California sets remote bar exam for October, lowers passing score

Law students take a practice California State Bar Exam at the UC Berkeley campus.
(Sam Deaner / Associated Press)
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The California Supreme Court, citing the coronavirus pandemic, decided Thursday to permanently lower the passing score for the bar exam and allow aspiring lawyers to take it remotely in October, or obtain temporary provisional licenses and practice under supervision.

“The changing circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in California, and throughout the country, have had an unprecedented impact on professional licensure testing for graduates seeking admission to many professions,” the court wrote to the State Bar. “Many law school graduates are being substantially affected by the resulting disruption.”

The court met over videoconference this month with law school deans and graduates. Plans for a July exam had been canceled due to the pandemic and rescheduled for September, which the court on Thursday moved to Oct. 5 and 6.


Graduates told the court they were losing job offers, could not find work to make ends meet and feared they would be unable to pay student loan bills due in November without a law license.

“The court has sought the safest, most humane and practical options for licensing law graduates by encouraging and working with the State Bar to pursue the option of administering the California Bar Examination online as a remote test, to avoid the need for, and dangers posed by, mass in-person testing,” the court wrote in a letter signed by its clerk and Chief Executive Officer Jorge E. Navarrete.

California’s bar exam has been considered one of the most rigorous in the nation, and the court decided to drop the passing score from 1440 to 1390. The letter said the court based its decision on bar exam studies.

The court said it recognized that some 2020 law graduates might be unable to prepare for the October examination and directed the State Bar of California to create and oversee a temporary, supervised licensing program, which would end no later than June 1, 2022. Graduates would be required to work under the supervision of licensed attorneys.

“This time frame will afford the 2020 graduates several opportunities to take the exam of their choosing through February 2022 and await the exam results,” said the letter to the president of the bar board of trustees.

California is one of 16 states to move their bar exam online.

The court encouraged law schools to help graduates who lacked internet access at home or whose home situations were not amenable to two days of uninterrupted examination.