States Weigh Lowering Bar Exam Cut Score

Bar exams may soon be getting easier to pass.

A number of states are considering changes such as lowering the cut score in an effort to increase access to the legal industry and boost diversity, Bloomberg Law reports.

California was the first to lower its cut score back in July 2020 from 1440 to 1390. Results from the October 2020 Bar Exam showed that 60.7% of applicants passed – making October the highest pass rate in more than a decade, since July 2008.

Rhode Island followed suit last week by lowering its cut score from 276 to 270. Now states such as Idaho, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan are weighing whether or not they will also lowering their cut score.

“We anticipate that changes to the bar exam may involve changes in scoring,” Idaho Supreme Court spokesman Nate Poppino tells Bloomberg Law. “Diversity and inclusion, access to justice, and minimum competency will all be issues to consider if and when the bar exam format and passing score are changed.”

“We’re very interested in a diverse legal profession to be able to best represent a very diverse state,” Texas Supreme Court Justice Brett Busby tells Bloomberg Law. “We know the cut score may play a role, but we need to collect some real data on this.”

WHAT EXPERTS ARE SAYING

In a study commissioned by the bar in 2017, lowering the cut score to 1390 would increase

lowering the cut score to 1390 (which is what the Supreme Court decided yesterday) would increase the overall bar passage rate by 20.3%, with Black test-takers seeing the biggest benefit at 40.4% and Latin test-takers seeing an increase in passage of 26.1%

But some say the lower cut score of 1390 isn’t enough to truly reduce disparity in passage rates between white and minority test takers. In a new study, law school experts say that the current lower cut score only reduces disparity by 2.7%. A lower cut score of the national average of 1350, however, would reduce it by 19.4%.

Sources: Bloomberg Law, LA Times, State Bar of California, ABA Journal, State Bar of California

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