Virginia Essay Exam Subject Changes in 2020

be prepared for topic changes

Has Virginia Changed the Topics Tested on the Essay Exam?

In a rule change in 2020, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners made some changes to the topics that can be tested on the Virginia Essay Exam. While these changes have led to many concerns and questions, when you break down precisely what the Board did, very little has changed. The takeaway is that Federal Taxation will no longer be tested. The other changes are mostly cosmetic, and don’t affect how you should study.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the subject area changes to the exam.

Old Subject ListNew Subject List (2020)
Conflict of LawsRemoved
(Likely consolidated into Federal and Virginia procedure.)
Constitutional LawConstitutional Law
Business OrganizationsBusiness Organizations
Credtior’s RightsCreditor’s Rights
Criminal LawCriminal Law
Domestic RelationsDomestic Relations
Federal Practice & ProcedureFederal Practice & Procedure
Local Government LawLocal Government Law
Professional ResponsibilityProfessional Responsibility
Real PropertyReal Property
Personal PropertyPersonal Property
SalesConsolidated into UCC
TrustsConsolidated into
Wills, Trusts, & Estates
Uniform Commercial CodeUCC Articles 2, 3A, 9A
Virginia Civil & Criminal Procedure
(and appellate practice)
Virginia Civil & Criminal Procedure
(and appellate practice)
Wills & Estate AdministrationWills, Trusts, and Estates
See for the latest rules.

Was Conflict of Laws Removed?

Probably not. This topic has appeared on the exam with some regularity. But Conflict of Laws is always tested within another subject. Recently it was tested in the context of a contract dispute within a question that also covered many aspects of Virginia procedure. Conflict of Laws is really a set of rules that fall within Virginia and Federal Procedure. So its removal from the list doesn’t mean much. This topic could still very well be tested on the exam, despite being removed from the list. Only time will tell whether the Board intended to completely remove this, or if they merely were consolidating it under procedure, and still intend to test on these rules. For now, don’t stop studying Conflict of Laws.

Was Sales Removed?

No. In the old rules, “sales” was listed as its own subject, separate from “Uniform Commercial Code.” But it is still tested. Note that the Board also specifically added something to the UCC subject. Before, it said only “Uniform Commercial Code” and within that subject area, they tested Secured Transactions & Negotiable Instruments. Now, it says, “Uniform Commercial Code (Articles 2, 3A, & 9A).” The Board is specifying which sections of the UCC it intends to test. Article 2 is Sales, Article 3 is Negotiable Instruments, and Article 9 is Secured Transactions. They’ve made only cosmetic changes to the list here. The testable topics remain exactly the same.

Was Trusts Removed?

No. Under the old rules, Trusts was listed separately from Wills. In recent years, the examiners have tended to test Wills more frequently than Trusts. Here, the Board has merely consolidated Trusts into “Wills and Estate Administration.” The subject area is now called “Wills, Trusts, and Estates.” This covers the exact topic areas that have always been tested, and so this does not represent a substantive change to the exam at all.

Was Taxation Removed?

Yes. This was a subject that was rarely tested anyway, but it appears the Board has completely removed this. Don’t waste time studying taxation for future exams.

Your Study Plan With The New Essay Topic Areas

As always, closely following the exam after every administration is the only sure way we will know how the Board intends to test going forward. But these rule changes are not especially meaningful. True, you do not need to study Taxation, but you shouldn’t have been spending much time on that anyway because it is so infrequently tested and when it was tested it was worth relatively few points on any given exam. Other than that, your study plan should not change based on these topic adjustments by the Board.

For those who enroll in LexBar, you will see that our topic hierarchy chart does not directly mirror the way that the Board lists the testable topics. That’s because their list is not the best way to prioritize your studying. For example, LexBar will list UCC Article 2 at a higher study-priority than Articles 3A and 9A, due to the lower subject frequency and apparent weight of points when each of those latter two appear on the exam. Therefore, those are listed as three separate topics on our list. Similarly, the subject “Wills, Trusts, and Estates” appears on the LexBar priority list separately, because the Board more frequently tests Wills than Trusts. Those are just two examples to illustrate that you should not use the Board’s alphabetized list to prioritize your study time.

As you study, remember to spend your time in proportion to the frequency and weight of the subject areas. You can’t learn everything from all 18 subject areas. Learn a little about everything, and a lot about a few things. Memorization combined with a good strategy and a lot of practice will help you pass the Virginia Bar Exam.