How to Find the Best Bar Prep Course for You in 2020
Every state requires its attorneys to pass the bar exam before they can begin practicing law there. It’s a challenging test of the skills and knowledge you’ll need to operate successfully as a lawyer, and passing it requires extensive preparation. A bar exam prep course will help you review concepts and learn test-taking strategies to maximize your chance of success. We put together this guide to the best bar prep courses to help you find the program that’s right for you.
Our research team gathered a list of 41 bar prep courses and put them to the test. Our top pick is Kaplan Bar Review. We evaluated each company based on the number of states served, available course formats, overall comprehensiveness, study material quality and the ease of getting instructor support. We also spoke to former students to get their insights into the usefulness of each prep course.
In the end, we were left with five finalists that we felt comfortable recommending. Each of them serves at least 40 jurisdictions and offers self-paced or online courses, so you can attend from anywhere. Kaplan Bar Review was our favorite, but depending on your needs and budget, you may prefer one of our other top picks. Check out all of our reviews below to learn about what each company has to offer and who should use it.
A Full List of Top Bar Review Courses Worth Considering
Our top five bar prep courses are listed below, along with the other 36 companies that didn’t make the cut. Click on the links to view the available courses and to see what we had to say about our finalists.
The 5 Best Bar Prep Courses
|Kaplan Bar Review||$299.00 - $4,500.00|
|BARBRI||$399.00 - $3,995.00|
|Themis Bar Review||$2,095.00 - $2,595.00|
|BarMax||$249.99 - $999.99|
|AmeriBar||$239.00 - $2,495.00|
The Other 36 Bar Prep Courses We Reviewed
|Bar Graders||Visit Site|
|Bar Made Easy||Visit Site|
|Bar Secrets||Visit Site|
|BarNone Review||Visit Site|
|BarPlus Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Celebration Bar Review and Test Preparation||Visit Site|
|Emerson's Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Fleming's Fundamentals of Law||Visit Site|
|Internet Bar Exam Review||Visit Site|
|LLM Bar Exam||Visit Site|
|Marino Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Open Book Bar Prep||Visit Site|
|Personal Bar Prep||Visit Site|
|Pieper Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Reed Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Rigos Uniform Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Skillman Method||Visit Site|
|Southwest Bar Review||Visit Site|
|Supreme Bar Review||Visit Site|
|The Bar Coach||Visit Site|
|The Bar Code||Visit Site|
|The Bar Exam Doctor||Visit Site|
|The Writing Edge||Visit Site|
|United States Virgin Islands Bar Review||Visit Site|
The Most Important Features: Accessibility, Comprehensiveness, Study Materials and Student Support
We compared dozens of bar prep course features when choosing our finalists. They broke down into four main categories: accessibility, comprehensiveness, study materials and student support.
The bar exam format varies by jurisdiction, and it’s important that the prep course you choose reflects the exam you’ll be taking. We made sure that all of our finalists serve at least 40 states. Kaplan Bar Review and BARBRI both serve all states, so one of these is a good choice if you live in a jurisdiction like Louisiana, which is served by few bar prep companies. Then, we looked at the available course formats. Most companies offer either self-paced or live online classes, but some offer in-person courses as well for student who prefer learning in a familiar classroom environment. Mobile apps were also a plus, but not a requirement.
We studied the curricula and spoke to former students to get a sense for how well the bar prep courses prepare students for the exam. Some companies list the average pass rates for their students, and when available, we took these into account as well. We made sure each course offered some form of regular instruction, such as video or audio lectures, and covered all portions of the exam that are required by each state. BARBRI and Kaplan stood out here again, teaching through a combination of detailed lectures, workshops and simulated exams.
Study materials give you a chance to practice the material you learn in class. It’s especially important for self-paced courses where your only instruction usually comes from a series of pre-recorded videos. Resources often include flashcards, a question bank and practice tests. Taking timed practice tests throughout a course is crucial because it familiarizes you with the exam’s time constraints and gives you an accurate estimate of how well you know the material. Themis Bar Review stood out here with four Milestone Exams throughout the course and adaptive learning technology that makes recommendations on where you should focus your attention.
