Pennsylvania Chooses Not to Adopt NextGen Bar Exam for 2026

By Elizabeth Stern, Staff Writer

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The LSAT, three years of law school, countless exams, papers, and research hours all culminate in taking the bar exam for hopeful practicing attorneys. The changing future of the bar exam leaves law students uncertain of which test they will take upon graduation.

Administered first in 2011 to bar-takers in North Dakota and Missouri, the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”)  has been adopted by 41 states, with the 9 remaining states and four jurisdictions opting to administer a bar exam that is customized to their jurisdiction.[1] The UBE is comprised of 200 multiple choice questions, six essays, and two fictional client problems.[2] Overall, the test takes 12 hours to complete and is administered over two days.[3] Lawyers, professors, and judges from around the country assist in writing the test’s questions.[4] The UBE is offered twice a year, in February and in July.[5]

Aspiring attorneys find the UBE useful because they can transfer their score and become licensed in any UBE jurisdiction, so long as their score meets the minimum “cut score” of the jurisdiction.[6] In other words, the test creates a “portable score that can be used to apply for admission in other UBE jurisdictions.”[7] Scoring well on the UBE allows attorneys to have more job opportunities and the freedom to practice in more locations.

Despite the geographic advantages the UBE provides, there are several looming criticisms of the exam. Mainly, the emphasis on memorization. Critics argue the UBE incorrectly focuses law students on memorizing information instead of legal application, which is more indicative of attorney skill.[8] Additionally, there is criticism over how long the exam takes to administer. [9] In response to criticism of the UBE, the NCBE, National Conference of Bar Examiners, began creating a new bar exam, NextGen.[10]

NextGen will look “significantly” different from the UBE, mainly due to shift in emphasis from memorization to “lawyering” skills. [11] The NCBE’s goal is to test aspiring attorneys on their practical experience; NextGen will take nine hours instead of 12, and will be comprised of three three-hour sessions.[12] Each session will be comprised of different types of questions, mixing together 40 multiple choice questions, one performance task, and 2 integrated question sets.[13] 

Developing NextGen began in 2021 with gathering feedback on the proposed content outlines for the exam.[14] The NCBE has conducted field testing, requested assistance from various jurisdictions in creating the questions, and published item sets that would present scenarios as a unit with an underlying, connecting concept.[15] In 2024 the first protype exam is scheduled to be published to a “representative sample of students or recently licensed lawyers.”[16] 2026 is set to be the first official administration of NextGen, and the states will have a choice of whether or not to adopt the new exam.

However, some states, including Pennsylvania, have already made the choice not to adopt the NextGen exam for the 2026 bar exam. The Commonwealth is going to continue administering the UBE until at least July 2027 because it is offered for three “overlapping test administrations.”[17] The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners states they will continue to learn about NextGen but does not have a solidified answer if or when they will adopt it.[18]

Pennsylvania only recently adopted the UBE in 2022, and perhaps is not eager to change format again so quickly. The Commonwealth’s reluctance could also be attributed to the 4% increase in bar passage rates this year. [19] An increase in bar passage is even more impressive when noting Pennsylvania’s minimum score, 272, is the highest out of any state in the country.[20]

Duquesne Kline’s Associate Direct of Bar Studies, Professor Milburn-Knizner, explains that NextGen has a connection close to home. “Duquesne Kline will be participating in important pilot testing that is scheduled to take place in January,” she reports, adding, “We are excited about the possibility of the NextGen bar exam being more focused on actual, practical lawyering, but it is still fairly early in the development stages.”

Whether Pennsylvania decides to adopt NextGen or continue to administer the UBE, Professor Ashley London, Duquesne Kline’s Director of Bar Studies and Professor Milburn-Knizner assure, “We continue to advocate for students at both the state and national level, and are committed to providing our students with the practice and preparation they need to succeed on any licensure exam — whether it’s NextGen or UBE.”



[3] Id.


[5] Id. at 2

[6] Id. at 4



[9] Id.


[11] Id. at 2


[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 10

[15] Id. at 10

[16] Id. at 10

[17] Id. at 12

[18] Id. at 12

[19] Id. at 12

[20] Id. at 12

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