.
  • Hard limits: A minority of states impose hard limits on how many times you can take the bar exam (e.g., after a certain amount of times, you can no longer sit for that bar exam).

We organize these states by category below so that you can easily see what your jurisdiction does.

Note: The below information has been gathered from the NCBE Bar Admission Requirements Guide. Please see your specific jurisdiction’s requirements for specific inquiries. Note that if your jurisdiction has adopted the Uniform Bar Exam recently, they may have also changed their rules. So be especially aware of that!

For the following jurisdictions, there is no limit
on the number of times you can take the exam:

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana*, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau

*[See below to understand what the asterisk means!]

The following jurisdictions limit the amount of times
you can take the bar exam without special permission:

Arizona (3)*, District of Columbia* (4), Idaho (6) Iowa (2), Maryland (3), Montana (3), South Carolina* (3), South Dakota* (3), Texas (5), Utah (6), Virginia (5), West Virginia* (4), Puerto Rico (6), Virgin Islands (3)

The following jurisdictions limit the amount of times
you can take the exam and impose hard limits
(i.e. no special permission will be given!)

Kansas (4), Kentucky (5), New Hampshire (4), North Dakota (6), Rhode Island (5), Vermont (4),

Below are a few notes on specific states:

Arizona: We are aware of students who were able to request special permission and who have told us that permission to retake the exam is generally permitted.  In fact, multiple students have been granted permission with relative ease. 

District of Columbia: After taking the bar exam four times, an applicant must show “extraordinary circumstances” to take it another time.

Louisiana: Louisiana used to limit the number of times an applicant could take the bar exam without special permission to 5, but no longer does.

South Carolina: There is no limit on the number of times but additional study is required after the third failure, making it impossible to sit but 1 time each year. (Note: South Carolina recently adopted the UBE so this may be subject to change.)

South Dakota: Applicants must get Supreme Court permission to take exam after three failures in any jurisdiction or combination of jurisdictions

West Virginia: Applicants are limited to four failed exams in West Virginia or any other state before special permission from the Board is required.

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Applicants must pass several examinations to be admitted to practice law in California.

Overview of how many times can you take the bar exam

Taking the bar exam and passing the first time with flying colors is a dream. But what happens if you don’t pass the first time around?

Each state has varying passing rates for the bar exam, ranging from about 45% in California to as high as 81% in Oklahoma. These values come down to many factors like population and available law schools in each state. With these passing rates in mind, it is certain that some will have to take the bar exam multiple times.

Understanding which states allow limited attempts at the bar exam is important. Being informed on the limits for your state or jurisdiction can dictate your studying strategy if you are on your last attempt.

Luckily, most states allow unlimited attempts to pass the bar exam. There are 21 states that limit bar exam attempts, that range from 2-6 attempts. Some of those states have discretionary limits that allow additional attempts outside of their limit with special permissions. But there are some states that have absolute limits that barr applicants from retaking the exam in that state. States with discretionary limits will vary. Some may require extraordinary circumstances to permit another examination, while some may be more lenient.

Please note that the information presented below is based off various resources like the NCBE Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements and a journal from the St. Johns Law Review. Be sure to double check the requirements for your jurisdiction. One way to do this is by contacting your state’s board of law or office of bar admissions.

Start Studying Today

Once you are aware of your jurisdiction’s limits on taking the bar exam, you should have a better idea of how much effort to put into your exam preparation. Good news for you, we have free MBE practice tests to help brush up your knowledge. Additionally, we have a premium program that guarantees you will pass.

how many times can you take the bar exam in new york

The good news is that you can take the New York bar exam an unlimited amount of times if you do not pass. New York does not place a limit or a restriction on the number of times you may attempt to pass the bar exam. This, of course, does not mean that you want to take it numerous times.  But it does take pressure off of you if you are afraid you may fail the bar exam.  

how many times can you take the bar exam in texas

You may take the Bar Exam a maximum of 5 times. If you sit for any part of an exam, it will count as one of your 5 attempts. However, unless you make a bona fide effort to complete each section of the exam, we will not grade any part of the exam, and if you want to take a future exam, you must submit a re-application and fees by the applicable deadline in Rule 9(a).

California Bar Examination

The California Bar Examination is given twice each year in February and July. The exam will be given over two days and consist of the following parts:

  • Five one-hour essay questions
  • One 90-minute Performance Test
  • 200 multiple-choice questions (Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)

The written portion of the examination (essay questions and Performance Test) is administered on the first day, with three essay questions given in the morning session and two essay questions plus the Performance Test given in the afternoon session. The MBE is administered on the second day, with 100 questions given in the morning and 100 questions given in the afternoon.

The examination covers 13 subjects, including 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. 

Approximately 16,000 people take the bar exam each year. Find more information about the California Bar Exam, including dates and test locations.

  • Past exam questions and selected answers
  • See dates and application deadlines for upcoming exams
  • See passage rate statistics
Will California, easing bar exam, see more lawyers of color? - Los Angeles  Times

What it is Like to Prepare and Sit for the Bar Examination

Are there ways to help all who take the California Bar Exam better prepare and improve their performance? That is the question being studied by the State Bar in conjunction with a team of law and psychology researchers from Indiana University, University of Southern California, and Stanford University. 

First-Year Law Students’ Examination 

The First-Year Law Student’s Examination (also known as the “baby bar”) is a one-day test given twice a year in June and October. It consists of four one-hour essay questions administered in a four-hour morning session and 100 multiple choice questions administered in a three-hour afternoon session. The examination covers three subjects: Contracts, Criminal Law and Torts. More than 1,100 applicants take the exam each year. The exam is only given in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Applicants can take the exam if they have completed one year of law study.

  • Find out more about the exam, including dates and test locations
  • Past exam questions and selected answers
  • See dates and application deadlines for upcoming exams
  • See passage rate statistics

Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Every applicant must take and pass the MPRE in order to be admitted. Applicants can take the MPRE any time after completing one year of law study and before being licensed to practice law in California. This two-hour, multiple-choice test is administered three times a year by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

The California Bar Exam is notoriously difficult. Only around 40 percent of applicants pass the exam every year. If you are studying to retake the exam, there is hope. There are several things you can do to improve your chances of passing on the second try.

Preparing for the Exam

Preparing for the exam includes more than just studying. You should also consider scheduling tutoring sessions with a licensed attorney or professional bar exam tutor to help you review any topics that you struggle with.

Take Practice Tests

To gain more confidence in your bar test-taking abilities, take practice tests and mock exams under simulated test taking conditions. This will help you learn how to pace yourself and get used to the type of questions that are typically asked on the exam.

Get Enough Sleep and Eat Well

Since the California Bar Exam takes two full days, it is important that you get plenty of sleep and eat well the night before and during each day of testing. The last thing you want is to be tired and hungry when taking a long test that requires your full attention and concentration.

With these tips in mind, you will be well on your way to passing the California Bar Exam on your first try!

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