Legal Education

Why did the average scaled score for the July multistate bar exam improve?

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Despite many concerns about taking a bar exam during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the crisis might have actually led to people doing better on the test.

The mean scaled score for the July 2020 multistate bar exam is 146.1, compared to 141.1 in July 2019, according to a Sept. 1 news release from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Mike Sims, the president of BarBri, a bar exam prep course company, told the ABA Journal that he saw a 3.9% increase in the number of people finishing test prep for the July 2020 exam. Also, he says, users did about 4% more work in the course and started studying earlier.

“It absolutely shows resilience,” Sims says.

The July 2020 MBE was given in 23 jurisdictions and had 5,678 test-takers, according to the NCBE news release. In comparison, there were 45,334 examinees in 54 jurisdictions in July 2019. Also, first-time test-takers comprised about 75% of people taking the July 2020 bar exam, and that was about 6% higher than the July 2019 cohort.

The score increase is surprising, according to Steven Foster, director of academic achievement at the Oklahoma City University School of Law. Few law schools with the highest median entering LSAT scores are in jurisdictions where a July bar exam was administered, he says. Foster cites a 2014 NCBE memo published in the Wall Street Journal that found a correlation between high LSAT scores and first-time bar passage rates.

Additionally, Foster claims that there was a decrease in LSAT scores of 160 or higher for 2017 law school applicants, who presumably made up the majority of July 2020 test-takers.

Foster edits the Law School Academic Support Blog and suspects that people had more time to study this summer—thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also thinks the country is in turmoil and some recent graduates might have found comfort studying for the bar.

“Many students of color experienced extreme anxiety and other emotions about life during the summer,” Foster wrote in an email to the Journal. “We had numerous [people] contact the law school about the difficulty of going through everyday experiences. They were also in quarantine, so those students may have turned to the one constant from their life over the last three years, which is law school and studying.”

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