Students enrolled in live courses can ask questions of their instructors during class times, but the best bar prep courses also provide support out of class. This could be via email, phone or message board, or a combination of the three. A few companies, including AmeriBar and BARBRI, offer private tutoring as well, though this service is significantly more expensive than a traditional prep course. Self-paced courses usually have little or no means of getting assistance if you run into problems, so this isn’t a good fit if you struggle to learn on your own.
All of our top five offer pass guarantees to their students. Kaplan and BarMax will refund your prep course tuition if you don’t pass while BARBRI, Themis and AmeriBar enable you to retake their course for free. These guarantees can be reassuring, but they’re not necessarily binding unless you meet all the requirements spelled out in the fine print. Many companies require you to attend all class sections and submit your bar results within a designated period of time after the exam. Failure to do this will render you ineligible for the guarantee. Make sure you read over all requirements carefully before you sign up for any of these programs, so you understand what to expect.
Choosing the Right Bar Prep Course Delivery Type for You
Your budget, schedule and learning style will determine which type of bar prep course is the best fit for you. We’ve outlined the four main types below in order from least expensive to most expensive.
- Self-Paced: You pay for the study materials and review them at your own pace.
- Live Online: You log in to a virtual classroom and learn alongside other students.
- Live In-Person: You travel to a physical classroom and learn alongside other students.
- Private Tutoring: A trained instructor will work with you to build a custom study plan targeting the areas where you need improvement.
- Most affordable
- Flexible schedule
- Cover a lot of material quickly
- Requires discipline
- Little personalization
- Little to no instructor help
Who It’s Best For
A self-paced course works best if you enjoy learning independently or your schedule doesn’t permit attending a live class.
- Log in from anywhere
- Personalized help available
- Clear structure
- Less interactive than in-person courses
- Technical issues are possible
Who It’s Best For
A live online course is best if you feel more comfortable learning from an instructor, but you don’t live near one of the company’s offices. It’s also a good choice if you can’t commit to traveling to a physical location each week.
- No distractions
- Familiar classroom setting
- Interact with instructor and fellow students
- Travel required
- No scheduled flexibility
- More expensive than online classes
Who It’s Best For
Live in-person courses are a good choice if you live near one of the company’s locations and you prefer classes that allow for a lot of interaction.
- Tailored instruction
- Customized study schedule
- Online or in person
- Can be time-consuming
Who It’s Best For
Private tutoring is best if you’re studying to retake the bar exam. A tutor can give you the personalized attention you need to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, so that you can study more efficiently.
Full Reviews of the Best Bar Prep Courses
Kaplan Bar Review
Best for comprehensive instruction.
Kaplan’s variety of courses and widespread availability made it the company to beat. It offers tailored programs for all states and an adaptive syllabus that targets the areas where you need to improve. It also boasts the largest question bank of any of our top five and unlimited essay grading, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities for hands-on practice before your exam. Private tutoring is also an option for students who are interested in personalized instruction, though Kaplan requires that you commit to at least five hours upfront.
What to Expect
Kaplan offers comprehensive self-paced, live online and in-person bar prep courses to residents of all states. Live courses include 32 classes ranging from four to seven hours per day and full access to Kaplan’s online study materials. Students interested in a self-paced bar prep course have several options. The On Demand course covers the same material as the live courses through a series of pre-recorded video lectures. There are also shorter Foundation and Final Review courses that cover the basic concepts and test-taking strategies in a few days. Kaplan is one of the few companies to offer instructor support to its self-paced students, though it’s limited to email only. Still, this is a nice option to have if you find yourself stuck on a concept.
