Changes to the California Bar Exam in July, 2017 (Format, Grading, and How to Prep)

If this coming July is the first time you’re taking the California bar, I’m sorry to inform you that you can no longer get legacy bragging rights for enduring three days of this shit.

At least you can be informed of what’s happening in July and what you can do in response. Let’s take a look…


Changes to the California bar generally (format and grading)

  • It is two days now: 1 day of written (5 essays and 1 PT) on Tuesday + 1 day of MBE on Wednesday.
  • There will be one 90-minute PT. See a released sample here.
  • The MBE is worth 50% of your total score now, up from 35%.
  • The written portion is also worth 50%, down from 65%. The PT by itself is worth more than before (but not in terms of its weight relative to other portions), and so is each essay. More on this below.
  • Essays are still 1 hour long.

Changes to the California Performance Test

  • You get one shot at it now. This is good or bad depending on whether you like PTs.
  • It’s 90 minutes. That is, it’s half as long as before and 1.5x as long as an essay but worth twice as much as an essay. It’s now worth more points per minute!
  • The sole PT is worth about 14.3% of your total grade (still twice as much as an essay), assuming you’re taking the general exam, not the attorneys’ exam.
    • This is actually a bit more than before, when each one was worth 13%, but the PT portion is worth much less overall, down from 26%. To be specific, the PT is given 200 out of 700 raw points for the written portion (which is worth half of your total score). So the PT is worth 2/7 out of that half. See this page for details.
    • Relative to the other portions, the PT is weighted less than before
  • STILL PRACTICE IT. Extra 5 points on the PT = extra 10 points on essays = your scaled score possibly tipping over the passing 1440.

Practicing and reviewing once a week (such as every Tuesday or Sunday) is probably enough. How can you practice it, though?

How to prepare and practice for the new California PT (3 ways)

  • They were gracious enough to release a sample 90-minute PT. Try it. It’s similar to the 3-hour version, except with less material to work with. Presumably, you don’t need to write as much as you see in the model answers for the 3-hour version.
  • Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs) are available on NCBE’s website. Why the MPTs? Because they’re similar and also 90 minutes long. The NCBE also puts up a point sheet that explains what you should have written about in a given MPT.
  • Practice with the legacy PTs anyway, while keeping in mind what the new 90-minute format feels like. This is what I’d do. Yes, they’re 3 hours long, but here are the key benefits:
    • (1) You have many more practice PTs available that you can work with. Unlike essays and the MBE (deep review), PTs are better dealt with through quantity. At the end of the day, almost all PTs are objective or persuasive in nature. Thus, you’ll get the most bang for your time buck by directing your focus to how to form objective and persuasive arguments with various memos and briefs in the California style of PTs.
    • (2) You can compare your answer to the model answers (including from—get a $25 coupon by signing up to your right (PC) or below (mobile)).
    • (3) Endurance and ability to hold a bunch of stuff in your head: You still need the stamina when they give you the PT in the afternoon when you’re tired from the morning session and other afternoon essays. If you can do the 3-hour version, you can do the half version.

Time management on the new California PT

Similar to the approach on the legacy PT, keep the outlining phase to at most 50% the given time. I personally preferred spending ~40% (75 minutes in the days of old) for outlining since my answer looks better when I take the time to make it formatted, focused, and organized.

So for the 90-minute version, see if you can take 35-45 minute to set up an outline.

And it turns out that all of the portions of the California bar are now weighted more, making each question heavier than before (partly because the CA bar no longer spread over three days)!

Essays and MBE will be more important (in terms of overall weight) after the changes to the California bar


Essays will still be the same old 1-hour type-fest. However, note that each essay is now weighted more than before (1/7 instead of 1/10).

That means each essay will be worth about 7.1% of your total score, up from 6.5%. To be specific, the essays are given 500 out of 700 raw points for the written portion, the written portion being 50% of your total score. So the essays are each worth 1/7 out of that 50%. See the description of grading.

So what?

Stop “studying” and start learning. The reason my scores on my first attempt were poor was lack of practice. Watch your boring ass lectures if you have to, but don’t obsess over them. A reader told me, “I actually only remember little from the lectures.”

Essays continue to suck, more so than ever. Have the courage to enjoy mistakes now and learn quickly. And don’t be afraid to redo problems until you actually “get” it. It’s supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to put in the work and feel mental strain. That’s how you get better.


Starting July, half of your fate will hang on a series of alphabets (up from 35%). I’m not talking about your essays here (which are also a series of alphabets). I’m talking about exactly 200 alphabet letters on the MBE.

This means you want to be especially more vigilant about your MBE performance. Neither of these is perfect on their own, but here are two supplements that I recommend:

These are probably the two best MBE supplements out there, at least because they use real questions licensed from the very people who create them, and explanations you can study (the cycle of practice + feedback is important).

I explain why you want to use real questions in my AdaptiBar review and my guide to improving your MBE score.

Summary of Changes to California Bar Exam as of July, 2017


Even though I’m so jealous about how you can now enjoy finishing the bar exam with the rest of your friends and paying less for hotels, I’ve given you an overview of the changes and approaches you can take in light of the changes.

Remember that all of the portions of the California bar are now weighted more, making each question heavier (partly because it’s no longer spread over three days).

In other words, points are more concentrated than before, and your ability to bring out your best under pressure will be even more important.

Wondering where to start? Sign up to your right (PC) or below (mobile) to get a free guide on kicking ass on the PT, as well as my slightly famous emails starting May where I’ll dive deep into specific strategies.

Anything else you’re concerned about? Leave a comment below if you have any questions.


3 thoughts on “Changes to the California Bar Exam in July, 2017 (Format, Grading, and How to Prep)”

    1. Hi Georgia,

      I don’t have a model answer for the sample PT, unfortunately. I don’t believe they released one.


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