Law Students

Why the Drop in Bar Exam Pass Rates?
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The author attempts to explain why so many students are failing the bar exam.

Summary: Although a software glitch caused many students stress during the July bar exam, many feel that students and schools are to blame for lower test scores.

Bar exam results across the nation are trickling in for the July 2014 exam, and the results are not pretty. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, in several states, those who took the test in July were more likely to fail than those who took the exam in 2013. Plus, scores on one area of the test dropped to the lowest point in the past decade.


The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which is a nonprofit organization that prepares one of the state-specific multiple-choice sections on the bar exam, sent a blunt letter to many law school deans after scores decreased. Erica Moeser, the president of the NCBE, wrote, “The results are correct. The group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.”

Here is an article about the letter that was sent.

Moeser may technically be correct that this year’s test-takers were “less able.” The median LSAT score among law school students in the United States has dropped every year from 2010 to 2013, according to an analysis done by Jerry Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas. Organ also found that law schools accepted 50 percent more students with low LSAT scores than they did three years ago. This may imply that students were less prepared, but it still does not explain the significant drop in this year’s scores. In Organ’s study, he tracked how LSAT scores correlated with bar exam scores in the past, and predicted that this year’s graduates should have only performed slightly worse. However, the scores plummeted.

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Here’s an article about Florida Coastal’s bar exam pass rates.

Some feel that a software malfunction that affected those sitting for the exam for hours in July. After the first day of testing, test-takers in 43 states who were using the Examsoft software were unable to upload their answers for several hours—until the late evening for some. Many states had to extend the upload deadline for answers, and students had to return for another day of testing the next day. Many feel that the stress of having software malfunction likely affected performance.

Some law school graduates have even filed a lawsuit against Examsoft. One test-taker said, “I was up until 1:00 a.m. trying and praying for my exam to go through. When I finally did get to bed, I barely got 2 hours’ rest because I had to be up at 5:00 a.m. to start day two of the bar.”

Here’s an article about the lawsuit against Examsoft.

Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver, recalled how dozens of her students contacted her “in various degrees of panic” after the first day of the exam. One student apparently cried for 20 minutes, and another felt that she should just cancel the test, since she felt her performance would be so affected the next day by the stress of the faulty software. Leong feels that blaming the lower scores on the students is “insulting.”

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Examsoft noted that scores dropped all over the country, including states that did not use the software, such as Virginia and Arizona. Though the software issue no doubt caused justifiable panic among test-takers, many state that this should not overshadow the quality problem that many law schools are facing.

Fewer and fewer students are applying to law schools, and therefore many law schools have begun accepting less-qualified applicants to maintain class sizes. Derek Muller, a law professor at Pepperdine University, said, “This drop, while bigger than expected, is just a sign for what’s going to come for law schools as the incoming classes continue to decline in quality.”

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