It May Soon Be Easier to See Your Name on the California Bar Exam Pass List!

October19, 2017
by Bar Winners

With the passage rate for the California Bar Exam slumping the California Supreme Court moved to make the Bar Exam in California easier to pass.

California Bar traditionally has had a reputation for being one of the most difficult bar exams to pass in the country. Now with the passage rates slumping, the California Supreme Court, the ultimate authority over the California Bar Exam, had decided to change the way the certification score is set.

The court has not yet decided where the threshold will be set for passing the California Bar Exam, but the changes will take effect in January, 2018 on an interim basis with the new cut score potentially being applied to the July, 2017 California Bar Exam. The question is, how will this affect whether your name appears on the Cal Bar pass list when bar results come out November 19, 2017?

Here’s the latest information released by the State Bar of California (to keep up with the changes, see The California State Bar submitted a final report on the California bar exam passing score to the California Supreme Court on September 17, 2017. The State Bar, according to, offered three options for consideration by the Supreme Court, which holds the ultimate authority to set the passing score for the California Bar Exam. They are:

An interim cut score of 1390 (to pass)

An interim cut score of 1414 (to pass)

No change in the current score of 1440.

The July 2016 pass rate would have increased from 43 to 47 percent had 1414 been used. If 1414 is adopted, then it could be applied to the July 2017 California Bar Exam.

The California Bar Exam report outlined three key issues related to the Court’s policy decision—public protection, access to justice and diversity—and notes that further research is needed in addition to a content validity study underway. The report notes that there is no clear measure or definition for public protection in the context of a licensing exam.

But here’s the truth. The cut score is everything. Robert Anderson, a professor of corporate law at Pepperdine School of Law in California, did a study of the 10 most difficult state exams in 2013 and his study concluded that “California is probably the most difficult” in the country.

Only 35 percent of bar exam test takers were lucky enough to see their names on the California pass list for the February California Bar Exam. Only 43 percent passed the exam in July.

There are two contentious debates going on in California legal circles. One is whether the state’s passing score, or “cut score” of 1440 – is unfair as well as unrealistic. According to some Directors of Law School Bar Exam programs, “The California Bar Exam is broken.”

The other is should the California Bar Exam be “dumbed down.” A lot of law schools think so. They’re asking that the State Bar change the standards for passing the California Bar Exam so more people pass.

Proponent for keeping the current passing score, argue that state bars have an ethical obligation to protect citizen from ill prepared lawyers.

But deans of law schools, which have been rocked by declining enrollments, say setting the bar pass standard so high serves only to shield the profession by keeping out large numbers of qualified lawyers.

In February, over 20 deans at American Bar Association Law Schools, wrote the state Supreme Court asking it to set a lower passing score. This set the study in motion. The state Supreme Court soon stepped in to asserts its authority over the exam. The California Supreme Court said, “It must set the passing score of the examination.”

A spokesperson for the court, said, that the justices would decide on the cut score after they received and considered the Committee of Bar Examiners report.

The Committee of Bar Examiners, California has submitted the report with the three options presented to the California Supreme Court.

In a recent column in The Los Angeles Daily Journal, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey thinks, “ it’s best to leave well enough alone.” Judge Fahey says that in discussions with his bench colleagues, “no one has complained about a shortage of lawyers in

California.” He says that advocates in favor of lowering the cut score have not addressed how lowering the cut score would impact the public and the courts. He and his colleagues expressed chagrined at the mistakes and behaviors they’ve seen in their courtrooms from unprepared, poorly qualified attorneys.

Proponents in favor of lowering the cut score needed to pass the California bar argue that it would improve legal services to underserved communities? What medical schools have done is provide an incentive for physicians to go into underserved communities by forgiving medical school loans. Would lowering the cut score of 1440 to 1414 or 1390, provide more lawyers to serve the underserved? Based on studies of recent law school graduates from Career Services, the answer is probably not.

Whether you are in favor of keeping the current California Bar exam passing score cut, or lowering the cut score required to pass, if you are taking the California Bar Exam, know this: The CA Bar Exam graders are not changing how they grade. The standards of whether an exam gets a score of 60 or 65, or even a 70, will remain the same. The best way to make sure you pass the California Bar Exam, and your name appears on the California Bar pass list, is to give the California Bar exam graders what they are looking for. Study, practice, pass. Enroll in the best bar review course you can, because the last thing you want to do, is waste time and money, re-taking the California Bar Exam.

If you’re looking to take the California bar exam, be aware there are changes being made to the CA passing cut score. If you need help passing the California bar exam, feel free to reach out to us at .We care, we’ve been helping people just like you pass the California bar for over 25 years.


Shari Karney, Esq. has been a prominent force in the world of legal education and California Bar Review for the past 30 years. Whether you are about to take the bar for the first time, are a repeat California bar taker, or are taking the CA Attorney’s Exam, BarWinners California Bar Review is here to help. Ms. Karney, the Owner and Creator of BarWinners is also the author of The Approach Book, “Bar Bible”.  She writes a monthly column-blog Legal Ease. Visit BarWinners at  Visit the Barwinners page on Facebook, and the BarWinners page on Google+ or email Shari via


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