The NextGen Bar Exam Will Be Available in 2026: How Are States Preparing?

Empty exam room for adults nextgen bar exam

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has announced that a new exam, dubbed the Next Generation (NextGen) Bar Exam, will be administered for the first time in July 2026.

The new exam will focus more on testing foundational lawyering skills found in real-world practice rather than the memorization of legal concepts, according to the NCBE.

The changes includes clarification on which areas of the law must be memorized for the exam and which will be tested with the help of resources, a change from the current Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), Reuters reported.

The UBE will continue to be available to jurisdictions through the February 2028 bar exam. Illinois currently uses the UBE.

Each jurisdiction will decide if and when they will adopt the NextGen Bar Exam or, instead, determine an alternative exam or pathway to licensure in their jurisdiction.

Process for updating the bar exam

The UBE was initially launched in 2011 to test aspiring lawyers on the “knowledge and skills” they should be able to demonstrate before becoming licensed, according to the NCBE.

The format consists of:

In 2018, the NCBE launched a Testing Task Force to study if the UBE is continuing to ensure that new lawyers possess the minimum knowledge and skill needed for entry-level practice, as it had received criticism for not reflecting the actual practice of law.

The Task Force conducted a three-year study exploring the required competencies for entry-level attorneys and how they should be assessed.

It found stakeholders expressed the desire for an exam that tests fewer subjects and less broadly and deeply, with a greater emphasis on assessing real-world lawyering skills and a continued focus on affordability, fairness, and accessibility. Stakeholders also urged the NCBE to keep the score portable.

Developing the NextGen Bar Exam

Per the Task Force’s recommendations, the new exam covers fewer subjects less broadly and deeply, and aims to focus on real-world lawyering skills used by newly licensed attorneys.

The exam tests nine areas of legal doctrine (civil procedure, contract law, evidence, torts, business associations, constitutional law, criminal law, real property, and family law). Conflict of laws, trusts and estates, and secured transactions are included in the UBE, but will be omitted on the NextGen bar exam.

The NextGen bar exam also tests seven foundational lawyering skills (legal research, legal writing, issue spotting and analysis, investigation and evaluation, client counseling and advising, negotiation and dispute resolution, client relationship and management).

The NextGen Bar Exam doesn’t continue the UBE’s three separate parts–the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test.

Instead, it consists of three sessions, each three hours long, with two integrated question sets, one performance task, and approximately 40 multiple-choice questions.

The nine-hour NextGen exam will be shorter than the current 12-hour UBE.

How states are preparing for changes to the bar exam

Currently, 41 states, including Illinois, are listed as UBE jurisdictions on the NCBE website. These states will individually decide whether to use the NextGen Bar Exam before the UBE is discontinued after the February 2028 examination date.

Seven states have already communicated their intentions to use the NextGen Bar Exam. Maryland, Missouri, and Oregon will administer the NextGen Bar Exam in July 2026; Arizona, Iowa, and Wyoming will administer it in July 2027; and Connecticut will administer the exam at a date to be determined.

If states choose not to use the NextGen Bar Exam, they can develop their own bar exam or alternative method of measuring competence prior to licensure. Some states have communicated that they are going their own way and are instituting or exploring alternatives to the bar exam. Last month, Oregon became the third state to approve an alternative pathway to attorney licensure.

Separately, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators recently announced a Committee on Legal Education and Admissions Reform (CLEAR), which will examine the state of legal education and bar admission processes in the U.S.

Among its goals, CLEAR will review whether law schools are preparing students to be “practice-ready” upon graduation and what is necessary to assess minimum competence to practice law.

The status of the bar exam in Illinois

The Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar will keep stakeholders informed of whether the state will adopt the NextGen Bar Exam.

“The Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar continues to study the issues surrounding the NextGen bar examination and is in regular communication with representatives from the Illinois Supreme Court, the NCBE, Illinois law schools, bar associations, and other stakeholders regarding NextGen,” said Eric Lohrenz, Director of Administration for the Illinois Board of Bar Admissions.

“At present, no decisions have been made regarding adoption of the NextGen bar examination by the Illinois Supreme Court or the date of the first administration of the NextGen examination if it is adopted,” he said. “However, the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar expects to be in a position to make recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court concerning the NextGen examination in a timely manner that will provide Illinois law schools and their graduates with ample opportunity to prepare for the new examination if it is adopted.”

For more information on the administration of the UBE in Illinois, visit the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar.

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