Oregon Lowers Cut Score to 137, Bar Pass Rate Jumps

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Do the math: lower the cut score and the bar pass rate goes up. So what's the problem?

For some, the problem is that Oregon suddenly became one of the easiest bars to pass in the country. Only Nebraska had an easier July exam, and who wants to practice law there?

Just kidding, Nebraska, but the average low temperature there is about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The point is, how low can Oregon's cut score go before enough is enough?

How Low Can You Go?

The Oregon Supreme Court lowered the cut score to 137, and its pass rate jumped by 36 percent. That was good news for the applicants who passed, but not for some observers.

UO Matters, an unofficial blog of the University of Oregon, complained that the court lowered the cut score without enough discussion. Now Oregon's bar pass rate is too easy.

"This is not what the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners intended," the blog says.

Bar examiners apparently thought the lower cut score would increase pass rates to about 68 percent. They resisted an even lower cut, according to internal documents, predicting that a pass rate of 78 percent would be "too high."

How High Can You Jump?

In a diminishing market for law schools and legal jobs, it's highly unlikely Oregon will raise the cut scores now. But the Oregon experiment may impact other jurisdictions considering a lower standard.

California, for example, has maintained one of the highest cut scores in the country at 144. Only Delaware is higher at 145. (Oregon's was third highest at 142.)

But at the urging of law schools and legislators, the California Supreme Court is weighing whether to the lower the score. The court has even contemplated making a lower score retroactive to the July exam.

The vast majority of California lawyers don't want the bar exam to get any easier, however. They've done the math, too.

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