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Bar Preparation: Overview

This guide covers bar admission, tips for taking the bar exam, information about bar prep programs and links to bar exam information for individual states.


The bar exam may be a distant thought for many of you (and for some of you, it may be a recurring nightmare).  Whatever your frame of mind, the bar exam is an inevitable rite of passage if you want to practice law.  It’s never too early to learn about the bar exam and the steps necessary to practice.  

Students are referred to the Official Villanova Law School Student Handbook and student responsibilities on Bar Requirements, which states: 

The rules for admissions to the bars of the various states differ greatly. Some states require applicants for the bar examination to register with the bar examiners at the time they begin their law studies, and to take certain courses while in law school. Some states, including Pennsylvania, require additional examinations (such as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam), which are given on dates other than the usual bar examination dates. Students assume responsibility to know and comply with these bar requirements and should contact the appropriate bar examiners directly. Students must contact the bar examiners for the states they are interested in directly to obtain requirements, deadlines, and other necessary information. 

Students looking for more detailed information about the bar admission requirements in all U.S. jurisdictions are encouraged to consult the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements or contact their jurisdiction of interest’s bar association office directly.  A directory of state bar admission offices can be found here.   

The Bar Exam

The bar exam is offered twice a year – in February and July – over a period of two (or three) days. The first day is generally a written exam, which may include a series of essays and practice skills exams.  The second day is generally a multiple-choice exam commonly known as the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).

Most – but not all – jurisdictions also require the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice examination developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners that is administered three times per year – generally in March, August, and November.

Character & Fitness

In addition to passing the bar exam, you must submit to a character and fitness determination.  The primary purpose of this requirement is to protect the public (clients, adversaries) and the members of that state’s judicial system. 

Law students typically apply for bar application during the third year of law school.  As part of the application process, students are required to answer questions and produce documentation bearing upon their moral character and fitness to practice law.  Those with a record showing a deficiency in honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability may be denied admission to practice. 

The exact text of the character and fitness application questions vary by jurisdiction, but they typically cover the following:  

  • Educational discipline (both academic and behavioral) 

  • Civil litigation (lawsuits filed by or against you, restraining orders, etc.) 

  • Criminal behavior (regardless of formal charges, outcome, or expungement) 

  • Financial behavior (bankruptcy, unpaid bills, taxes, child or spousal support, and loans) 

  • Behavior while in the military 

  • Alcohol and/or other chemical dependencies 

No matter the jurisdiction, students should understand that they will be expected to answer character and fitness questions with absolute candor and honesty, and that lack of candor on one’s bar application is considered to be among the most serious character and fitness violations. This applies to all disclosures made on your initial law school application, as well as any required disclosures to Villanova Law.  If you need to change or amend your law school application, you can do so here.  If you need to disclose an incident that occurred post matriculation, you can do so here.

The character and fitness process can be cumbersome, so students are encouraged to start assembling all related documentation as soon as possible.  

Bar Review Courses

Villanova Law Course
Strategic Legal Analysis (SLA)  

This workshop-style course is designed to provide students with the analytical, test-taking, writing and study skills that are critical to success on the bar exam and in the practice of law. The course consists primarily of a self-directed review of several major bar exam subjects and requires numerous writing and practice assignments, including answering both essay and multiple-choice questions. 

While a valuable head start, SLA is not a substitute for the commercial bar review course that you must take prior to sitting for a bar exam.  It takes approximately 600 hours to properly complete a typical bar review course.  A two-credit course within a larger semester course load simply cannot substitute for the full-time commitment required to pass the bar.  However, time spent attending and preparing for this class ultimately counts toward the end goal of passing. 

Commercial Bar Review Courses

It is strongly recommended that students take a commercial bar review course to prepare for the bar exam.  The following list is provided for informational purposes only.  The providers identified below offer courses that vary in scope, format, and cost.  It is recommended that students research bar exam preparation providers to determine which one(s) best suits their particular needs.  

Bar Support at Villanova Law

For questions about the bar exam, students are encouraged to contact Matt Carluzzo, Assistant Dean of Students and Academic Success.


When should I begin my bar application?  

As soon as possible.  Please note that while most deadlines are in the Spring of your 3L year, bar application deadlines vary by jurisdiction.  Some are as soon as early January.  Consult this chart to see the filing deadline for your desired jurisdiction.

Should I disclose ________?  

When in doubt, always dis close.  Failure to be fully responsive to application questions is a serious issue.  Lack of candor is often cited as the most common reason for denial of a bar applicant.

What is the Law School Certificate and who at the Law School completes it?  

Most jurisdictions require a certificate from your law school attesting to the fact that you graduated.  Please send your form(s) to the Registrar’s Office at  Please note the form cannot be completed until your degree has been conferred, which typically occurs at the end of May.