The online course materials include over 4,000 MBE practice questions — over double what some of our other top picks offer. Kaplan’s Personalized Pass Program will keep track of your results and use this information to make suggestions about which sections you need to review more. When the review course is finished, you’ll receive a Final Study Plan to guide you through the rest of the days until the exam. Unlimited essay grading is also included as a part of every Kaplan Complete Bar Review Course. Search through the essay prompts by subject matter and get feedback from Kaplan on how you can improve your answers. All of these resources are available online or through the company’s iOS and Android mobile apps.
Kaplan is one of the few bar prep courses to offer private online or in-person tutoring for students who feel they need individualized attention. Its rates are reasonable compared to its competitors, but you must commit to at least five hours at a time. If you’re retaking the bar exam, your tutor will go over your exam scores and help you come up with a study plan to bring up your grade. New students will be given an initial assignment, which your tutor will grade and use to build a tailored study schedule covering all major concepts.
Kaplan Bar Review Details
|MBE Qbank & Audio Lectures||$299.00|
|MBE Qbank Released||$399.00|
|MBA Final Review Course||$449.00|
|MBA Foundation Course||$699.00|
|MBE Combined Course (Foundation and Final Review)||$1,049.00|
|LLM On Demand||$1,499.00|
|Live At Home||$1,999.00|
|LLM Live At Home||$2,199.00|
|Live In Class||$1,999.00|
|LLM Live In Class||$2,199.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE or Essay Only (5 hours)||$1,000.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE & Essay (5 hours)||$1,000.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE or Essay Only (10 hours)||$2,000.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE & Essay (10 hours)||$2,250.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE or Essay Only (20 hours)||$4,000.00|
|Private Tutoring - MBE & Essay (20 hours)||$4,500.00|
Best for student support.
BARBRI teaches live online courses nationwide and in-person courses in 47 states (sorry, Alaska, New Hampshire and Wisconsin!). When you sign up for a course, you’re assigned a personal Director of Legal Education (DLE) to help answer any questions you have about the bar exam. Private tutoring is an option if you’d like to take that personalized support a step further, and you can purchase as little as an hour at a time. You can also ask questions of your teacher at any point during the 120+ hours of in-class instruction.
What to Expect
BARBRI’s courses meet four to six times per week over six to seven weeks. Most classes are 3.5 to four hours long, though the two-day MBE Immersion and simulated practice exams are seven hours each. There are three different packages to choose from, and they’re quite pricey compared to the other companies on this list; however, there is an option to spread your payments out over three, six or 12 months if you can’t afford to pay full price. The Ultimate Decision course provides the best value. You get all the course materials, plus a bonus Mini Review course and five hours of private tutoring at no additional charge.
All courses include over 2,000 MBE practice questions, MPT and MEE workbooks, personalized essay grading and adaptive technology that makes study recommendations. You also get access to BARBRI’s insider webinars and bar application advice. Supplemental courses, including an essay workshop and the MBE Mini-Review, can be added to any program for an additional fee. If you live in a jurisdiction that requires you to pass the MPRE as well, you may want to check out BARBRI’s free MPRE review course. This is a stand-alone product and you don’t have to pay for a full bar prep course in order to take advantage of it.
BARBRI’s private tutoring is more flexible than Kaplan’s, but it’s also more expensive. You can start with as little as one hour if you want to try it out, but you get the best savings if you purchase a larger package. Your tutor will cover any or all aspects of the exam where you feel you need work, and they can review prior test results to provide personalized feedback on how you can improve your answers. Tutoring can be done online or in-person if you live near one of the company’s offices.
|National Mini Review||$99.00|
|Essay Advantage Workshop||$199.00|
|Prime Decision Tuition||$2,495.00|
|Regular Decision Tuition||$3,695.00|
|Ultimate Decision Tuition||$3,995.00|
|LLM Extended Bar Review||$2,695.00|
|Private Tutoring - Individual Session (1 hour)||$350.00|
|Private Tutoring - Silver Package (5 hours)||$1,500.00|
|Private Tutoring - Gold Package (10 hours)||$2,500.00|
|Private Tutoring - Platinum Package (15 hours)||$3,375.00|
Themis Bar Review
Best for busy students.
