NY Bar Exam Pass Rates Rebound in February

Students take a mock bar exam at the Jacob Javits Center.

Some 72% of graduates of American Bar Association accredited law schools who took the exam in New York in February for the first time passed, an increase of 3 percentage points and the highest for the group in five years, the New York State Board of Law Examiners announced this morning.

The passing rate for the 347 graduates of New York's 15 law schools who took the test for the first time was exactly the same at 72%, an increase of 2 percentage points from last February, and the highest passing rate since 2013. But the overall first-time pass rate was only 61%.

The overall passing rate of 45% for all test takers on the New York exam is a significant increase from the rate of 38% on the February 2018 exam.

The increase in the overall passing rate is largely attributable to the performance of the repeat-takers who increased their passing rate to 36% from last year's 25%, the New York State Board of Law Examiners said.

The national average score on the Multistate Bar Exam, the multiple-choice portion of the test, increased by 1.2 points to 134 for the February 2019 test, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. That represents the first increase in the mean February MBE score since 2013, which was followed by a five-year slide in bar exam pass rates.

Significantly fewer people take the bar exam in February than in July, which is the more closely watched of the two test administrations. Nationwide, 21,316 people took the February exam this year compared with 45,274 in July 2018. The February exam also has a higher percentage of repeat bar takers, so pass rates tend to be lower. (The average MBE score last July was 139.5, more than five points higher than the most recent February average.)

Since first-time test takers and takers who have already passed the exam in another jurisdiction generally pass at a higher rate than those repeating the exam after failing, the higher average MBE score for February is somewhat unexpected. Repeat test takers saw a larger increase in their average MBE score than did first-time takers, the national conference noted.

The New York board examined 4,129 candidates, including foreign-educated, first-time and repeat test takers, Feb. 26 and 27.

Successful candidates are certified for admission to the Appellate Division and must appear before the Committee on Character and Fitness before being admitted to the bar.

Candidates are not certified for admission until the board receives proof that the candidates have successfully completed the New York Law Course and have taken and passed the New York Law Exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, as required by the Rules of the New York State Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law.

Karen Sloan contributed to this report.

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