Bar Examinations and Bar Passage

Performance Changes on the California Bar Examination: Part 2


Roger Bolus

Document Type

Issue/Research Brief/Blog

Publication Date



bar passage correlates, incoming indicators, law school performance, law school curriculum


Passage rates on the California Bar Exam (CBX) have declined steadily over the past decade. A 2017 study (Bolus, 2017) found that between 2008 and 2016, the percentage passing the exam declined from 62% to 44% - a drop of 18 percentage points. The reasons for the decline have been subject to extensive debate. Some stakeholders have attributed the decline to changes in the examination itself, others have argued that changes in the qualifications and credentials of bar examinees may have contributed. Still others have suggested that additional factors explaining this decrease in pass rates may include changes in law school curriculums, or shifts in undergraduate educational practices or technology.

The current study was designed to examine some of these hypotheses, including those associated with changes in law school attendee credentials. Though the study does provide some data on whether course choices (e.g., bar courses vs. skills courses and externships) affects pass rates, a primary purpose was to test the widely shared hypotheses that the quality of students, as measured by LSAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, and performance while in law school has changed over the years and that this change has accounted for much of the decline in performance on the CBX.