There is no "federal" bar exam (unless you include "patents.") California traditionally has one of the lowest pass rates. Perhaps that means it's the hardest, but not necessarily.
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My colleague is correct in stating that there is no federal bar exam, except perhaps the patent bar exam, which has many requirements to even sit for the exam.
When I was in law school in California I was always told California and New York are the most difficult bar exams, but I'm sure part of that was to scare me. Every state takes the same MBE section of the exam (this is the multiple choice section), but the essay section differs from state to state in length (in days) and number of potential subject topics.
If you are thinking of going to law school or are preparing to sit for the bar, I would recommend viewing the bar passage statistics for your state. However, do not put too much weight in the statistics - even the states with the lowest passage rates induct thousands of new attorneys each year. As long as you adequately prepare for the exam, you should do fine.
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California is the longest bar exam with the lowest passing rate, but whichever bar you take you will just need to study, know your laws and understand them to give proper analysis.
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Every state, I believe, administers the MBE portion of the bar exam, so ever bar taker in every state takes the MBE portion. Each state, however, administers the essay portion of the bar. Judging by the bar passage rate, conventional wisdom suggests that California has the hardest bar exam, followed by New York.
There are other factors that have nothing to to do with difficulty that may be responsible for the low passage rate in these states. In California, for instance, the following people are allowed to take the CA Bar exam: graduates of school that are not accredited by the ABA; people who have learned the law under an attorney; people who have not even set a foot in law school can take the CA Bar.
Likewise, in New York, foreign law school graduates from common law countries, I believe, can take the bar exam. In both states, the passage rate in these groups of bar takers is traditionally low for obvious reasons, which will reduce the overall bar passage rates in New York and CA.
I think the bar is difficult generally, although CA an NY could be arguably harder.
It could be argued that wherever you decide to take the bar exam is where the hardest bar exam resides. Although the consensus is that California and New York have the most difficult bar examinations with the lowest pass rates. Personally, I believe the bar exam is as hard as you make it. Studying and practical application are the keys to success as well as signing up for and attending an established bar review course. But also keep in mind that there truly is a mental component to the exam wherever you take it. If you are not mentally prepared all of your hours of memorizing the black letter law, writing essays and performance exams(if your state has this component) will go down the drain if you cannot deal with the stress that comes along with actually sitting for the bar exam.
There is no "federal bar exam" except for a few district courts and the US Patent Attorney exam.
California has the lowest pass rate among the bar exams, so at first glance it would appear as if it is the most difficult. However, California has the most lax rules about who can sit for the bar exam, so many people sit for it hoping they will pass by a wing and a prayer.
I haven't taken the New York bar exam, but I heard they test around 20 subjects on the exam.
Licensed in MD, PA and DC. This is not legal advice. I am not your attorney. You should consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction regarding your specific circumstances.