The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)

The National Conference of Bar Examiners has produced the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) since 1972.

The MBE consists of 200 ­multiple-choice questions in the follow­ing areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. The purpose of the MBE is to assess the extent to which an examinee can apply fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze given fact patterns.

Both a raw score and a scaled score are computed for each examinee. A raw score is the number of questions answered correctly. Raw scores from different administrations of the MBE are not comparable, primarily due to differences in the difficulty of the questions from one administration to the next. The MBE, like virtually all high-stakes exams, is equated. Equating is a statistical process that adjusts for variations in the difficulty of the questions, producing scaled scores that represent the same level of performance across all MBE administrations. For instance, if the questions appearing on the July MBE were more difficult than those appearing on the February MBE, then the scaled scores for the July MBE would be adjusted upward to account for this difference. These adjustments ensure that no examinee is unfairly penalized or rewarded for taking a more or less difficult exam. Each jurisdiction determines its own policy with regard to the relative weight given to the MBE and other scores. (Jurisdictions that administer the Uniform Bar Examination [UBE] weight the MBE component 50%.)

Jurisdictions Using the MBE in 2020

This map shows the 54 jurisdictions that used the MBE in 2020. All jurisdictions except Louisiana and Puerto Rico used the MBE in 2020. Note that Delaware and Palau, both of which use the MBE but canceled their exams in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are included in this count of 54 jurisdictions.

NOTE: Delaware and Palau, both of which use the MBE but canceled their exams in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are included in this count of 54 jurisdictions.

2020 MBE National Summary Statistics (Based on Scaled Scores)

Note: The values in this chart reflect valid scores available electronically as of 3/15/2021.

February July September October 2020 Total
Number of Examinees 19,122 5,678 1,811 417 27,028
Mean Scaled Score 132.6 146.1 142.7 137.2 136.2
Standard Deviation 15.6 15.8 15.0 17.8 16.7
Maximum 183.9 185.6 181.6 178.9 185.6
Minimum 46.3 79.4 77.4 78.7 46.3
Median 132.7 147.3 143.0 137.5 136.1

2020 MBE National Score Distributions

Note: The values in this chart reflect valid scores available electronically as of 3/15/2021.These data represent scaled scores in increments of 5, with the exception of 85, which includes all examinees below that score. For example, the percentage reported for 135 includes examinees whose MBE scaled scores were between 130.5 and 135.4. Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

MBE National Examinee Counts, 2011–2020

Note: The values in this chart reflect valid scores available electronically as of 3/15/2021.

This bar graph shows the number of MBE examinees nationally in the years 2016 through 2020. February examinee counts are usually much lower than July counts, except in 2020. February counts begin just above 20,000 in 2011 and rise very gradually to a peak in 2016 just above 23,000 before declining very gradually to just above 19,000 in 2020. July counts begin just below 50,000 in 2011 and rise to a peak slightly under 54,000 in 2013. They then decrease gradually to a low around 46,500 in 2016, rise slightly in 2017, fall in 2018 to slightly above 45,000, and rise slightly in 2019. In 2020 the “July” scores are split into three columns for the July, September, and October exams, and each column is less than half as high as the lowest February column, well under 10,000 for July and even smaller for September and October.

MBE National Mean Scaled Scores, 2011–2020

Note: The values in this chart reflect valid scores available electronically as of 3/15/2021.

This graph shows the MBE national mean scaled scores for the years 2011 through 2020. February scores are consistently lower than July scores. February scores begin in 2011 at just below 139, fall to 137 in 2012, rise to 138 in 2013 and 2014, and then begin a decline that ends just below 133 in 2018 before rising slightly to 134 in 2019 and falling to a new low of 132.6 in 2020. July scores begin in 2011 at just below 144, fall slightly in 2012 and rise slightly in 2013 to just above 144, and then begin a decline that ends in 2015 and 2016 with scores very close to 140. July scores then rise to nearly 142 in 2017, fall again to 139.5 in 2018, and rise to just above 141 in 2019. “July” scores in 2020 are split into July, September, and October scores; the July score is just above 146, the September score is just below 143, and the October score is just above 137.

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