Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bar Exam Results; Passage Rates

Late last month, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners released the results of the February 2015 Virginia bar exam. The overall passage rate was 59.8%, while 67.13% of first-time takers passed.

Early this month, the Committee on Admissions released results of the February 2015 District of Columbia bar exam. The overall passage rate was 37.27%, while 47.2% of first-time takers passed. 

Special congratulations go out to my students who passed the exams! Your hard work last winter paid off. Our strategy plan worked! Whether you're a first-time taker or a fourth-time taker, no challenge is too big.

While we're talking about passing, I'd like to add a brief word about passage rates. Passage rates are a bit misleading. Less than 60% of applicants who sat for the Virginia bar passed in February, whereas only 37% of applicants in D.C. passed. Does that mean the District of Columbia bar was "harder" than Virginia's? What about the nearly 70% of Virginia students who passed last July? Does that mean taking the bar in July would have increased your "chances" of passing?

My previous post about understanding the MBE curve is particularly relevant here. Please refresh yourself on it. The bar exam is a creature of scaling. Whether a particular exam is easier or more difficult than the preceding exam has little to no affect on how likely you are to pass the exam. A bar exam measures your level of performance only, and your level of performance is also unaffected by how people around you scored. Your level of performance on one bar exam is measurable across every bar exam in that jurisdiction, and whether the exam was easier or harder will almost never change the outcome. If you failed in February, you probably wouldn't have fared any better last July, and if you passed last July, you probably still would've passed in February. Generally, your level of performance will stay constant unless you change your approach.

With regard to comparing the passage rates of two or more jurisdictions, tread carefully here, too, because state jurisdictions vary so widely. Different law, different format, different essays, MPT or no MPT, different grading processes... the reasons are obvious. All bar exams are hard. That said, there is a spectrum of bar exams. For a variety of reasons, some jurisdictions are definitely "easier" and some are genuinely "harder." However, the same distinction cannot be made between passage rates. Higher passage rates do not identify the "easier" bars, and vice versa. Ultimately, passage rates should have never influence where you decide to take the bar. Take the bar that makes the most sense for you. That's the first step toward passing. If you're struggling on that decision, let's talk.