Bar Examiners to Provide (Slightly) More Information to Candidates Who Fail the Bar Exam

Bar Examiners to Provide (Slightly) More Information to Candidates Who Fail the Bar Exam

One of the most frustrating things about getting your bar exam results back is the lack of information you receive about your score. You'll get your written and MBE scaled scores, but you won't get your raw scores, there won't be any comments on your written work, and there isn't even a reference to the subject matter covered on each essay. You'll want more information. Starting in April of 2017, jurisdictions will release slightly more information on the UBE score sheets for failing candidates (though the bar examiners themselves are skeptical about how much this information will help students).

When you pass the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), the bar examiners typically provide you with three numbers: 

  • your scaled written score,
  • your scaled MBE score, and
  • your combined total UBE score, which can be used to apply for admission in other UBE jurisdictions (for example, 266 out of 400 is required for admission in New York).

If you fail the UBE, the bar examiners give you the scores listed above, along with scaled scores on each of your essays and MPTs.

As of April 2017, when jurisdictions release the results of the UBE, the score sheets for failing candidates will likely* include:

  • your overall percentile rank on the entire MBE
  • your overall percentile rank on each of the seven MBE subjects. 

A percentile rank is simply the percentage of all examinees taking the same exam who scored lower than you (i.e., higher is better: if 75% of people taking the exam scored below you, you performed well; if only 10% of people taking the exam scored below you, you performed poorly). The percentile ranks are based on the national MBE data, not the results from the jurisdiction where you took the exam.

While having an analyis of your performance in the seven subjects may sound useful to anyone preparing to retake the exam, it’s not as helpful as it first appears. As the bar examiners admit, the small sample size of just 25 questions in each of the seven topics renders the data unreliable as an accurate indicator of one’s knowledge of a particular subject area. According to a recent article in "The Bar Examiner," a publication of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), “any examinee trying to concentrate his or her studies on perceived weaker content areas as suggested by the pattern of raw subscores could just as likely be hurting their prospects of bar passage as helping. Because subscores are based on a relatively small set of items, an apparent difference in raw subscore profile across content areas could be due to the particular sample of items included on a test form. As an extreme example, if the Torts items used on a particular administration of the MBE happened to be the only 25 Torts questions an examinee could answer correctly, the examinee’s raw subscore on the Torts items would look wildly better than it should. Similarly, if the items selected for Real Property happened to be the only Real Property questions out of hundreds that an examinee couldn’t answer correctly, the examinee’s Real Property raw subscore would look much worse than it should.” (See the full article here.)

If you have a low percentile ranking in torts and real property, for example, you should not be lured into thinking that by simply improving in those two topics you’ll be able to pass the next time. You’ll need to maintain your strengths and improve across the board.  As the bar examiners point out, you should focus on your total scaled MBE score to determine how much ground you need to make up.  “The total scaled score reflects performance relative to passing or failing the bar examination," said the NCBE. "If the total scaled score is substantially below the cut score, it will generally take improvement across all content areas to make up the difference. Targeting study to one or two areas of particularly poor PR values is not likely to make up the difference, even if successful in improving performance in those content areas, unless there is improvement in the other areas as well.” 

Remember that we're here to help you pass the bar exam. Good luck with your studying.

*Note that individual jurisdictions will determine whether to release any or all of this information to candidates.  So, while the percentile rankings will be available to your state board of law examiners, they may not elect to include percentile ranks on the score sheets they distribute.  Our guess is that most (if not all) jurisdictions will provide the data.  As the bar examiners said recently: “With law school applications and enrollments at 30-year lows and MBE mean scores at similar lows, examinees and law schools have high interest in anything that might help improve scores. With this in mind, we went back to the drawing board to see if there was anything we could provide that would meet users’ desire for easily interpretable content-level performance information.”

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