The Perfect Enemy | Big drop in bar exam pass rates for New York, Florida, Texas and elsewhere - Reuters
February 16, 2024

Big drop in bar exam pass rates for New York, Florida, Texas and elsewhere – Reuters

Big drop in bar exam pass rates for New York, Florida, Texas and elsewhere  Reuters

  • With more than half of states reporting results, only three have posted rate increases
  • Experts point to COVID-19 pandemic as reason

(Reuters) – New York on Friday joined the growing list of states reporting a significant pass rate drop for the February 2023 bar exam.

The overall pass rate on its most recent attorney licensing exam fell to 40% from 45% last year, according to the New York Board of Law Examiners. That pass rate has now fallen 9 percentage points over the past two years. New York’s first-time pass rate also declined from 61% in 2022 to 56% this year.

It has been a rough bar exam season across the country. Of the 26 states that have announced results, only three—Pennsylvania, Montana, and Vermont—posted an increased overall pass rate. Illinois held steady with a pass rate of 43%.

But the overall pass rates dropped in the remaining 22 states, half of which saw double-digit declines. Like New York, both Texas and Florida saw their overall pass rate decline 5 percentage points. Just 39% of Florida’s February bar examinees passed, while 45% of test takers in Texas passed.

California is the only large bar exam jurisdiction that has not yet announced results. The State Bar of California has said it will release that information May 5.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners hinted at pass rate declines last month when it reported that the national average score on the Multistate Bar Exam—the 200 question multiple-choice portion of the attorney licensing test—decreased 1.5 points to 131.1 from the previous year.

It attributed that decline to an increase in repeat test takers and to the pandemic’s negative impact on learning, noting that the year-over-year average MBE score decline was even steeper for February’s first-time examinees. Many of those test takers were in their crucial first year of law school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced classes online. The bulk of the subjects tested on the bar exam are taught in that first year.

February bar exam pass rates are typically lower than their July counterparts because it draws a higher percentage of people who have already taken the test at least once and failed. But this year’s results are looking particularly grim.

New Mexico saw the biggest decline thus far, with its overall pass rate dropping 26 percentage points from 70% last year to 44% this year. Nebraska’s pass rate fell 20 percentage points to 41%, while Kansas’ declined 17 percentage points to 51%.

Read more:

US bar exam officials blame low scores on COVID disruptions, repeat testers

Bar exam pass rates slump in New York, Florida

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com