Cal Bar Exam Fails Nearly 70 Percent of Test-Takers

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 28, 2019 | Last updated on May 06, 2020

Optimism is a good thing, especially when the news is bad. The California State Bar knows that.

In a press release about the latest bar exam results, the state bar heralded that the February pass rate improved "more than four percentage points over last year." That's the good news. The bad news: it was the second-worse performance on the California bar in more than 30 years. Nearly 70 percent of the test-takers failed.

'Absurdly Low'

Above the Law called it "an absurdly low overall pass rate for the California bar exam." Yeah, but the optimist would say it wasn't the worst pass rate, right?

Seriously, there's a problem and everyone knows what it is. And no, it's not the bar exam. The California bar exam is one of the toughest in the nation, but several other jurisdictions have lower bar pass rates. The tell-tale statistic is that California test-takers have been failing more in recent years -- even as the test went from a three-day to two-day exam. How did that fall-off happen? Bar takers don't have to answer that question; law schools could. They lowered their admission standards, and their students can't pass the bar exam.

National Fail

It's not a California-only problem; it's a national concern. According to reports, bar pass rates have fallen steadily over the past decade. That includes major legal markets, like California, where studies show that declining credentials of law students account for half of the bar-pass fails. Kellye Testy, president of the Law School Admission Council, said legal education has changed. Not only are underperforming students to blame, law schools used to teach and test differently.

"It was much more like the bar exam in some ways," she said. "Today, when you go into a classroom, it’s all PowerPoint. The teachers give them an outline, the students are on computers. There's a different student approach and a different faculty approach."

On the bright side, California's bar pass rate inched up from last year's 30-year low. It's one of the rare times when students can say enthusiastically, "We' re No. 2!"

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