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How the NextGen Bar Exam Will Impact Law School Students

By Melanie Rauch, JD | Last updated on

A shift in the bar exam and legal education is on the horizon with the introduction of the Next Generation (NextGen) Bar Exam, set to debut in July 2026. This significant overhaul of the traditional bar examination process is sparking conversations and preparations across law schools, jurisdictions, and students. Recently, three more states signed on to the NextGen Bar Exam — namely Washington, Colorado and Minnesota, although the Washington Supreme Court recently held that passing the bar exam will no longer be a requirement to practice law in Washington state.

Understanding the NextGen Bar Exam

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has initiated the transition to the NextGen Bar Exam, responding to evolving needs in legal education and practice. The redesigned exam aims to more accurately reflect the competencies and skills essential for new attorneys in today's dynamic legal environments.

Unlike the current Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which is heavily weighted toward memorization across multiple subjects, the NextGen exam will emphasize legal skills and practical knowledge. This transition marks the most significant change in the national bar exam format in over two decades, motivated by feedback and extensive research by the NCBE, including input from thousands of legal professionals.

Key Changes and Their Impact

The NextGen Bar Exam will condense the examination time from 12 to 9 hours, administered over one and a half days. This new structure is designed to reduce the stress and fatigue associated with the traditional two-day exam format, offering a more streamlined and focused assessment. The exam will feature a mix of multiple-choice questions, performance tasks, and integrated question sets that cover a broad spectrum of legal knowledge and skills.

Significantly, the NextGen exam will test fewer subjects, focusing on core areas of law and foundational legal skills. This reduction aims to align the exam more closely with the practical realities of legal practice, ensuring that new attorneys are equipped with the necessary tools from the outset.

Jurisdiction Adoption

Several jurisdictions have announced plans to adopt the NextGen Bar Exam starting in July 2026, with others following in 2027 and 2028. This phased adoption allows law schools and students ample time to adjust to new requirements. However, you must stay informed about the specific timeline and requirements of the jurisdiction where you plan to practice.

Preparation and Law School Curriculum

The shift towards a skills-focused exam will inevitably influence law school curriculum. Anticipate a move away from purely memorization-based teaching towards a more integrated approach that emphasizes practical skills, legal analysis, and application. This transition may require you to adapt your study habits and seek additional resources or extracurricular opportunities to develop these practical skills.

Looking Forward

As the legal profession continues to evolve, the NextGen Bar Exam represents a forward-thinking approach to legal licensure. For law students, a dual focus on acquiring a broad understanding of legal principles and honing practical skills will be essential for success.

In preparation for this shift, it's advisable to engage actively with your law school's resources, participate in practical legal education opportunities, and stay abreast of developments related to the NextGen Bar Exam. Networking with peers, educators, and legal professionals can provide valuable insights and support as you navigate this transition.

In summary, the introduction of the NextGen Bar Exam signals a significant shift towards prioritizing practical skills and foundational legal knowledge in the licensure process. This change presents both challenges and opportunities for law students, requiring a proactive approach to education and preparation. By staying informed and adaptable, you can successfully navigate these changes and position yourself for success in the evolving landscape of the legal profession.

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