MBE Scores Lowest in 33 Years: When Will the Pain Stop?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 05, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unfortunately, nobody was expecting good news to come out of the last administration of the bar exams, but when word got out that the MBE scores slipped to a 33-year low, we had to ask: when will the pain stop?

The average scaled score for the February administration of the MBE notched down again to 135, down from 136.2 from last year and the lowest it has been since 1983. This is also despite a somewhat counterintuitive increase in the number of test-takers this year -- a four percent jump, in fact.

It's All About Timing: Civil Procedures Joins the Pack

February scores are generally lower than the July scores, according to Erica Moeser of the NCBE, usually because first time takers of the bar exams tend to score higher than those who take it multiple times. Moeser described the results as "a bit disappointing" but not a surprise.

This last administration of the MBE contained questions covering civil procedure, an addition that became part of the test in February 2015. Predictably, whenever the battlefield changes, there will be more casualties because there are more unknown factors to grapple with. We suppose the upside is that repeat takers and bar-review courses will have actual questions with which to review their teaching materials in order to get repeaters more familiar with how to deal with the new subject matter.

A Downward Trend: "Less Able"

These numbers are really only having the effect of underscoring to public eyes Moeser's earlier comments in 2014 that current test takers are "less able" than the takers who sat for the exam before them. Mark Wilson, one of our seasoned writers here at FindLaw, helped readers cut-through the crypto-speak. Translation: "They scored lower because they got more questions wrong, and they got more questions wrong because they weren't as smart."

UBE, Shortened CBE

Changes are happening for bar exams all around. Recently, Oklahoma's Supreme Court "dumbed down" their state bar exam in order to contend with falling lawyer interest from students. The UBE is being adopted by more and more jurisdictions at a frightening rate.

And then there's California -- the self-described "hardest bar exam in the nation." The state's highest court finally put its stamp of approval on plans to shorten the bar exam from the dreaded three day marathon to a rather merciful sounding two day exam. Groans and complaints from current attorneys were predictable. But a law school professor recently opined that this change will only serve to lower California pass rates even further.

When will the pain stop? Just stop asking...

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