California Bar Test-Takers May Get a Break

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Christmas may come early for those preparing to take the California bar exam.

According to reports, the California Supreme Court may lower the passing score as early as September. Its decision could be retroactive to the exam set for July 25, 2017.

The court has been reviewing whether California's cut score is too high, and has taken over the issue from the Committee of Bar Examiners. In other words, Santa has a brand new bag.

"Chorus of Critics"

In a dramatic power play, the court changed the California Rules of Court to give itself the exclusive authority to set the passing score. The new rules, effective in 2018, authorize the court to appoint a majority of the bar exam committee.

In the midst of plummeting bar pass rates, the committee had been studying the cut score issue for some time. The court's action put the decision on the front burner.

"The study on the CA bar exam cut score should be finalized next month and sent to the CA Supreme Court by Sept.," said State Bar trustee Joanna Mendoza via Twitter. "It has already been publicly stated that a new cut score could be retroactively applied to July exam by Sup. Ct."

Critics, including the deans of virtually all the accredited law schools in California, have been calling on the bar, the CA Supreme Court, and lawmakers to reconsider the exam's cut rate. Nearly two thirds of the test-takers failed the last exam, long considered the most difficult in the nation.

Wanted It Yesterday

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told the State Bar in February to start studying the issue and to report back by this December. But that wasn't fast enough for legislators.

"Applicants, law schools, and the general public can't afford to wait a year or more for action as a result of such studies," the Assembly Committee on the Judiciary wrote.

California's cut score, 144 on the multi-state bar exam section, is higher than in 48 other states. Only Delaware's is higher.

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