How to Write the Bar Exam
We have good news and bad news. The good news: the Bar Exam is probably the last academic exam you'll ever write. The bad news: it's not easy. Here's what you need to know about the Ontario Bar Exam.
What is the Bar Exam?
The Bar Exam is an umbrella term that refers to the Barrister and Solicitor Exams. These two self-study, open book exams are part of the lawyer licensing process in Ontario and British Columbia. Ontario and BC law students need to pass both of these exams, complete 10 months of articling or a Law Practice Program, and satisfy the Good Character Requirement in order to practice law.
There are three sittings of each exam every year, usually in March, June, and November (2020 Bar Exam dates are a little different due to COVID-19). Each exam is seven hours long and contains 240 multiple choice questions. The exams are broken down into two 3.5 hour blocks with an hour lunch break in between. Typically you’ll write the barrister exam two weeks before writing the solicitor exam. The score required for a passing grade and the percentage of people who pass/fail the bar are not published.
The Barrister exam covers the following areas:
Public law (Constitutional and Administrative law)
Ethics and Professional Responsibility
The Solicitor Exam covers the following areas:
Business Law (Corporate, Bankruptcy and Tax)
Wills, Trusts and Estate Administration and Planning
Ethics and Professional Responsibility
Other provinces have similar licensing requirements, which you can see here.
How do I study for the Bar Exam?
You might feel a little lost and a lot overwhelmed when you first look at your Bar materials. Not to scare you, but you’ll have piles of giant binders containing thousands of pages - and you’ll need to study it all. While it sounds like mission impossible, I promise it’s not. You can do it! Here’s how to set yourself up for success on the Bar Exam:
1. Set a study schedule
While everyone studies a little different for the Bar exam, everyone should set a study plan and create a schedule right away. Take a look at the amount of time you have to study and write down a daily page goal and weekly goal. The need to set a study schedule, and more importantly stick to it, can not be understated.
Creating a study schedule and setting goals helps to ensure you’ll be able to cover everything before the exam. Be sure to account for various factors like your reading speed, attention span, and any competing commitments you might have, such as a job, children, pets, and/or volunteering. Don’t compare your schedule to others, the Bar exam is a solo-marathon.
2. Get an index
Having a detailed index that's organized in a way you understand is key to doing well on the Bar exam. There are two ways to go about doing this:
Ideally, purchase your indices from a reputable company like Ontario Law Exam (OLE). Companies like OLE do the hard work of creating and updating indices every year. Purchasing indices will save you a significant amount of time in the Bar-preparation process.
Groups of students can come together to create or update the previous year’s index. Don’t try to create one on your own, working together will save you (and everyone else) so much precious time that can be used for studying instead.
3. Read, read, read!
Stick to your study schedule and read through all of the materials provided by the Law Society of Ontario, at least once. You'll get access to these materials six weeks before your first exam. Highlight key information and make sure you have an understanding of what you’re reading and know where to find it. You don’t need to memorize every little thing so avoid getting stuck on a concept or section that you can’t totally wrap your head around. Keep moving on. The Bar exam is a test of time and being able to find information quickly, not a test of your memory.
4. Do practice questions & exams
Doing practice questions and exams allows you to practice using your index and gives you experience finding the relevant material. Being able to quickly find the answer is the most important skill on the Bar exam. Recreate an exam environment, no distractions, cell phone turned off, and time yourself. You can buy practice exams online from:
How much does the Bar Exam cost?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Bar Exam is expensive. The Barrister Exam costs $750 plus tax, which includes your study materials in both digital and paper copy. The Solicitor Exam also costs $750 plus tax, again including your study materials in both digital and paper copy. In total writing the Barrister and Solicitor Exams in Ontario will cost you around $1500.
Deferring or rewriting either exam costs $600 and only includes a digital copy of study materials. All fees are non-refundable.
Most large law firms cover the costs for students employed with the firm and many smaller firms do as well.
What is the Bar Exam day like?
The Bar Exam day is a nerve-racking day. Few people feel 100% confident going into the Bar exam, but remind yourself that you’ve studied and prepared well. Try to stick to your regular routine and make the morning of your Bar exam feel as normal as possible. Here's how that day will play out. Note: this does not apply to those writing the online bar exam during COVID-19.
Arriving at your Bar Exam Location
Give yourself more than enough time to travel to your exam location. If you haven’t been to the location before, it’s a good idea to do a practice commute before your exam day to avoid getting lost. Even if you do know where you’re going, leave early - you never know when you’re going to run into unexpected traffic, an accident, or get a flat tire.
Sign-in and security screening opens two hours before the Bar exam. Once you arrive at your exam site, you will need to first report to the registration desk to show your Law Society ID Card and sign your registration sheet. Then you will receive a registration wristband with your assigned seat number which will allow you to enter the testing area. Plan to arrive at least one hour early to give yourself enough time to register, go through security screening, get seated and organize your materials. You’re required to be in your seat 30 minutes before the start of the exam.