Themis Bar Review was built to accommodate a busy lifestyle. The curriculum is spread out over eight weeks, as opposed to some other courses that cram all classes into a month and a half. You can reinforce what you learn in the classroom with a series of short on-demand videos and test your knowledge with 2,500 practice MBE questions and three practice exams. The course will adapt as you go, always targeting the areas where you need the most help to ensure you’re using your time effectively. Courses are available for all states except Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
What to Expect
Themis hosts live online courses, so you can attend them from anywhere. Lessons take place four to five days per week over eight to 10 weeks and cover all aspects of the exam. You’ll take three practice tests throughout the course, so you can assess your progress and see which sections you should spend more time on. If you miss a class, you can always go back and review its material with Themis’ on-demand video library.
You can go through the online course materials in any order you’d like, but its Directed Study schedule is best if you need help keeping yourself on track. This analyzes how well you do on practice questions and suggests daily videos and tasks to improve your performance in difficult subject areas. If you need to take some time off, Themis will automatically adjust your schedule to account for the break so you can still cover all the key material before test day. Themis is so confident that its course will help you pass the bar exam that it publishes its pass rates online and updates them every year. It also promises a free course retake if you fail the exam after completing the Bar Review Course.
When you sign up, you’re given a Personal Attorney Advisor who is there to help answer any questions you have, explain key concepts and teach you test-taking strategies to help you excel on the bar exam. You’re also assigned a Dedicated Essay Grader who will read and provide feedback on all your practice essays to help you hone your answers and improve your writing skills. In addition, you can reach out to Themis instructors via email, phone, forums or social media to get answers to any questions that weren’t covered during classes.
Themis Bar Review Details
|Bar Review Course||$2,095.00|
|LLM Advantage Course||$2,595.00|
Best for studying on the go.
BarMax offers self-paced bar prep courses in all states except Louisiana. Its program includes 50 hours of audio lectures from Harvard Law School alumni, topic outlines and over 1,500 real MBE questions. You can access all course materials online or through its iOS app. There’s no need to connect to the internet in order to view the material through the app, so it’s the perfect choice for studying on the go. Unfortunately, there’s no Android app at the moment; however, these users can still access their account through their mobile web browser.
What to Expect
BarMax’s UBE course covers all sections of the bar exam in 26 states and the Virgin Islands. Its MBE course covers the general portion of the exam in all states except Louisiana. California residents have the option of purchasing a special course tailored to them for the same price as the UBE course. You can start practicing as soon as you sign up, and you can view the materials as much as you need. All BarMax plans include lifetime access to the materials, so you can take the course for a second time if you don’t pass. Like Themis, BarMax is confident in its courses and publishes its pass rates on its website. It also promises a money-back guarantee if you don’t pass your bar exam after completing its course.
The bulk of the lessons are taught through over 50 hours of audio lectures created by Harvard Law School alumni. You can go through these at your own pace and then test your knowledge with flashcards, over 1,580 real practice questions and two free essay critiques. BarMax will automatically track your progress and show you the areas where you’re struggling so you know where to focus your attention moving forward. And if you run into trouble, you can reach out to the company’s trained instructors via phone, email or message board with any questions.
Its mobile app is sleek and intuitive, so you can quickly navigate to the information you’re looking for. You can access all course material, including lectures and practice tests, from here even when you’re not connected to the internet. You can post questions and receive instructor support right from the app as well. It would be great if this was an option for Android users too, but for now, they’ll have to jump through the extra hoop of logging in via their web browser.
|BarMax Baby Bar||$249.99|
|BarMax MBE Questions||$299.99|
|BarMax MBE Course||$499.99|
|BarMax CA Course||$999.99|
|BarMax UBE Course||$999.99|
Best for section-specific courses.
AmeriBar provides bar exam prep courses in 40 states (not available in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin). Its Bar Review courses and UBE courses cover all aspects of the exam, but its section-specific courses may be a better fit if you only need to review a certain portion. You can mix and match them as needed to build a custom program just for you. All courses are self-paced, but they include unlimited phone support and the option to purchase private tutoring if you need extra help.
