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Bar Exam Scores Plummet to Lowest Point in Past Several Decades
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Bar Exam Scores Plummet to Lowest Point in Past Several Decades

Summary: Bar exam pass rates continue to decline, concerning law school graduates and law firms alike.

According to Bloomberg, law graduates are not only suffering from low employment rates, but also low bar passage rates. Bar exam scores have been consistently declining over the past several years.


The bar exam is offered in February and July each year. On the July test, the average score on the multiple-choice section dropped by 1.6 points from last year, hitting its lowest point since 1988. The average score this summer was 139.9; in July 2014, it was 141.5.

California law school accreditation requires a 40 percent bar exam passage rate.

Erica Moeser, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, commented, “It was not unexpected. We are in a period where we can expect to see some decline, until the market for going to law school improves.”

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Those schools who have admitted students of a lower quality to keep their enrollment numbers up “may encounter difficulty” when they face the bar exam, Moeser added.

So far, about 12 states have released their bar exam pass rates; in most states, the numbers are lower than last year’s.

Derek Muller, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, said, “The decline in student quality continues to affect the results.” In fact, in 2014, the multiple-choice section of the test saw its largest year-over-year drop in 40 years.

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Last year’s abysmal scores triggered a battle between the NCBE and law school deans, who stated that the test was unfair and that a software glitch made it more difficult to submit test results, likely hurting some students’ scores. Moeser retorted that the schools were simply admitting students who did not have a chance at passing the bar exam.

Washington, D.C. test takers will be allowed to take the test on their laptops.

This year’s scores are vital, as they will demonstrate whether lower scores last year were a fluke or the beginning of a bad trend. So far, things don’t look good.

In Mississippi, the pass rate dropped 27 percentage points on the July exam, from 71 percent last year to 51 percent this year. In New Mexico and Oklahoma, the rates dropped by 12 percentage points and 11 percentage points, respectively.

How do you recover from failing the bar exam?

Muller explained that the bad results will continue so long as admissions standards continue to be lowered. He explained, “There isn’t a lot that schools can do. You can only train students so far and so much, a lot depends on ability.”

According to Excess of Democracy, even in places where pass rates increased, they were still low overall. Lower admission standards that were created at many schools around four years ago seem to coincide with the decline of pass rates.

Source: Bloomberg

Photo credit: New York Times







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