NCBE Publishes First Samples of New Question Types for NextGen Bar Exam
MADISON, WISCONSIN, July 11, 2023—The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which develops bar exam content for 54 US jurisdictions, has published the first publicly available samples of two new question types that will be featured on the NextGen bar exam, which is set to launch in 2026. These new question types will be among those used to test the eight areas of legal knowledge and seven categories of practical skills and abilities required of all newly licensed attorneys under the new exam.
“The samples that we released today are representative of the hundreds of questions under development by a dedicated group of legal experts, including law faculty and deans, practicing attorneys, and judges. We thank them for their dedication to the future of attorney licensure and look forward to releasing more sample questions throughout 2023 and 2024,” said Judith Gundersen, NCBE’s President and CEO.
The sample questions now available on NCBE’s NextGen website include an “integrated question set” and examples of a type of multiple-choice question not currently used on the bar exam. Both types of questions will be used to test eight areas of legal doctrine (civil procedure, contract law, evidence, torts, business associations, constitutional law, criminal law, and real property), with all topics appearing on each test. Detailed outlines of the testable doctrine were released in late May and may be found online at https://nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/reports/content-scope/.
Each integrated question set will be based on a common fact scenario and may include supplemental documents (e.g., a police report or excerpt from a deposition) and/or legal resources (e.g., excerpts of statutes or judicial opinions). The sets will feature a mixture of short-answer and multiple-choice questions. In addition to testing doctrinal law, some integrated question sets will be focused on drafting or editing legal documents; other sets will be focused on counseling and/or dispute resolution. Integrated question sets are expected to take up just under one-third of the total exam time.
“Integrated question sets represent the biggest change to the way questions are presented on the bar exam,” said Beth Donahue, NCBE’s Director of Content Innovation and Education Relations. “Examinees will be presented with scenarios that are consistent with the types of cases they’ll likely see within the first three years of their practice, along with the documents they’d expect to see as they approach those cases. Both the doctrinal law and the skills that they’ll need to demonstrate are carefully calibrated to ensure that examinees must engage thoroughly with the materials and utilize the full set of fundamental skills identified in our nationwide research as essential for new attorneys,” said Donahue.
The new multiple-choice questions provide up to six answer options with one or more correct responses; multiple-choice questions on the current bar exam provide four answer options with only one correct response. Almost half of the exam time will be focused on multiple-choice questions, including those that are contained in the integrated question sets. At the launch of the NextGen bar exam, a subset of multiple-choice questions will mirror the questions that are currently tested on the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) in order to ensure stability in scoring between the current and new exams.
“The multiple-choice questions on the NextGen exam are exciting in several ways that may not be immediately apparent,” said Mike Gianelloni, NCBE’s Managing Editor for the NextGen exam. “The new multiple-choice questions test legal issue spotting in a way that reflects the complexity of legal issues found in practice, where a matter of criminal law, for example, may have associated evidentiary and procedural issues. Today we might test those concepts separately, but on the NextGen exam they can be combined. The subsets of multiple-choice questions that are included within integrated question sets are even more exciting: there, we are using multiple-choice questions to assess practical skills, like client counseling and dispute resolution,” said Gianelloni.
“The NextGen exam will feature two types of multiple-choice questions: some requiring one answer and others requiring two answers. Importantly, multiple-choice questions with more than one correct answer provide more opportunities for examinees to show their knowledge and skills than traditional multiple-choice formats do. That’s good news for examinees who are prepared. This format does, however, make it more difficult to answer correctly by guessing. Ultimately, this means that we can measure knowledge and skills more accurately with fewer multiple-choice questions because guessing will be less of a factor,” said Gianelloni.
A third question type, not yet released, is modeled on the current Multistate Performance Test (MPT), which requires examinees to demonstrate their ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in realistic situations, completing legal writing assignments appropriate to the skill of a beginning lawyer. These tasks may feature areas of law, with accompanying legal resources, beyond the eight topics tested in the multiple-choice questions and integrated question sets. These areas of law might include, for example, family law, trusts and estates, or administrative law. One of the two longer writing tasks will include several multiple-choice and short written answers focused on research skills, followed by a longer writing assignment.
The publication of the first sample questions marks the latest milestone in the development of the new bar exam. The NextGen bar exam is being developed utilizing a rigorous process that includes multiple stages of pilot and field testing. The released sample questions have been pretested by over 2,500 law students, bar examinees, and newly licensed attorneys from across the US. Seventy law schools from across the country, representing both public and private institutions drawn from every tier, have participated in pilot testing. The results of those pretests have been reviewed by groups of law faculty, judges, and practicing lawyers. Future sample questions are currently undergoing pretesting and expert analysis prior to their release.
About the National Conference of Bar Examiners
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1931. NCBE promotes fairness, integrity, and best practices in bar admissions for the benefit and protection of the public, in pursuit of its vision of a competent, ethical, and diverse legal profession. Best known for developing bar exam content used by 54 US jurisdictions, NCBE serves admission authorities, courts, the legal education community, and candidates by providing high-quality assessment products, services, and research; character investigations; and informational and educational resources and programs. In 2026, NCBE will launch the next generation of the bar examination, ensuring that the exam continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for competent entry-level legal practice in a changing profession. For more information, visit the NCBE website at https://www.ncbex.org.
About the Next Generation of the Bar Exam
In 2018, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) appointed a Testing Task Force charged with undertaking a three-year study to ensure that the bar examination continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for competent entry-level legal practice in a changing profession. In January 2021, NCBE’s Board of Trustees approved the Testing Task Force’s recommendations and began development of the next generation bar exam, with a timeline of five years for implementation. The new exam, which will launch in July 2026, will place greater emphasis on assessment of lawyering skills to better reflect real-world practice and the types of activities newly licensed lawyers perform. NCBE is committed to ensuring a systematic, transparent, and collaborative implementation process, informed by input from and participation by stakeholders, and guided by best practices and the professional standards for high-stakes testing. For more information, visit https://nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/.