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69 U. Cin. L. Rev. 929 (2000-2001)
Raising the Bar: A Social Science Critique of Recent Increases to Passing Scores on the Bar Exam

handle is hein.journals/ucinlr69 and id is 939 raw text is: RAISING THE BAR: A SOCIALSCIENCE CRITIQUE OF
Deborah,. MemiU
Lowell L Hargens
Barbara F    Reskin'
At least a dozen states have raised the score required to pass their bar
exams during the last decade, with several more evaluating proposed
increases.' Partly as a result of these changes, the percentage of test
takers passing the bar has dropped sharply since 1994. In that year,
74%    of examinees nationwide passed the bar.' In 1995, the pass rate
dropped to 70%, while in 1998 it fell to 66%.' Declines in some states
have been even more precipitous; in Ohio, the passing rate fell from
856/6 in 1994 to 69%       in 1998.'
Passing rates fluctuate partly due to applicant quality; if exam takers
during the late 1990s were less qualified than those taking the exam in
earlier years, the recent decline in passing rates was appropriate.
Statistics released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners,
however, suggest that applicant quality was hher in the 1990s than it
was during the 1980s.5 Today's passing scores are excluding prospective
lawyers who would have passed the same bar exam a decade ago.
* Director, The John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy, The Ohio State
University; John Deaver Drinko/Baker & Hosteder Chair in Law, The Ohio State University. B.A.,
Harvard University; J.D., Columbia University. We thank James Brudney, Michael Masinter, Andrew
Merritt, and Allan Samansky for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft.
* Professor of Sociology, The Ohio State University. B.A., University of Minnesota; MA.,
University of Wisconsin; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin.
*** Professor of Sociology, Harvard University. B.A., University of Washington; MA., University
of Washington; Ph.D., University of Washington.
I. States that have raised their passing score include Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine,
Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Other states have implemented more complex changes that may have had the effect of maldng bar passage
more difficult. Only one state, New Mexico, plainly lowered its passing score during the 1990s. Two others,
Mississippi and NewJersey, both raised and lowered their passing scores with the net effect unclear. Florida
and Minnesota currently are considering proposals to raise their passing scores, while Pennsylvania (which
raised its score earlier in the decade) is considering a possible decline. S infia notes 34, 60-69 and
accompanying text.
2. See 1994SWtir&s, B. EXAMINER, May 1995, at 7, 10.
3. See 1995S~atistics, B. EXAMINER, May 1996, at 23, 26; 1998Staliics, B. EXAMINER, May 1999,
at 6, 8. In 1996 and 1997, the nationwide passing rate held steady at 70%. S 1996Statisis, B. EXAMINER,
May 1997, at 15, 17; 1997 Satistics, B. EXAMINER, May 1998, at 17, 19.
4. See 1994 Skatiaics, sipra note 2, at 7, 10; 1998 Staiisfis, .ura note 3, at 6, 8.
5. See i1#a note 23 and accompanying text.


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