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Will California Ever Lower the Cut Score on the Bar Exam?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Someday, researchers believe, they will find a cure to cancer.

Until then, the sad truth is that a lot of people are going to die. It's the awful cost of medical progress, and it takes time.

The California bar exam is no cancer, but a lot of test-takers are dying out there. Is lowering the cut-score a solution, a salve, or a prayer?

More Research Needed

The state Supreme Court, which is charged with setting the bar exam standard, is studying the problem -- still. Law schools, legislators and court-watchers have been waiting for an answer, and they are impatient.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently responded to reporters, who asked for an update. Is the court ever going to lower the cut-score?

She said the latest bar exams results -- a 40.7 percent pass rate -- are "frightening." But the court is waiting for two studies before deciding whether to lower the test score, she said.

One study is assessing law students, and the other is considering necessary lawyer skills. In the meantime, the California bar exam is considered the toughest in the nation.

Calls to Cut the Score

After test-takes turned in the lowest scores in 67 years, lawmakers renewed their call for another evaluation of the bar exam. They have targeted the cut score, which is 144.

The cut score has been so high -- and the pass rate so low -- that law school deans and lawmakers pleaded with the state Supreme Court to lower the score last year. The court declined.

Mark Stone, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, wants the justices to "take a fresh look" at the issue. Although the pass rate is the only thing that has changed since the last request, Stone says the cut score is still a problem.

California lawyers, however, are not so sure. In a state bar survey, 80 percent said not to lower the bar.

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