Bar Exam

Schools add bar exam class to curriculum and find success

  • Print

Law School

Image from Shutterstock.

Bar exam passage rates have declined nationwide recently, but there are success stories even in this climate of sinking scores.

One example is Belmont University College of Law. The Nashville, Tennessee, school posted a 94 percent passage rate by its first-time takers on the July 2015 exam. It outperformed all other law schools in the state. According to statistics from the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners, the overall pass rate was 64 percent and the pass rate for first-time exam takers was 74 percent.

Similarly, Florida International University College of Law posted an impressive 89 percent passage rate on the bar exam, far above the statewide average of 69 percent.

What was the secret to the success at these two law schools? It was due at least in part to a bar exam review course built into the law school curriculum.

“Bar exam success starts with good teachers, dedicated students and a well-developed curriculum,” says Belmont law professor Jeff Kinsler, who teaches the school’s course on preparing for the bar exam. “But I believe the bar review course played a vital role in our 94 percent first-time pass rate.”

In the course, Kinsler lectured on all seven subjects tested on the Multistate Bar Exam—civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property and torts. The course also contains a comprehensive writing lab, where students were required to submit answers to essay and Multistate Performance Test questions.

Raul Ruiz, assistant professor of academic support and director of bar preparation at Florida International, attributes the students’ success in part to the school’s academic excellence program. This program culminates in Ruiz’s U.S. law and procedure course, which covers the subjects on the bar exam.

“This is one of the most progressive bar prep courses in any American law school,” Ruiz says, “and I have designed it from the ground up to provide our students with everything they need to study effectively with their commercial bar preparation course. It covers both the MBE and the Florida side of the exam, teaches students how to study for the bar exam, and gives extensive individualized feedback on both multiple-choice questions and essays.”


Ruiz also oversees something Florida International calls its Bar Exam Success Program. “This program partners each graduating student with an alumni or faculty mentor who supports students’ bar study until the exam,” he says. “BESP also provides students with several mock essay opportunities, extensive feedback and enrollment in an online program that provides them with licensed Multistate Bar Exam questions, coupled with an algorithm that helps them understand where to direct their efforts at improvement.”

Wanda M. Temm, a clinical professor of law and director of bar services at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, started a bar prep course at UMKC in 2003. For years, she developed test strategies, bar exam questions and other preparatory materials. Eventually, she wrote her own textbook for the course, Clearing the Last Hurdle: Mapping Success on the Bar Exam.

“After developing all these materials, the book almost wrote itself,” Temm says. “It is designed for ‘for-credit’ courses and supplemental programs. We continue to run both. I have also heard from individual students who have been using the book.”

“I think most—if not all—law schools should implement a bar review course,” says Kinsler, who served as Belmont’s inaugural law school dean. “I think the best courses are taught by blending real-life MBE and essay questions into substantive lectures. The most important part of any bar review course, however, is academic rigor.”

Despite the challenge, all three professors say students can pass the exam if they put in the work.

“You can do this,” Temm tells her students. “You have been preparing to take this exam since the first day of law school orientation.”

She notes that “the exam is not easy, but it is not an insurmountable hurdle for anyone. Have confidence in yourself—and work harder than you have ever worked—and you will do it.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Review Boosts Results: Schools add bar exam class to curriculum and find success.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.