Scoring Changes Sharply Improve Success Rate on State Bar Exams; 50.3% Pass

Associated Press

The high success rate on the California Bar examination in July was the second straight sharp improvement reported since the Bar adopted a new method of scoring exams this year.

The would-be lawyers who took the exam in July hit an eight-year high, with 50.3% passing, the State Bar reported Monday.

In February, when scores are traditionally lower because of the large number of applicants who have failed previously, the passage rate was 42.8%, a 14-point jump from last year.

California’s three-day Bar exam tests a dozen different legal subjects, as well as skills such as writing and research, and is considered one of the more difficult in the nation. The new scoring method, called scaling, is intended to make the results more consistent. It adjusts scores on the six essay questions, generally the most difficult part of the exam, to the scores on the multiple-choice portion of the test.


Judy Johnson, a San Francisco assistant district attorney and chairwoman of the Committee of Bar Examiners, said an analysis showed scaling increased the passage rate by 6%, about the same as the improvement from last year’s scores.

But, she said, “what we have seen is a gradual increase over the last couple of years, only part of which is attributable to scaling.”

The passage rate was 44.4% in July, 1986. Since 1979, when the rate was 52.5%, it had declined to a low point of 41.8% in 1984 before rebounding.

The 3,884 who passed the test in July, out of 7,721 who took it, will increase the number of lawyers in California to 110,800 when they are sworn in.