Which States Have the Most Difficult Bar Exams?

Students taking an exam
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As you finish law school, you likely already have an idea of where you want to practice law. And, that is the state where you will take the bar exam, so this is an important decision to make. The degree of difficulty of the bar exam varies by state; some states have noticeably more difficult exams than others, and therefore have lower percentages of passage. One law professor from Pepperdine University decided to use statistics and complicated math to determine which states had the most difficult bar exams—are you planning to practice in one of these states?


The California Bar Exam is notoriously difficult and has the lowest passage rate of any bar exam in the country. It is even ranked as one of the most challenging exams in the world. As of this writing, it is a three-day exam that consists of both essays and multiple choice questions. Starting in 2017, however, the exam is dropping down to two days, which will consist of cutting down the length of the performance exam and changing some of the overall structure. But just because the California bar exam is changing the format, don’t count on it becoming any easier to pass!

Do you have your sights set on practicing law in the state of California? Better start studying.


Believe it or not, Arkansas comes in as the second most difficult bar exam in the country. (Although Hillary Clinton said it was easier than the Washington DC bar exam.) It is also a two-day bar exam. The degree of difficulty could have something to do with more state and local laws being represented on the exam. In any case, it comes in at number two, so if you are planning on practicing law in Arkansas, make sure you take your bar exam studying seriously.


Washington state is known for its beautiful scenery and rainy weather; it also has a difficult bar exam. It is important to note that Washington now uses the Uniform Bar Exam.

There are three law schools in Washington, producing a fairly large number of students each year who sit for the two-day exam. In addition, Seattle is becoming one of the most moved-to cities in the country, attracting many out-of-state bar exam takers. Are you thinking about practicing law in Washington? Prepare yourself for a challenging exam. And neighboring state, Oregon, also has a difficult bar exam, which pops into the top five most difficult depending on the data that is being used in the rankings.


The state of Louisiana prepares its law students in an entirely different way than any other state in the country—the four law schools there teach both Common Law (the tradition in England and the other 49 United States) and Civil Law (the tradition in France and continental Europe). Therefore, if you are thinking of practicing law in Louisiana, you must go to law school in Louisiana to learn the unique legal system in place there, and then take a bar exam that is completely different from any other state. The bar exam in Louisiana is one of the most difficult, in part, because it covers subject matter found nowhere else in the country.


There is only one law school (UNLV) in the state of Nevada, but having a notorious city (viva Las Vegas) within its borders makes it a popular destination for new (and experienced) lawyers to settle down in. The Nevada bar exam is 2 1/2 days long and has one of the lowest passage rates in the country. This is because of a combination of unique laws in the state and a higher required score to pass. If you’re thinking of practicing law in Nevada, know that you’re in for a challenge.

What Are the Easiest Bar Exams to Pass? 

If you’re wondering what states have the easiest bar exams, stick to the Heartland. South Dakota ranks as the state with the easiest exam, followed by Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. There are fewer law schools in these states (South Dakota only has one, and Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa each have two), meaning that there are generally fewer law graduates who take the bar. And Wisconsin has an even sweeter policy—only those who attended law school in other states need to take the bar exam. If you graduated from law school in the state of Wisconsin, you are automatically admitted to the state bar by a policy known as diploma privilege.

If you’ve graduated from law school, you have the knowledge it takes to pass the bar exam. Make sure you study properly and go into the exam prepared—that will likely save you from having to retake the exam in the future. If you’re taking it in one of the toughest states, good luck!

If you are trying to decide which bar exam to take, you might want to consider taking a jurisdiction that uses the Uniform Bar Exam. That bar exam makes it easier to move between states that also use the Uniform Bar Exam. Depending on your career goals, this may be something important to consider.