For Victims of the California Bar Exam, Is There a Silver Lining?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 23, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The pass rate numbers for the California bar exam are bad -- really bad. If you took it, there's basically a third of a chance you passed -- and that's if you were a randomly chosen individual. If you took the test and you were from an out of state, non-accredited law school? Why were you even sitting for this thing?

Still, we remain hopeful and have pushed an idea that this could be the beginning of the bottom. At least, we hope so.

Just the Numbers

Here's the key number: 35.7 percent. That's the overall pass rate for the February 2016 California Bar Exam. That's what we call an ouch. And of course, first time takers fared better than re-takers. Their pass rate as a group was around 45 percent while retakers came in at around 33.

Numbers Without Context Mean Nothing

Numbers are simply a snapshot and don't give an accurate overall picture. We're looking at trends and the trends look downright scary. If you compare the pass numbers of this administration of the CBE to July 2015 CBE, you'll notice that the overall pass rate was a little better at 46.6 percent, but pass rate of first timers was 60 percent.

Slowly but surely, the pass trends have been slipping -- and things could still get worse. It almost seems impossible that overall numbers in the whole law school game -- LSAT, UBE, MBE, what-have-you -- have been sliding for some time now.

MBEs Were Okay

The state fared well -- comparatively -- when it came to the MBEs. The scaled mean score of the entire nation ticked in at 1350 while California scored 35 points above that. In practical terms that's a handful of questions. This bodes somewhat well taking into account the downtrend in the MBEs.

At a Low Point?

As bad as the numbers are (and they are bad -- we're not saying they aren't) there could be a silver lining. After all, this was the February exam, which consistently has lower pass rates than the July exam. In fact, in 2009, the pass rate managed to start scraping bedrock when the rate for the Feb exam went as low as 33.5 percent. This could be a low cycle!

And it probably is. We'll eventually revert back towards the mean. Still, we're hoping that might come sooner than later.

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