Pass Rate Falls for California’s February Bar Exam

It’s harder to become a lawyer in California than ever before. California bar officials recently released the results of their February 2018 bar exam. The pass rate is down seven percentage points to 27.3 percent. That means nearly three-fourths of exam takers received bad news about their failing grades.

California offers the bar exam twice per year. That means applicants who want to try again have to wait until July to get their chance. California officials report that 1,282 applicants received passing scores on the exam. There were 4,701 total applicants.

Executive Director of the State Bar of California, Leah T. Wilson, says that she knows that the pass rates are low. For the bar in February 2017, 34.5 percent of examinees received passing scores. The number was 35.7 percent in February 2016.

California has some of the lowest bar passage rates in the entire country. The ABA Journal says that it’s because California has a difficult bar exam. Others say that there are a number of unaccredited law schools in the state. They say that the law schools without accreditation tend to admit less-qualified applicants. They say these applicants are less likely to pass the exam.

If an applicant doesn’t pass the bar exam, they can take the exam again. An applicant can sit for the bar exam as many times as they want to. If an applicant doesn’t pass the bar exam, they can’t practice law, and they are not a lawyer. The bar exam consists of multiple choice questions, essay response questions and an ethics test. The bar exam is administered over multiple days.

First-time test takers are more likely to pass the bar exam than repeat test takers. On the February 2018 bar exam, 39 percent of first-time test takers received passing marks. Still, the passing rate for first-time test takers was 44.7 percent in February 2016.

A survey of licensed attorneys reveals that they favor keeping standards the same. Most currently licensed attorneys don’t want bar examiners to lower the qualifying score from the current cut-off point. Law school deans reported that they support lowering the score. Ultimately, the California Supreme Court makes the decision, and they decided to leave the cut-off score at 1440 for all test takers. Examiners say that they plan to continue to evaluate the test to make sure that it’s a valid test. They say that they want to test for skills that are relevant to modern attorneys.

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