California Bar Exam Timing Tips

California Bar Exam Timing Tips

California Bar Exam Timing Tips: Many students struggle to finish the California bar exam on time.  If you don’t pass, you don’t want it to be simply because you didn’t finish the exam!  In this post, we provide some tips regarding timing and the California Bar Exam.

California Bar Exam Timing Tips

The timing tips in this exam assume that the test is being taken under normal timed conditions.  If you have accommodations, the time allocated to each question will be different.


First of all, you should practice real released questions under timed conditions to determine whether you have an issue with timing!  Using real questions will ensure that you are practicing timing under conditions that are the most similar to the actual bar exam.

Not all bar exam preparation courses use “real” questions.  Many write their own practice questions for students’ use.  Real questions will give you a better idea of what to expect on the bar exam.  You can find real California Essays and Performance Tests here.  You can find various sources for real MBE questions here.


Many students fail to recognize the importance of memorization for the bar exam.  They think they will be able to “bs” their way through an essay and that they will know the answer when they see it on a multiple choice question.  Even if this were true (it is not), you will waste a lot of time either thinking about what you could possibly write on an essay or trying to understand the differences between the answer choices on the multiple choice exam.  If you have taken the time to memorize during bar prep, you will be able to issue spot and quickly write down the rules on the essays and quickly spot misstated and irrelevant multiple choice answers on the MBE.  This should allow you to move through the test more quickly.

California Bar Exam Timing Tips: Essays

You will have 5 hours to write 5 essays on the California Bar Exam. This is approximately 1 hour per question (under normal timing conditions).  It is important that you practice the California essays to understand what an hour “feels like” as you are writing an essay.

California essays are generally open-ended and expect the examinee to spot and discuss the relevant issues.  It is important that you have a plan of attack for this type of essay.  For instance, you may want to list the issues that you plan on discussing in a brief outline as you read the fact pattern before you actually begin writing your answer.

As you write, it is also important to IRAC each issue!  Sticking to the IRAC format will ensure that you include a rule statement, analysis, and conclusion for each and every issue that you discuss.  It will also make the answer appear more organized to the grader (and thus easier for them to grade!).

You should make sure you are reading the question carefully so as not to discuss irrelevant issues or information.  For instance, does the call of the question tell you to apply federal law or California law?  If the question does not specify, you can generally assume that federal (or majority) law applies.  Also, be sure that you are not misreading the facts or assuming facts that are not in existence.  This will lead you to waste time discussing non-issues that won’t get you any points!

California Bar Exam Timing Tips: Performance Tests

Prior to the July 2017 administration, the California Bar Exam was a three-day exam.  For purposes of timing, the biggest change came to the Performance Test.  Prior to July 2017, the California Bar Exam included two three-hour performance tests.  This has been changed to one ninety-minute performance test as of July 2017.

Why does this matter?  When you are practicing and you are using real California performance tests to practice, you should not attempt to complete a pre-July 2017 California performance test in ninety minutes.  Those tests were written to be completed in three hours.  Instead, you can use July 2017 and later California performance tests as practice material.  You can also use the Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs) as practice.  Although California does not administer the MPT, the MPT is similar in format to the California performance test in that it is designed to be completed in 90 minutes.  You can find the actual MPTs from previous administrations here (as well as sample student answers).

As you are practicing the performance test, work on dividing your time between reviewing the file and library and writing your answer.  You should also practice working while you read – as you are reading through the file and library, you can also simultaneously start outlining and organizing your answer.  If you are simply reading through the material before you start working, you should not spend more than 45 minutes reading through the material.  If you are able to begin organizing and outlining an answer as you read, it might take you 60 minutes to get through all the material before you start polishing an answer.

Many students don’t practice the performance test prior to the exam and then struggle with timing on the exam.  In California, the performance test accounts for about 15% of the total score on the exam!  This could be the difference between passing and failing!  It is crucial that you do practice performance tests and especially focus on timing prior to the exam.

MBE Timing Tips

The MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) consists of 200 multiple choice questions.  You will have 6 hours to answer these questions, or approximately 1.8 minutes per question (under standard timing conditions).

As mentioned above, memorization and practice are the two best study strategies to improve your timing on the MBE.  The more familiar you are with the structure of the questions, the quicker you will be able to answer them.  Also, the better you know the law, the quicker you will be able to spot the correct answer!

As you are practicing, you may find it helpful to complete at least one full 200-question exam prior to the actual bar exam.  This will allow you to understand what a full 6-hour day of answering questions feels like, and also will give you an idea of how prepared you are.  You don’t always have to take a full 200 question exam to work on timing, though.  Throughout your bar prep, you should incorporate timed question sets. This will ensure that you are answering the questions in the appropriate amount of time.  For instance, you try answering sets of 10 questions in 18 minutes to practice timing on a smaller scale.

If you generally struggle with multiple choice exams, we give some additional timing tips in this post regarding you can approach the multiple choice questions if you struggle with timing. We hope these California Bar Exam timing tips are helpful!

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