Bar Exam Basics: The Performance Test

Bar Exam Basics: The Performance Test

Bar Exam Basics: The Performance Test

The California bar exam lasts for two days and consists of five one-hour essay questions, one 90-minute Performance Test, and 200 multiple-choice questions (Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). The essay questions and Performance Test are administered on the first day in two sessions. Applicants answer three essay questions in the morning session and two essay questions and the Performance Test in the afternoon session.

Through the California bar exam of February 2017, the exam lasted three days and included two three-hour performance tests, one on Tuesday, the first day of the exam, and one on Thursday, the last day of the exam. The two Performance Tests were worth 26% of the California bar exam’s total score.

As of the California bar exam of July 2017, the exam lasts only two days, with one 90-minute Performance Test on Tuesday, the first afternoon of the exam. For many of the February 2017 examinees, it was a “missed by that much” moment.

The following are the types of tasks that are the subject and final product of the Performance Test:

  1. Alternative dispute resolution task
  2. Analysis of a contract, will, trust or statute
  3. Client letter
  4. Client or witness interview
  5. Closing argument
  6. Declaration or affidavit
  7. Discovery/investigation plan
  8. Jury instructions
  9. Legal memorandum
  10. Legislation
  11. Negotiation, settlement proposal or agreement
  12. Opening statement
  13. Persuasive brief
  14. Witness cross or direct examination


Each Performance Test contains a file with factual materials (the facts of the case) and a library with the legal authorities applicable to the case (the law). The applicant is asked to complete any of the above-listed tasks using the file and library.

The questions posed by the Performance Test are designed to test an examinee’s ability to analyze legal issues by understanding and applying a given set of legal authorities to a given set of facts. To succeed on the Performance Test, applicants must possess the ability to filter through detailed factual material and separate relevant from irrelevant facts. Applicants must be able to determine which facts are reliable while identifying any need for additional facts.

Applicants must demonstrate problem-solving skills while generating creative, alternative, but salient solutions. On any given performance test, they must be prepared to show the skills to elicit information, advocate, analyze, persuade, argue, challenge, investigate, examine, and cross-examine. Performance test answers are graded on an examinee’s responsiveness to instructions and on the content, completeness, organization, and persuasiveness of the written task(s).

At CDTA, we believe that a thorough study of California Bar test areas of legal study, examined regularly, and supplemented with skills, values, and historical perspective is a winning formula for educating, training, and developing extraordinary legal advocates. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more online here.

The California Desert Trial Academy helps students prepare for the bar exam. We look at the bar exam as a challenge rather than an obstacle. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more about the unique law school experience that we offer here.

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