California Shelves Plan To Create Own Bar Exam

California Bar Exam

On Thursday, the State Bar of California halted a plan to develop its own online bar exam, which could save the financially struggling organization up to $4 million annually.

The State Bar’s Board of Trustees withdrew a proposal from its meeting agenda that would have hired Kaplan North American to develop multiple-choice questions similar to those on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the daylong section featuring 200 questions.

Board Chairman Brandon Stallings explained on Thursday that the bar needed to “finalize key terms” of the plan before the trustees could consider approving it. If approved, the plan would completely separate California from the national bar exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. It would also signal California’s decision not to adopt the Next Gen Bar Exam, a redesigned national test set to debut in July 2026 and already adopted by 18 states. The plan, now on hold, would have California administer its own bar exam starting in February 2025.

Last month, deans of 13 California-accredited law schools requested the state bar to delay the plan, calling the 10-month timeline “hasty, risky, and poorly planned.”

Developing its own exam would allow California to conduct the attorney licensing test either fully or partially online. The State Bar estimates the change would save up to $4.2 million annually by eliminating the need to rent convention centers or other large spaces twice a year for examinees. This shift would also save examinees on travel and hotel costs. Currently, the state bar’s admissions arm operates at a deficit, and the entire organization faces a budget shortfall.

California’s current two-day bar exam includes the National Conference-produced MBE for one day and an additional day of five one-hour essays and a 90-minute performance test developed by the state bar. The state bar currently pays the National Conference of Bar Examiners about $1 million annually to use the MBE and would pay Kaplan up to $1.48 million annually for five years to produce MBE-like exam questions. The overall cost savings would come from remote testing. Under the agreement, Kaplan would stop providing bar exam prep services in California. A Kaplan spokesperson declined to comment on the proposal’s postponement on Thursday.

National Conference spokesperson Sophie Martin stated on Tuesday that the organization would continue to support California in any way it can but noted that examinees would lose the reciprocity offered by the Next Gen Bar Exam, which allows scores to transfer to other states. Martin did not comment on California’s exam timeline but mentioned that the National Conference spends about three years drafting, editing, and pretesting its MBE questions.