NextGen Bar Exam: What International LL.M. Students Need to Know

What You Need to Know about the NextGen Bar Exam

For LL.M. students, one significant change on the horizon is the introduction of the NextGen bar exam, slated to debut in July 2026. For international candidates, understanding these upcoming changes is crucial. Below, we delve into what the NextGen bar exam is, and how it may impact LL.M. students from around the world.

What is the NextGen bar exam?

The NextGen bar exam represents a substantial overhaul of the traditional bar examination process. Developed in response to feedback from legal professionals and educators, this new format aims to better assess the skills and knowledge required for modern legal practice. 

NextGen will decrease the length of the bar exam from 12 to nine hours. The exam will be divided into three sessions of three hours each, administered over a day and a half, compared to its current 2-day span. Each of the three exam sessions will consist of approximately 40 multiple-choice questions, 1 performance task, and two integrated question sets. 

NextGen will shift away from test components, electing to feature an integrated testing format. NextGen will also focus more on lawyering skills and place less emphasis on memorization.

It seeks to bridge the gap between legal theory and real-world application. Candidates will be evaluated not only on their substantive legal knowledge, but also on their ability to apply that knowledge effectively in practice settings. This shift reflects the increasing demand for lawyers who possess practical skills.

“While testing legal knowledge is still a focus, the recalibration is a direct response to concerns and research that showed the old bar exam focuses too heavily on pure memorization,” says Amit Schlesinger, executive director of legal and government programs at Kaplan, an American test preparation company. 

Nearly a third of the NextGen Bar exam will consist of question sets, based on a common scenario. These question sets will include a mixture of short-answer items and multiple-choice items, and may also focus on drafting legal documents or dispute resolution. And the final quarter of the exam time will be spent on three longer writing tasks. 

“Keep in mind that although so much is changing, much about the exam and testing process will remain the same. Most notably, the NextGen Bar’s annual testing schedule and scoring system will remain unchanged,” notes Schlesinger. 

Is the NextGen Bar exam tougher than the old test? 

Schlesinger says it depends. 

“We tell students that if their preferred studying and testing style is memorization, then the new exam will be more difficult,” he explains. “However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners expects that most test-takers will find the NextGen exam easier, because it is a shorter and skills-based exam, which is a more natural experience.” 

Brian Sites, a lecturer in law at University of Miami School of Law, agrees that for each individual bar taker, it will vary. “Some people are amazing at memorization, and this test offers less of an opportunity to shine there,” he says. “Some students excel at problem solving and related skills, and NextGen changes like the integrated question sets, which might make the exam easier for those students.” 

Implications for international LL.M. students 

For international candidates pursuing an LL.M. in the US with the goal of sitting for the bar exam, the introduction of the NextGen bar exam carries several implications.

As the NextGen exam places a greater emphasis on practical skills and application, LL.M. candidates may need to adjust their preparation strategies accordingly. This involves seeking out coursework, clinical experiences, or simulated practice opportunities that align with the new exam format.

“For LL.M.s taking the NextGen exam, they should connect with someone who knows about this new exam as soon as they start their program,” says Sites. “And be sure to buy a full bar review course, because there will probably be fewer free resources available to prepare for the NextGen when it launches as compared to the older exam, where we’ve had many years for people to develop and make available free study tools.” 

Law schools offering LL.M. programs tailored to bar exam preparation may need to adapt their curricula to align with the NextGen test’s focus on practical competence. This may involve integrating more experiential learning opportunities, case simulations, or skills-based assessments into their programs.

“As the exam moves more toward emphasizing skill over legal knowledge, LL.M. students should seek out more experiential learning opportunities or classes with a skill component,” says Nicholas Shalosky, the director of Bar support at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law.

“For example, the NextGen exam will begin testing skills such as client counseling, mediation, arbitration and legal research,” he adds. “There will also likely be a stronger focus on writing in the NextGen bar exam, and if English is an LLM’s second language, legal writing courses and training in English will be even more essential.” 


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