The average scores for the bar exam, the test to be a practicing lawyer, have dipped to their lowest level since 1988 according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The results are due to an insufficient number of law school applicants, prompting school officials to lower college entrance requirements.
NCBE CEO Erica Moeser commented on the new data, attributing it to the acceptance of students with lower qualifications, who she said “may encounter difficulty.”
In 2014, the largest year-on-year decline in pass rates in the exam’s 40 year history was witnessed, which prompted college deans to quarrel with the NCBE over its design of the exam, criticizing them for making the test too difficult. Moeser responded to these accusations by pointing out the poor quality of students.
Following students’ poor performance on the 2014 exam, the test results for 2015 from states that have reported showed yet another year of declining scores. However, most states have not released their numbers as of yet.
Moeser’s theory seems to be bearing out and Pepperdine University School of Law professor Derek Muller agrees. “There isn’t a lot that schools can do. You can only train students so far and so much, a lot depends on ability.”
Critics who attribute the drop to test changes point out that this year’s July exam was the first to include a section on civil procedure. However, those who attribute scores to the drop in student quality pointed out that examinees did not perform noticeably worse on the new civil procedure questions, than on any other section.
If the downward trend in pass rates continues, colleges worry that the already dropping number of applicants to law school may continue to fall. This year’s number of law school applicants was the lowest it has been in 30 years.
College deans have continued to press Moeser on the exam issue, but she is maintaining her position, “You can squawk loud and long about what’s happening, but you’ve got to look at who your student body is.”