Writing the Bar Exam
15 minutes before the exam begins, a proctor will go over instructions and rules. Once the exam starts, there will be a big digital clock at the front of the room counting down from 3.5 hours. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it flies by.
Use the restroom before the exam begins or during the lunch break. During the exam you are allowed to go to the bathroom with a proctor escort, however the Bar Exam is very time-sensitive and there really isn’t any time for bathroom breaks.
After your lunch break is over, you’ll go through a security screening process again to re-enter the testing area and finish the second half of the bar exam. You may know many of the other law students writing the Bar Exam at your location, it’s best to avoid socializing prior to the exam and during breaks. Stress can be contagious, so distancing yourself on exam day will help avoid adding extra stress from others to your day.
When you finish the Bar exam, you’ll have to shred or destroy your materials in front of a proctor.
Click here for a full breakdown of the Bar Exam day schedule.
What can I bring to the Bar Exam?
Take a trip down memory lane back to when you wrote the LSAT and had to carry your items in a Ziploc bag. You’ll have to do the same for the Bar Exam. Aside from your Bar materials, anything else you’re going to bring to the Bar Exam has to be stored in a 26.8 X 27.3 cm Ziploc bag. Inside that bag you can bring:
Law Society ID Card
Food in its original packaging or covered in saran wrap (no noisy or smelly food)
Medication (in clear packaging)
Tissues (loose or in clear packaging)
Wallet (with no paper of any kind - no receipts, insurance forms, photos, etc.)
Earplugs (no electronic earphones or earbuds)
The Law Society of Ontario provides a list of accepted and prohibited items so double-check the list before your Bar Exam.
What is the Online Bar Exam like?
The Bar Exam has been moved to an online delivery during COVID-19. There is no date set for the start of in-person Bar Exams. Most of the normal Bar Exam procedures and rules are still in place with some slightly modified. Since this is a new process for everyone, here’s what you can expect if you’re writing the online Bar Exam in Ontario.
The online Bar exam is done on your laptop or desktop computer using a secure browser platform that locks your screen to block you from opening anything outside of the exam. Here’s what technology you’ll need to write the online Bar Exam:
Google Chrome (a recent version)
A steady internet connection (1.5 MB download speed)
A mobile device with a camera (your phone)
A 6-foot extension cord (just in case the proctor needs you to move items around)
Your chargers (your laptop and phone need to stay plugged in)
Setting Up Your Testing Room
You’ll need to set-up the room where you’ll be writing your Bar Exam to be a proper testing environment. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
Set up your phone to film you at a different angle than your computer
Clear your desk/tabletop and below it
Clear the walls around you (you don't need to take paintings down)
Ensure there’s adequate lighting
Ensure other members of your household do not enter the room - place a sign outside of the room as a reminder.
Limit outside noise - turn off TVs and remind others not to talk if they’re in an audible distance
Get a comfy chair
Turn off any phones and landlines in the house
Put a sign on the front door to prevent someone from knocking or ringing the doorbell
Taking the Online Bar Exam
Before starting the exam, you’ll show your ID to a proctor, show that your pockets are empty, and give a tour of your testing room. Once you complete the security screening, you will open the exam webpage and the proctor will give you a secure access code to begin the exam. The proctor will monitor you (and a number of other candidates) throughout the entire exam and will be able to voice communicate with you. There will be a timer on your screen, so you don't need a watch or your own timer - in fact, you're not allowed to have those items in the room. You can get up to go to the washroom at any point during the exam but the timer continues to run.
Once you’ve finished the Bar Exam, you’ll have to rip up any notes taken during the exam in front of the proctor. Unlike the in-person Bar Exam, you can keep your study materials.
For full details on the online Bar Exam in Ontario read the information provided by the Law Society of Ontario.
How long does it take to get Bar Exam results?
You’ll get your Bar Exam results within six to eight weeks after each exam. You’ll receive an email notifying you to check your online account for your results (so make sure your email address is accurate!). You’ll only see a Pass or Fail score. The Law Society doesn't provide actual scores or allow you to see your graded exam. They also don’t say what score is needed for a pass or provide any statistics on the number of students that pass or fail.
If you did fail, remember it’s not the end of the world - even if it feels like it. You can retake the exam up to three times (and more with permission). With a fail, you’ll be able to see your performance in each area of law so that you know what you need to work on for the next time.
There are a few helpful resources that are great at breaking questions down and explaining answers. LSAT Hacks has answer explanations for every LSAT and Manhattan Prep has a forum explanation bank where you can read explanations and ask questions. Most of the time, someone else has already asked the question you’re so you don’t have to wait for an answer. These are both free resources. 7Sage also offers incredible logic game explanation videos with an Ultimate+ subscription ($69/month). They walk you through every step, including how to set up the game diagram.