Focused African American woman wearing headphones using laptopThis week, the Illinois Supreme Court and the Board of Admissions to the Bar announced that Illinois will adopt a new bar exam in 2028.

The exam, called the NextGen bar exam, will replace the currently administered Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which has been administered since 2019.

It will place “a greater emphasis on testing the foundational skills required to practice law instead of memorizing legal concepts and principles,” Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis said in the press release.

Illinois’ adoption of NextGen will also maintain a pathway for examinees to transfer their passing scores into Illinois and from Illinois to other participating jurisdictions.

With the adoption of the NextGen bar exam, Illinois joins 18 other jurisdictions that have announced their intent to administer the new exam.

It is yet to be determined if the first administration of the NextGen bar exam in Illinois will be in February or July 2028.

A focus on ‘foundational skills’

The NextGen bar exam was designed to better reflect the real-world practice skills and competencies required of newly licensed attorneys, an area in which the UBE has been criticized.

The exam will focus on both litigation and transactional legal practice and will reflect changes in law school curriculum, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which developed the NextGen and UBE exams.

The exam will evaluate test takers on a range of legal principles including contract and constitutional law, civil procedure and criminal law, evidence, real property, torts, and business associations, according to the Supreme Court’s press release.

It will also test skills such as identifying and analyzing legal issues, negotiation and dispute resolution, legal research and writing, and advising and counseling clients.

The NextGen Bar Exam won’t continue the UBE’s three separate parts – the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test.

However, it will include multi-choice questions and performance tasks (like the UBE) that test lawyering skills in realistic scenarios. Questions will also integrate factual scenarios with other legal resources, like integrated question sets on drafting a legal document.

The NextGen exam will be administered over nine hours in a day and a half. The UBE is currently administered over 12 hours.

Allowing time to prepare

The Court’s selection of a 2028 administration date provides law schools with several years to prepare students for the new exam. It also allows the Board of Admissions to the Bar with the opportunity to observe at least three administrations of the exam before it is given in Illinois. Full-time fall 2025 law students will be the first class to sit for the new exam in Illinois.

Connecticut, Guam, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington are part of the limited jurisdictions that will administer the NextGen bar exam beginning in July 2026, the first possible administration date.

Suzanne Schmitz, President of the Board of Admissions to the Bar, said in the press release that the Board has been closely following the development of the NextGen bar and “is part of pilot and prototype testing of the exam.”

Before making its recommendation to the Supreme Court, Schmitz said the Board “considered the alternatives and consulted with the Deans of the nine law schools in Illinois.”

According to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, law schools responded positively to the news.

DePaul University College of Law Interim Dean Julie D. Lawton said that the law school worked with the National Conference of Bar Examiners to “field test” the exam and, as a result, “we expect our students to continue to be well prepared.”

Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean Michèle Alexandre said that Loyola looks forward to its “continued work with the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar and all in the legal profession to secure the training of excellent lawyers.”

Alternatives to the bar exam

If states choose not to adopt the NextGen bar exam when the UBE expires in 2028, they can develop their own bar exam or alternative method of measuring competence for attorney licensure.

Some states have already communicated that they are instituting or exploring these alternatives.

Washington state recently announced that, in addition to adopting the NextGen bar exam in 2026, it will also allow alternative licensure pathways, including experiential learning alternatives like apprenticeship programs and standardized coursework.

Oregon, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire have also adopted licensing alternatives to the bar exam.

Alternative pathways recently received the support of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which approved a policy that allows states to use licensure methods other than the bar exam.

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The post Illinois to Administer New Bar Exam in 2028 appeared first on 2Civility.

Photo of Laura Bagby Laura Bagby

Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support…

Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support of the Commission’s mission of increasing civility and professionalism to enable the administration of justice.