How to pass the CA Bar Exam

For months, every bar exam taker awaits their results anxiously only to hopefully read that one simple, but life changing sentence.


Taking the California Bar Exam in and of itself is a massive undertaking and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for most JDs, let alone for foreigners holding either LL.M. degrees or attorneys already admitted in their home countries. The language barrier definitely doesn’t make things easier – legalese never is, no matter where you’re from and what language you speak. However, studying the material and really knowing the law is the tough part everyone is going through.

The months preparing for the bar exam are not only comprised of daily mental marathons – thinking and memorizing for about 10 hours a day is excruciating – but they are also challenging on an emotional and psychological level. Prepare yourself to make studying process your number one priority for about 3 months and anything else in life will have to come after. This is no joke, unfortunately. Try to give everything during this rather short period of time in order to obtain a life-long benefit of entering the professional pool of US lawyers.


  • Before delving into the CA Bar Examination details, each candidate should take a moment to reflect whether the California or New York bar exam are their best choices. Many States have already adopted the possibility to take the so-called UBE which – once licensed – allows to practice law in multiple States. 
  • Once you are settled on where you will take the exam and have made sure to fulfill the eligibility requirements (foreigners might be required to earn a LL.M. degree first), register and do some research on how to prepare for this monster of an exam.

In California, the toughest state to take the bar, prepare for a 2-day exam: 

DAY 1: 

3 60-minute essay questions in the morning + 2 60-minute essay questions + 1 90-minute Performance Test (PT) in the afternoon

Subjects are:

  • Business Associations (Agency and Partnership, Corporations and LLC)
  • CA Civil Procedure
  • CA Community Property
  • CA Evidence
  • Professional Responsibility (ABA & CA)
  • Remedies
  • Trusts (contrary to wide belief, it is not a CA-only subject)
  • CA Wills
  • All MBE subjects

DAY 2: Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) = 200-question multiple choice exam (100 questions in the morning and 100 questions in the afternoon)

MBE Subjects:

  • Federal Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts & UCC 
  • Criminal Law & Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence 
  • Real Property
  • Torts

*Note: If you are in an LL.M. program don’t fret if you don’t do any of the bar subjects in classes. It won’t help you. The bar is entirely different than law school.


  • There are tons of bar preparation courses and materials out there, let’s list just a few for the heck of it: Barbri, Themis, Kaplan, Adaptibar, BarEssays, Emmanuel’s, Critical Pass Flashcards, Barmax, etc. You want to make an informed decision, all those programs aren’t cheap so look at the materials but also be aware whether you’ll get some good feedback on simulated essays as that will be the most helpful.
    From my own experience, if you are taking the California bar exam there is only one course to choose:
    One Timers. It’s so good that if you are really putting in the work you shouldn’t have any trouble passing the exam on the first try. This program might be more expensive than others but if you think about how much more it’ll cost if you fail one or two times you’ll hate yourself for not having chosen this one in the first place! Trust me, been there, done that!
    Jason knows all his students and you can ask him any questions at all times. He asks his students to really give their best and pushes you to do well. It worked for me, that’s all I can say.
  • Due to the pandemic the bar exam was administered online which at first seemed scary but turned out to be a blessing. All the administrative and organizational issues aside (watch out for email updates before the bar so you don’t miss any crucial deadlines, find a place to take the exam without any disturbance, prepare your food and know the rules and the process for exam day), it was great to be able to use the bathroom or eat/drink in-between sessions. Another perk of the online version is that you won’t have to spend tons of money for a hotel room you’d otherwise book for the exam days. My advise to feel ready for the sessions is to sit through the mock exams which are offered shortly before the first exam day in order to familiarize with the layout of the exam software. There really is no need to worry about not having the paper in front of you. Sure, the PT is a bit challenging as your screen is only that big and you’ll have to go back and forth between scrolling and highlighting the text and writing out the tasks at hand below.
    Many candidates ask whether there is a copy & paste function: yes, there is. However, find solace in the fact that this is a state licensing exam for you to become a lawyer, if you find yourself copying any text from the exam tasks (essays or PT) you are likely on the wrong track. You won’t impress any examiner by copying verbatim.

Here are some general quick-tips:


The key is to read the entire essay question CAREFULLY! As always, you’ll go to the call of the question first in order to decipher which subject the essay is testing. Then you’ll read it. Take time, do not rush, otherwise you will miss what they want you to answer. All the chatter about issue spotting is non-sense. The examiners more often than not tell you exactly what they want you to discuss. Ad “discuss”: There is no need to write out one answer. Unlike the MBEs, the essays test your sense of reasoning and finding the points that are in dispute. Take all the facts you find and discuss the law. Nobody cares whether you know the black letter law. That alone won’t get you a passing score.
Also, pay attention to any dates, numbers and text in “…”, the examiners use those purposefully!


Again, read carefully and do not rush! It’s so imperative to remain calm so you don’t overlook the very word the entire question hinges upon.
The tough part is to never lose focus. Always, always check the call of the question first.


The good news is that you don’t need to know any law for this assignment. The bad news is that it involves lots and lots of reading and typing out your answer in a very short period of time.
There’s several different ways to go about it. Again, careful reading is the crux.
The task memo will explain the case at hand and what sort of legal document your “boss” would like you to draft. What I then did was to read the fact files first and the library after. Typically, everyone will tell you to spend the first 45 minutes reading the material and the second half writing your answer. For me, that never worked; after reading the task memo I’d start out the general framework of my answer. That way I made sure what exactly will be required of me and I understood what I had to do. I also would write out the most important facts and infer the law from the cases while reading. Since a PT can be really long (maybe 18 pages) I was never able to recall all the details which is why I was always writing down the most important information while reading. Once I knew all of the law I would organize my text.


In order to become an admitted attorney in the US, in addition to the bar exam, an applicant must pass the so-called MPRE exam. It’s is a 2 hour exam with 60 multiple choice questions. Compared to the bar exam it truly is an easy test to pass, yet it’s a little thorn in your ****.
Thus, just pass it on your first try. I recommend Barbri’s free materials and there’s really not much more to say. Only ABA Rules are tested. Sit down, go through the book and videos and take the tests. For the bar as well as for the MPRE practice is worth gold.


Don’t forget to get all documentations in order to get your moral character approval in time, before you receive your bar exam results. You don’t want to deal with any of that when you’re basically done. Receiving the approval may take up to 6 months, so better get to it early.

Good luck on your bar exam!

P.S.: Please reach out if you want to know more about certain topics. I’m happy to help. We’re all in the same boat here!