Bar Exam Passing Rate Still On The Decline

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The results from this year’s July administration of the bar exam have been tallied up, and the incoming numbers are less than encouraging. As Bloomberg Business reports, average scores on the multiple choice portion of the test haven’t been this low since 1988, having dropped 1.6 points from last year’s mean score of 141.5.

In 2014, which also demonstrated a notable dip in bar exam scores, many law school graduates complained—via emails, texts and even tweets—that ExamSoft Worldwide was responsible, claiming that they were unable to upload parts of their test before their respective deadlines. At the time, the National Conference of Bar Examiners supported ExamSoft. In a statement issued by Erica Moeser, the president and CEO of the NCBE, had this to say:

“Beyond checking and rechecking our equating, we have looked at other indicators to challenge the results. All point to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013. In July 2013 we marked the highest number of MBE test-takers. This year the number of MBE test-takers fell by five percent.

Naturally, law schools and their graduates took issue with being branded “less able,” but this year, with test scores even lower and no software glitches to blame, Moesner and the NCBE seem to have been proven right. Thanks to Professor Derek Muller from Pepperdine Law, who has been analyzing the data for Excess of Democracy, the decline is rather staggering:


Change in overall bar pass rate, July 2014 over July 2015

Iowa, +5 points (July 2014: 81%; July 2015: 86%)

Kansas, -3 points (July 2014: 79%; July 2015: 76%)

Mississippi, -27 points (July 2014: 78%; July 2015: 51%)

Missouri, -1 point (July 2014: 85%; July 2015: 84%)

Montana, -2 points (July 2014: 64%; July 2015: 62%)

New Mexico, -12 points (July 2014: 84%; July 2015: 72%)

North Carolina, -4 points** (July 2014: 71%; July 2015: 67%)

North Dakota, +6 points (July 2014: 63%; July 2015: 69%)

Oklahoma, -11 points (July 2014: 79%; July 2015: 68%)

Washington, -1 point (July 2014: 77%; July 2015: 76%)

West Virginia, -5 points (July 2014: 74%; July 2015: 69%)

Wisconsin, -10 points*** (July 2014: 75%; July 2015: 65%)

**denotes first-time test-takers, not overall rate

***source via comments


So, what is the cause in this troubling dip in exam scores? Are law schools truly admitting too many students who, as Moeser says, “may encounter difficulty?” If so, those schools would do well to raise their standards of acceptance. Not only would doing so ensure a more capable influx of new attorneys, but would also help to correct the already flooded legal job market that their students will graduate into.

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