What to Expect
Most of AmeriBar’s study materials are physical books, though there are some online lectures and practice questions. The complete Bar Review Course covers the multistate and state-specific portions of the exam as well as test-taking strategies through a series of on-demand lectures. You’re provided with study calendars to help keep you on track, but AmeriBar doesn’t make any suggestions about what you should study next. The online question bank tracks your progress, though, so you can use the data here to pinpoint areas where you need more practice.
AmeriBar offers two different levels of instruction for its regular Bar Review Course and UBE students can select from four different packages, depending on how much support they want. There’s also section-specific programs for the MBE, MEE and MPT, plus a combined MBE and MPT course. If your state requires you to take an MPRE exam, AmeriBar can help you prepare for this as well. Its MPRE course is free, and there’s no need to sign up for a paid course if you don’t want to. You can mix and match the various sections as you need to, but if you plan on taking more than one, you’re better off enrolling in a complete bar prep course.
All courses include unlimited phone support from real attorneys. Some packages also come with the Essay Critique Program, which offers unlimited reviews of sample essays so you can learn how to improve your answers. The Personal Bar Review Course gives you the best value with all of this plus seven hours of private tutoring included for free. Tutoring can be purchased as an optional add-on to other packages as well. Schedule a free consultation with AmeriBar to discuss whether this is the right option for you.
|Intensive MPT Course||$239.00|
|Combined MBE and MPT Course||$795.00|
|Complete Bar Review Course||$1,295.00|
|Personal Bar Review Course||$2,495.00|
|Bronze UBE Bar Review Course||$995.00|
|Complete UBE Bar Review Course||$1,295.00|
|Gold UBE Bar Review Course||$1,995.00|
|Personal UBE Bar Review Course||$2,495.00|
|Private Tutoring||Contact Company|
Frequently Asked Questions About the Bar Exam
In order to be successful on the bar exam, you have to understand how your state’s exam is formatted, what procedures you’ll be expected to follow on test day, and how to prepare effectively. We’ve answered these and other important questions about the bar exam below. Feel free to reach out to us if there’s anything else you’d like us to answer.
What are the most important things to know prior to taking the bar exam?
Before taking the bar exam, you should familiarize yourself with your state’s eligibility requirements, exam format and test-day procedures.
Each jurisdiction has its own set of requirements that aspiring lawyers must met before they’re eligible to take the bar exam. Requirements may include being a resident of that jurisdiction, completing the necessary prelegal education and registering with the appropriate agencies. You may also be required to submit to a background check. To learn more about your jurisdiction’s rules, check out the National Conference of Bar Examiner’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
Jurisdictions also choose how their bar exam is formatted. Most have a two-day exam format with multistate and state-specific portions containing a combination of essay and multiple-choice questions. An increasing number of states are now adopting the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) format. This includes the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and Multistate Performance Test (MPT). You can learn more about each of these sections and the UBE below.
The MBE is only held on the last Wednesday in February and the last Wednesday in July, so plan accordingly. Make sure you know how to get to your testing center and arrive at least a half hour early. You won’t be permitted to enter the testing room if you show up late. You must bring a valid, government-issued photo ID and a passport-type photo to verify your identity as well as your admission ticket. You can bring a one-gallon clear plastic bag of belongings, but these cannot include any electronic devices, notes or food (unless it is medically necessary). For a full list of test-day procedures, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.
How much time should I spend studying for the bar exam?
There is no real answer to this. It all depends on how much time you have and how confident you feel in your understanding of the material. Ask yourself the following questions.
How is my state’s bar exam formatted?
Some states have more grueling bar exams than others. Much of the information is the same for all states, but yours may include an MPRE section or a state-specific portion as well. Look up the format ahead of time and make sure that your study plan covers all sections thoroughly. You should also look up the minimum passing score for your state. Make this number your goal and keep studying until you feel confident that you can meet it.
