Paul L. Caron
Dean





Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Dramatic Increase In July 2020 MBE Scores

On September 1, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) issued a press release with surprising news regarding the MBE mean scaled score for those taking the July 2020 bar exam.  The score increased by roughly five points from 141.1 for the July 2019 exam to 146.1 for the July 2020 exam – the largest year over year increase ever recorded. 

The NCBE rightly noted that the “sample” was much smaller than a typical July bar exam.  In 2019, there were 45,334 July bar exam takers across 54 jurisdictions, compared to just 5678 in July 2020, from only 23 jurisdictions. 

The NCBE also noted that focusing just on the 23 jurisdictions that offered the July 2020 exam, the increase in the MBE mean scaled score was only about 3.5 points.  This suggests that the 2019 MBE mean scaled score across these 23 jurisdictions was roughly 142.6.  Notably, even this 3.5 point increase – had it been the “national” increase – would have been an all-time record.

Although the NCBE press release did not provide the number of takers across this group of 23 jurisdictions in 2019, from the NCBE’s 2019 Statistics report, it appears that across these 23 jurisdictions, there were a total of 7680 July test takers.  This means, with 5678 test takers in July 2020, the number of July test takers in these 23 jurisdictions dropped by 2002, or over 26%. 

A few possible explanations have been offered for this unusual spike in the MBE mean scaled score in July 2020.  The NCBE press release noted that test takers included a larger percentage of first-time takers and a corresponding smaller percentage of repeat test takers, which likely contributed to some of the increase, given that first-time takers historically perform better on the MBE than repeat test takers.  In an article by Stephanie Francis Ward in the ABA Journal, Mike Sims, the President of BarBri, stated that graduates working with its online study program were more diligent in completing their bar prep work.  In the same article, Stephen Foster, the director of academic achievement at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, suggested that with the Covid-19 Pandemic and the civil unrest of the summer, graduates might have found comfort in being able to focus on studying for the bar exam.

Each of these factors may provide a partial explanation for some of the increase in the MBE mean scaled score.

I am writing to observe one thing that does not explain the greatly improved performance on the MBE in July 2020 compared to July 2019 and to suggest one possibility that may explain some of the improved performance (along with the explanations offered above). 

The one thing that does not explain the dramatic increase is the academic credentials of the cohort of 2020 graduates from law schools in these 23 jurisdictions compared to the cohort of 2019 graduates from these jurisdictions. 

Weighted Average 50th and 25th LSAT/GPA for First-Year Students
in 2016 and 2017 for the Law Schools in the 23 Jurisdictions
that Offered the July Bar Exam in 2020

 

50th LSAT

25th LSAT

50th GPA

25th GPA

2016

154.25

150.42

3.41

3.11

2017

154.11

150.25

3.43

3.12

There were 60 law schools in these 23 jurisdictions that collectively welcomed 8443 first-year students in fall 2016.  The weighted average 50th percentile and 25th percentile LSAT for these 60 law schools were 154.25 and 150.42, respectively.  The weighted average 50th percentile and 25th percentile GPA for these 60 law schools were 3.41 and 3.11, respectively. 

There were 59 law schools in these 23 jurisdictions that collectively welcomed 8577 first-year students fall 2017 (Charlotte did not report a first-year class to the ABA for 2017).  The weighted average 50th percentile and 25th percentile LSAT for these 59 law schools were 154.11 and 150.25.  The weighted average 50th percentile and 25th percentile GPA for these 60 law schools were 3.43 and 3.12, respectively. 

Thus, there is no meaningful difference in the LSAT/GPA profiles of the cohorts of first-year students at law schools in these 23 jurisdictions in 2016 and 2017 who became the graduates in 2019 and 2020 that would explain a record-breaking increase in the MBE mean scaled score.

So what is the one thing that might possibly explain the dramatic increase in the MBE mean scaled score in 2020 compared to 2019?  The possibility of a non-representative sample of graduates taking the July bar exam across these 23 jurisdictions in 2020 could have contributed to the record-breaking increase in the MBE mean scaled score. 

As noted above, there were 7680 July test takers in 2019 across the 23 jurisdictions that offered a July bar exam compared to only 5678 July test takers in 2020.  The 7680 in July 2019 represented 91% of the 8443 first-year students who began their law school careers at the 60 law schools in those 23 states in 2016, likely to be a fairly representative sample.  By contrast, the 5678 in July 2020 represented just 66.2% of the 8577 first-year students who began their law school careers at the 59 law schools in those 23 states in 2017, which makes it much more likely that it might not have been a representative sample.

One can imagine that students in the top half of their graduating classes might have been eager and ready to take the bar exam in July, having confidence in their abilities based on their law school performance and wanting to pass the bar exam as soon as possible so that they can start their jobs or start with greater earnestness their job search.  One can also imagine that students in the bottom half of their graduating classes might have deferred taking the bar exam until September or October, perhaps having less confidence in their ability to pass the bar and possibly without immediate employment opportunities on the horizon. 

If the 66.2% were disproportionately students from the top half of their graduating classes, that would go a long way toward explaining the dramatic increase in the MBE mean scaled score for July 2020.  It also would suggest that when the next round of bar exam results for tests taken in September and October are reported, the MBE mean scaled score will be lower (perhaps significantly lower among these 23 jurisdictions that also offered a September or October option) than the scores reported for the July 2020 cohort.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/10/thoughts-on-the-dramatic-increase-in-the-july-2020-mbe-mean-scaled-score.html

Jerry Organ, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink

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