CA State Bar Considers Options To Address The Disputed Bar Exam Pass Line

A recent study by the Assembly Judiciary Committee showed a steady decline in CA bar exam pass rates that could not be justified when compared to the pass rates reported by the other 49 states. When comparing California’s overall passing rates to that of the other 49 states, the study made it patently clear that CA requires a higher cut score to pass the bar exam than any other state in the country, except Delaware. There is no empiric evidence to justify such a difference in test scores and passing rates.

The State Bar accelerated the study of the pass line in order to allow for the possibility of applying a potential new cut score to the July 2017 Bar Exam, the results of which will be released in November 2017.

two potential options to determine the appropriate cut score

A memo from staff to the Committee of Bar Examiner's presents two potential options to address the cut score and declining CA pass rates based on an analysis of a Standard Setting Study, which was conducted by Chad Buckendahl, Ph.D. One option is to make no change to the bar exam passing score at this time. A second option is to consider an interim passing score of 1414 (or 141.4 on the commonly-used 200-point scale) to be applied to grading the July 2017 bar exam.

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As stated by Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, Executive Director of the State Bar of California, "The State Bar has responded to the [Supreme] Court's direction to support the development of an important study to determine the appropriate cut score." Ms. Parker went on to note, "The process has been as thorough, diligent, and inclusive as possible."


According to the history of the CA bar exam, the state's current overall cut rate has remained at 1,440 points since 1986.The standard minimum competency score of 144 on the MBE portion of the bar exam is the second highest in the nation, exceeded only by Delaware. Thresholds originally set at their current levels are now in question. As stated by the Committee, "It is difficult to understand why graduates of CA's ABA accreditated law schools would score significantly higher on the MBE portion of the bar exam than exam takers in other states, but pass the bar exam at a significantly lower rate than their lower-scoring counterparts elsewhere in the nation, and why this anomaly protects the public or the integrity of the legal profession in CA."


The Committee has affirmed its commitment to high standards for attorneys to practice law in CA. However, it has admitted that standards must be based on data and research correlating with public protection.

For more information or to access the webcast of the study with options presented at the joint meeting, go to