How well do I know the material?
Take a timed practice test before you begin studying. This will familiarize you with the test and give you a good estimation of how well you’re doing. Use your results as a baseline and spend extra time on the sections and concepts where you did poorly. Continue taking practice tests throughout the course to gauge your progress and adjust your study schedule accordingly. If you find you have a long way to go, you may want to increase the amount of time you spend studying each day or consider seeking out a private tutor.
What is my schedule like?
Many claim that studying for the bar exam is a full-time job, but if you have other obligations that limit how much you can study each day, it’s best to start early. Figure out when you plan on taking the exam and work backwards from there to create a schedule. If you’re enrolling in a live bar prep course, you will be able to skip this step because your instructor will lay out a schedule for you. Some self-paced courses may provide a study schedule as well, but it’s up to you to keep yourself on task and on track.
How is the bar exam formatted?
The bar exam format varies by jurisdiction. The common test sections are listed below. You can learn more about which ones are required in your jurisdiction by checking with your State Bar.
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is the most common bar exam section. It’s administered in all states except Louisiana. This is a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice exam designed to test your knowledge of federal laws, including constitutional law, criminal law, property and torts. It is administered on the last Wednesday in February and July every year, except in Delaware and North Dakota where the test may only occur in July if there are not enough applicants to merit a second testing date.
The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is a six-question essay exam that takes place over three hours. This test is administered in 26 states and can cover everything from family law and federal civil procedure to secured transactions and trusts. This test is usually paired with the MPT and takes place on the day before the MBE.
The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) consists of three 90-minute skills questions designed to measure your ability to use lawyering skills and concepts in real scenarios. These questions test your ability to analyze a situation, organize information, solve problems and communicate your solutions to others. It is usually taken on the same day as the MEE — the last Tuesday in February or July.
The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) includes the MBE, MEE and MPT, and it’s fast becoming the standard for bar exams across the country. It was designed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners to make exam scores more portable. So if you pass the UBE in one state, you can obtain a law license in any other state that offers the UBE, provided your passing score is high enough to meet the new state’s minimum requirements. The UBE is currently used in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Most states also require applicants to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). This is a 60-question multiple-choice ethics exam that runs for two hours. It’s administered three times per year in March, August and November. Some states require you to have a passing MPRE score before you sit for the bar exam, so check with your state bar to see if this is a requirement for you. Most bar prep companies offer free MPRE courses as well, so you can start with one of these before moving onto a traditional bar prep course.
Certain jurisdictions require you to demonstrate your knowledge of state laws as well as federal laws. These exams usually contain a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions, but the number of questions varies. Check with your state bar association to learn more about any state-specific requirements where you live.
Do I need to retake the bar exam if I move to another state?
That all depends on where you’re currently licensed and where you’re moving to. It’s easiest if you’re dealing with states that accept the UBE. You can become licensed in any UBE state as long as your passing score is high enough to meet that state’s minimum requirements. Currently, 26 states employ the UBE and that number is expected to grow. This reciprocity only applies when your current jurisdiction and the jurisdiction you’re moving to both use the UBE. So if you’re moving from a non-UBE state to a UBE state or vice versa, you will have to take the bar exam again.
Each jurisdiction has its own reciprocity rules. You can learn more about these by consulting your state bar association. If two states don’t have reciprocity agreements, you will have to take the bar exam again in your new state in order to become licensed. Some states will enable you to take a shorter attorney’s exam instead of retaking the bar. The attorney’s exam is similar to the bar, but it focuses only on state-specific topics as you have already demonstrated your knowledge of federal law by passing the bar the first time.
Depending on where you live, you may want to consider taking the bar in multiple states at the same time. This will open up more markets for you if one day you decide to move or expand your business. It works well if you live on the border between two states or in a metropolitan area like New York where you may want to pursue clients in nearby New Jersey or Connecticut. Keep this in mind when studying for your bar exam. Taking two exams at once could save you a lot of time compared to studying for one exam now and another down the road.