Dropping Bar Examination Passage Statistics

21 Apr

Picture From GoatMilkBlog

It appears that the rumors may be true – the possibility of passing your state bar exam is getting more difficult.

In 2013, I was one of the thousands of bar-takers crossing my fingers and praying for that lucky answer on the test that would push me into the much-needed title of “Current Lawyer.”  With increasing debt (13% interest rate on my $250,000 in loans), the desperate need for experience (most employers want 2 years of experience or more before paying you), and a desperation to escape the hell that was bar study, it seemed like everything was resting on this score.

Law is one of those dreadful career choices, like medicine, that pretty much requires that you pass the exam if you want to work in the field. If you can’t pass the test, you can’t get the job.

By the time you take the bar exam, you are wiped out. Done in, done for, done to – there is simply nothing left inside of you to give.  The exam is the pinnacle of 3 years of never-ending stress and agony. Your relationships won’t handle much more strain or lost time. Your finances are collapsing (the exam itself costs as much as $5,000) and you literally have pennies in the bank. Your job options are somewhat bleak with a good score; without it, you suddenly worry that you will never work in law again.  And perhaps the worst, your brain and soul simply is done. I remember leaving the test and watching several people around me basically crying from just the weariness that hits you. For four years, your life has been one big war and waiting game – battling for the best grades and waiting to learn if it was all for nothing.  

And then the wait begins again. 1 Month for some (e.g. North Carolina). 3-4 Months for others (e.g. Rhode Island, California).  One by one the scores are released and we find out if we are moving on in the game or stuck back at square one.  It’s a difficult experience.

And now, it just got harder. 

The scores are out for dozens of states, and the trend isn’t looking good. 

Since 2013, I have been recording and sharing both the Bar Exam Results information and Passage Rates of the states that publish them.

The 2015 rates show a distinct falling pattern – EVERY state that publishes statistics has shown a drop from last year’s February results.  Many are at the lowest they’ve been since I started recording them, July or February.  And some states are simply not reporting as they usually do (e.g. North Carolina)

We noticed a similar trend last year, as many legal sites and writers questioned if this was an oddity or a sign of future falls. For example, last year Illinois showed such a drop that the bar association had to questions its decision to raise the minimum passing score in 2015. (1).  California had their lowest passage rate in 10 years on the July 2014 exam. (3) The students and bloggers grew concerned (2, 4). And it appears those fears have been realized on the February 2015 exam. 

The results are obvious – the passage rates are all down at this point. 21 states have reported results, 12 have reported passage statistics. Of those twelve, all have seen drops in their scores. 

And the move to the Uniform Bar Exam isn’t stopping the decline.  The UBE states are also reporting statistics, and theirs have fallen too. Washington is down to 65%, Kansas down to 81%, Idaho down to 72%. Once again, they are all below last year’s rate. 

It depends on who you ask as to the reason behind the fall.

 Students and many law schools are arguing that the problem is on the side of the Bar Associations who administer the test. They claim that the State bar exam associations are either A) making the exam questions more difficult (e.g. Civil Procedure was added to the exam) or B) making the Scoring more selective (as in Illinois).  

On the other hand, the Bar Associations claim that the students are simply stupider now than they were before (5). In a memo to Law School Deans in October, Erica Moeser, President of the NCBE (Bar Exam Creator), said that “the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than than the group that sat in July 2013.” (5) They also tried blaming falling numbers of takers. 

Regardless of the reason, the students are getting the bad end of this terrible lollipop.  

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