Friday, May 18, 2012

Debriefing the February 2012 Bar Exam

The California State Bar has just released the results to the February 2012 California Bar Exam and I am once again writing about how well one must due to pass.  Different bar review companies offer percentage estimates ranging from 65% to 70%.  I tabulated some statistics from the February 2012 California Bar Exam and reached different results.

For the uninitiated, the exam consists of three components over three days.  On the morning of the first and third day, exam takers attempt three essay questions and have three hours to complete the task.  These essays very widely in depth and breadth of subject matter, some involve a large number of issues that require cursory treatment, others involve a very specific issue that requires extensive treatment.  On the afternoon of the first and third days exam takers attempt the California Performance Test (CPT) which is a three-hour writing assignment.  Each essay is worth 100 points and each CPT is worth 200 points for a total raw score of 1000 points.  That score is scaled.  On the July 2012 exam, the range of possible scores was 40-100 and the average score (by my calculation) was a 61.1 which is one point higher than it was in on the February 2011 Exam and one point lower than it was on the July 2011 Exam.  The total number of points that could be earned was then scaled with the following formula:
Scaled written score = (Raw written score x  3.1541 ) – 529.503
The scaled written score is then multiplied by .65 to get the total number of essay points toward the final score.  The second day of the Bar exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions on the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

The scaling is:

Scaled MBE Score = 3.5 * (43 + (Raw score x (.8 or .9)))

Notably, this MBE issue had a higher mean number of correct questions up to 122 last February and 127 in July to 128. This is probably because the exam was easier.  As shown below, an exam taker could score an average of 70 on the essays (9 points above average) and would still need 77 MBE questions correctly answered which is higher than it has been in the last two administrations. On the February 2011 exam, an exam taker with an average essay score of 70 (ten points above average) would have to answer 75 MBE questions correctly to pass.

Here is a chart that shows what I am talking about.  The green line represents the 5th percentile of exam takers, the red line represents the 95th percentile of exam takers.  As I have mentioned before, one of my theories is that February scores are, on average, lower, because fewer people decimate the exam with a score of 1600 or higher.  Here, 326 people did that well, which is proportional with the number on the administration in July (570 of 8456).  Sure some people did better or worse, but 90% of exam takers fall between those two lines.  The blue line is set of passing scores showing the average raw essay on the x-axis and the average raw MBE on the y-axis.  The horizontal line is the California average MBE raw score (128), and the vertical line is my guess as to the average essay score (61.1).  Similar to February 2011, the average exam taker failed, but not by much.

By my math if you scored a 62.5 as an average essay and 132 raw on the MBE, you would have passed the exam. Which is much more than was required in July 2011.


  1. Thanks for breaking down the scores of the bar exam. This is really helpful. Im not really great with numbers but what is the minimum essay score you would need to have gotten on the last July examination if you scored a 140 Raw on the MBE section of the test?

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