California Bar Passing Score Stays at 1440 for Now

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 19, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If a high jumper lowers the bar to clear it, is that really an improvement?

Call it the way you see it, but not everybody sees a lower bar as upward movement. On the other hand, Nevada lowered its cut score and the bar pass rate jumped almost 20 percent.

"This shows significant improvement," said Dan Hamilton, dean of the state's only law school.

California, with one of the highest cut scores, doesn't necessarily see it that way.

How High?

Responding to law school deans who wanted to lower the cut score, the California Supreme Court decided to keep the passing score of 1440. That pleased the State Bar Committee of Bar Examiners and 80 percent of the attorneys who responded to a State Bar survey who resisted lowering the score.

California's standard, set in 1987, is the second highest in the nation. The bar pass rates have risen and fallen over the years, but dropped to its lowest last year.

"Although the lower pass rates associated with the recent administrations of the California bar exam have generated concerns, the downward trend in pass rates appears to be consistent with a broader national pattern," the court observed.

Bar pass rates have declined an average of nine percent the past ten years. California's decline mirrored that trend, the court said.

Another Trend?

Meanwhile, Nevada is not the only state to lower its score recently. Oregon just dropped its score to 137, and the pass rate jumped by 36 percent.

Oregon used to have the third highest cut score in the nation at 142. Delaware has the highest at 145; California is second at 144.

Nevada lowered its cut score to 138, close to the national average for the multi-state portion of bar exams. New York, by comparison, has a cut score of 133.

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