Paul L. Caron

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Muller:  February 2017 MBE Bar Scores Collapse To All-Time Record Low

MBEDerek Muller (Pepperdine), February 2017 MBE Bar Scores Collapse to All-Time Record Low in Test History:

On the heels of the February 2016 multistate bar exam (MBE) scores reaching a 33-year low, including a sharp drop in recent years, and a small improvement in the July 2016 test while scores remained near all-time lows, we now have the February 2017 statistics, courtesy of Pennsylvania (PDF). After a drop from 136.2 to 135 last year, scores dropped another full point to 134. It likely portends a drop in overall pass rates in most jurisdictions. This is the lowest February score in the history of aggregated MBE results.

Muller 2

Legal Education | Permalink


After the ABA required law schools to publish accurate employment information, applications to law schools plummeted. Many law schools had to lower admissions standards in order to maintain enrollment. As predicted by many law school critics, three years later MBE scores and bar passage rates plummeted.

It is important to note here that declining LSAT scores and undergrad GPA do not tell the whole story. There is a correlation between standardized test stores and cognitive ability. Someone with a high degree of cognitive ability, such as high levels of abstract reasoning skills, can use those skills to do well on standardized tests like the LSAT or MBE.

But ultimately, the MBE is not like an IQ test measuring some type of cognitive ability. The MBE is an achievement test measuring what the law graduate learned over the course of their legal education. Theoretically, anyone can be trained to do well on the MBE. A law grad’s score on the MBE does reflect their cognitive ability to some extent. The score is also a reflection of the quality of education they received. Students receiving a better education can outperform students receiving a poorer education, despite having the same cognitive ability.

So the problem of declining MBE scores and bar passage rates is also due to the quality of education provided by law schools. Clearly, many law schools are failing their students. The old model of hiring someone to be a law professor because they have “elite” credentials (went to a T8 school, Federal Clerkship, worked 2 years at a top law firm) is broken. The schools could innovate and hire teachers versed in modern approaches to pedagogy. The schools could revamp their curriculum. Unfortunately, these kind of changes are not happening because the goal of many law schools is to profit off of Federal student loans, not to actually educate students.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Apr 11, 2017 2:53:58 PM

Further proof that the intellectual quality of students choosing to go to law school is just not what it once was. If the schools themselves continue to put off the realization that, below a certain cutoff LSAT, it's "garbage in, garbage out", and the ABA continues to put off action, then maybe the Department of Education, which funds the whole catastrophe, should step in and restore standards.

Posted by: Old Ruster | Apr 10, 2017 7:10:30 AM

What is the statistical significance of a drop of 1 point? 2 points? Be helpful to know the percentiles for these scaled scores.

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Apr 9, 2017 1:40:34 PM

Who knew that ABA Standard 501 had a secret clause in invisible ink that says "To be disregarded if your law school really needs the money"?


Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 9, 2017 9:57:25 AM

Q: What do too many low caliber schools call applicants with low scores and a poor chance of bar passage?
A: A revenue stream

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 8, 2017 7:43:28 PM

looking forward to the forthcoming letter from deans calling for the abolition of this racist, sexist, blah blah blah exam (to cover their bad admissions decisions).

Posted by: Anon | Apr 8, 2017 11:15:54 AM