The Legal Beat
With Second-Worst Pass Rate In More Than 30 Years, Almost Everyone Fails California Bar Exam
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019
The results are in from the February 2019 administration of the California bar exam, and to say they aren’t pretty would be an understatement because the State Bar is once again celebrating the second-lowest pass rate California has seen in more than 30 years years of administering the bar exam. This isn’t half bad considering the February 2018 results were a record low.
According to a press release from the State Bar of California, the overall pass rate for the February 2019 exam was 31.4 percent, while the pass rate for first-time takers was 41 percent. The pass rate for retakers was a shockingly low 28 percent. Last February, the overall pass rate was an abysmal 27.3 percent, and the last time California saw a 31.4 percent pass rate was on the February 1982 exam. For the sake of comparison, let’s take a look at the results for the past few administrations of the California bar.
In February 2015, the overall pass rate was 39.5 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 47.4 percent. In July 2015, the overall pass rate was 46.6 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 60 percent. In February 2016, the overall pass rate was 35.7 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 45 percent. In July 2016, the overall pass rate was 43 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 56 percent. In February 2017, the overall pass rate was 34.5 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 39 percent. In July 2017, the overall pass rate for the state’s first foray with a two-day exam was 49.6 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 62 percent. In February 2018, the overall pass rate was 27.3 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 39 percent. In July 2018, the overall pass rate was 40.7 percent, and the pass rate for first-time takers was 55 percent.
Once again, the State Bar again used the total number of those who completed the exam in their final calculation for the February 2019 passage rate rather than the total number of people who actually sat for the exam. We shudder to think of what the true overall pass rate might be for this administration of the exam.
Even though the 31.4 percent pass rate represents a 4.1 percentage point increase over last February’s results, nearly 7 in 10 test-takers still failed the exam, and Leah T. Wilson, Executive Director of the State Bar of California, is quite concerned:
We are encouraged to see the increase in pass rate over last year. However, the overall low pass rate continues to be a concern and a focus here in California—to address it, we have two significant studies under way this year that we expect to complete by year end.
On the bright side, the state’s mean scaled MBE score was 1370, compared with the national average of 1340. On the other hand, this is still an absurdly low overall pass rate for the California bar exam. This is no longer something that should be tolerated.
Here are some additional statistics from this winter’s exam:
|California Accredited (but not ABA)||21%||13%|
|Unaccredited Distance Learning||28%||10%|
Something here needs to change, and it’s not just law school admissions standards anymore. If the California Supreme Court had decided to lower the state bar’s cut score to bring it in line with that of the vast majority of other states (or hell, even if the state’s high court had decided to lower the cut score by just a point or two), imagine how many more people would have passed. At this point, lowering the cut score on the California bar exam may be the state’s only remedy for the thousands of would-be lawyers who continue to fail the test year after year.
Congratulations if you managed to pass the bar exam in California this winter. If you didn’t pass, don’t despair. Many very successful people have failed the bar exam (see our list of famous bar exam failures). Focus on July and try to develop a plan for passing, and someday, you’ll conquer the beast that is the California bar exam.
State Bar of California Releases Results of February 2019 Bar Exam [State Bar of California]
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.