The test we love to hate is getting a major makeover. Long criticized for not really having any real talent for assessing the skills required for a skilled lawyer, much needed attention is being directed toward crafting a test that… you know… actually assesses those things. From Reuters:
With a new bar exam set to debut in July 2026, the National Conference of Bar Examiners on Thursday unveiled what the overhauled test will cover… The new test will do away with the current exam’s three separate components — the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination and the Multistate Performance Test— in favor of an exam designed to better integrate knowledge and skills.
For example, the new exam may use a common fact pattern to test two or three areas of the law and a variety of legal skills over five or six questions of various formats, said Cynthia Martin, a Missouri judge who is leading the development of the new test.
The NCBE is keeping the definite changes close to their chest, but they did the kindness of previewing what a section could look like:
[An] item set scenario raises issues of Criminal Law and Evidence and includes a police report, a statute governing assault and battery, and an excerpt from a case interpreting the statute. Later in the scenario, a transcript of a law clerk’s interview of a potential witness is provided. The prompts or questions related to the scenario include a mix of selected response and short answer items, such as
What fact in the police report will be most helpful in proving the element of “knowingly”? [selected response item]
List three avenues you would pursue to gather other evidence relevant to issue of “great bodily harm.” [short answer item]
Will the police officer be permitted to testify in his own words about the victim’s description of the incident? [selected response item]
Review the transcript of the witness interview and identify two professional errors the law clerk made. [short answer item]
These challenges look like they are addressing something that would actually be useful in the real world, in contradiction, of course, to things that the current bar asks about, like the rule against perpetuities. Speaking of which!
Now that is a death worth celebrating! The crowning gem to top it all? The new test could take less time to complete! While this isn’t abolition, some speed would definitely be appreciated. In the meantime, the temperature seems right to prod the NCBE toward other deliverables. In addition to releasing model answers, I’d also like to see what the answers that were just good enough to pass look like.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.