Bar Exam

California sees increase in pass rates for July 2017 despite denying requests to lower cut score

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After the California Supreme Court's rejection of requests to lower the state bar exam cut score, the July 2017 overall pass rate slightly increased.

Results were announced Friday by the State Bar of California. Out of 8,545 people who finished the July 2017 bar exam, the overall pass rate was 49.57 percent, a state bar spokesperson told the ABA Journal. Comparatively, the overall pass rate in 2016 was 43.57 percent.

For first-time test-takers who graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in California, the July 2017 pass rate was 70 percent, according to the state bar release. First-time test takers who graduated from ABA-accredited law schools outside California had a 67 percent pass rate. And for state-accredited California law schools that do not have ABA accreditation, the first-time pass rate was 33 percent.

The California Supreme Court had been asked to change the cut score from 1440 to something between 1350 and 1390. Requests to make the change came from the state bar’s Law School Council and the Association of California Accredited Law Schools, a group whose members are law schools with state accreditation but not ABA accreditation. In October, the state supreme court announced that for the time being, the cut score would remain the same.

Since June 2016, four states—Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Oregon—lowered their bar exam cut scores, Judith A. Gundersen, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, told the ABA Journal. And one state, Connecticut, effective with the February 2017 exam, raised its cut score to 266 from 264. Its overall July 2017 pass rate is 70 percent, compared to 69 percent in July 2016. The state’s bar exam data can be seen here (PDF) and here (PDF).

Unlike California, Connecticut, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Oregon are among the 28 jurisdictions that participate in the Uniform Bar Examination, with total scores reported on a 400-point scale.

Judith A. Gundersen,president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Among states with recently reduced cut scores, Oregon saw one of the largest pass rate increases, according to publicly available information. Its overall pass rate for July 2017 was 79 percent, compared to a 58 percent pass rate for July 2016, according to board of bar examiners’ data. The state reduced its cut score from 284 to 274, effective for the July 2017 bar exam.

In Montana, the July 2017 overall state bar pass rate was 85 percent, according to an announcement on the state bar’s website. In 2016, the Great Falls Tribune reported that for the past two years, Montana’s overall bar passage rate was below 70 percent.

The cut score was adjusted by the state supreme court in May 2016, Montana Lawyer (PDF) reported, going from 270 to 266. The adjustment was applied retroactively to people who failed the state bar with scores between 266 and 269 and took the exam between July 2013 and February 2016.

In Nevada, which reduced its cut score from 140 to 138, the July 2017 bar exam “unofficial pass rate” was 66 percent, according to information (PDF) released by the state bar. The exam’s “unofficial pass rate” was 51 percent for July 2016, according to information released by the agency.

Brian T. Kunzi, director of admissions for the State Bar of Nevada, told the ABA Journal that changing the cut score was only one factor that led to the July 2017 pass rate increase.

“Our mean [Multistate Bar Exam] improved 3.1 points in July 2017 as compared to July 2016. The strength of this cohort, as demonstrated by the return to more historical levels of performance on the MBE in contrast to the recent dip in performance, suggested our pass rate would rebound as well. The impact of the change in MBE scores is far more telling than a change in the cut score,” he wrote in an email.

The Idaho state bar exam pass rate for July 2017 was 76.2 percent, compared to 72.5 percent in July 2016, according to the state bar website. Idaho reduced its cut score from 280 to 272, effective for the February 2017 exam.

Updated Nov. 21 at 2:09 pm, to include information about the number of people who finished the bar exams.

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