Data shows increase in both first-time and 2-year bar exam pass rates
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Despite the coronavirus chaos around July 2020 bar exams—including health fears for in-person bars, software problems with remote tests and jurisdictions making last-minute date and format changes—the first-time pass rate actually increased from the previous year.
According to data released Friday by the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the proportion of first-time bar exam takers who passed went up by 3 percentage points.
For 2020 first-time test takers, the aggregate pass rate was 82.83%. If you included people with diploma privilege who did not take a bar exam, the pass rate was 83.66%. In 2019, the first time test-taker pass rate was 79.64%.
In May 2019, the council of the legal ed section revised Standard 316 to require that at least 75% of a law school’s graduates who sit for a bar exam pass within two years of graduation. The previous standard could have been met in various ways, including having a 75% pass rate for all graduates over the five most recent calendar years. It has been said that no law school was ever out of compliance with the former version of the standard. According to the Friday news release, 89.99% of test-takers who graduated in 2018 and had until 2020 to pass the exam did so, compared to 89.47% of 2017 graduates. If you include diploma privilege with the class of 2018 data, the two-year pass rate is 90.1%.
Earlier in the year, law schools expressed concerns about how they would report pass rates when many jurisdictions pushed July in-person exams to October remote exams. At its November meeting, the council noted that pandemic problems could be a defense for schools not meeting the bar passage standard.
The April 23 news release also notes that bar passage rates released Friday do not determine whether a law school meets the bar passage standard.
“As noted in previous years, this report is not a compliance report for ABA Standard 316, which establishes bar exam outcomes that a law school must achieve under the accreditation standards and is a separate and distinct matter. These reports over the years have provided important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director for ABA accreditation and legal education.