On a Friday in November, unsuccessful California bar exam candidates receive a letter from the Committee of Bar Examiners stating “…you were unsuccessful on the July 2021 California Bar Examination.” This should come as no shock to you as you already looked online, saw the results, and spent the evening alternating between tears and anger.
Crying time is over. It’s time to move on.
Your letter can help you figure out what to focus on going forward to properly allocate your time and resources in the areas where you need the most help.
First, a refresher on bar scoring.
You need to achieve a total scaled 1390 or better to pass the exam. The exam is broken into two parts for scoring purposes. The written portion of the exam (essays and PTs) is worth 50% of your grade. The detailed breakdown is as follows: your five essays are worth 80% of your written score and 40% of your overall exam score. Your performance test (“PT”) is double weighted, meaning one PT counts for two essays. Your PT makes up 20% of your written score and 10% of your overall bar exam score. The Takeaway: good PTs can carry you and bad PTs mean you are taking the exam again.
The MBE also makes up 50% of your total score. Because it’s worth half of your score, it is difficult to score well enough on the MBE to overcome serious writing deficits. For example, you can score slightly over 1500 on the MBE, but still fail because your written score was in the high-1200s. BarMD teaches students how to improve their MBE score by breaking down the question to the narrow controversy and teaches a methodical process by which students truly have to demonstrate they understand what is being tested.
The written scores are broken down by graded event. You’ll see a score for each essay and PT. Sometimes you’ll see scores in the second read column. A second read means your scaled written score was at least a 1350 (within 40 points of passing), but did not reach the required 1390. If you fall between a 1350 and 1390, all of your answers were read a second time by a different set of graders. Your scores are then averaged and if your score after two readings is 1390 or higher, you pass. I have seen a 75 scored down to 55. All of your mistakes become obvious and no amount of pretty formatting or headings can hide the fact that you incorrectly invalidated a will and the property passed through intestacy and ended up in the hands of the testator’s brother that he hated for stealing his wife.
To determine your scaled score, the bar uses a formula to make sure the scores stay constant. Here is the formula used for the July 2021 bar exam:
Written scaled score = (Raw written score x 4.0198) – 306.3260
The number needed to get to a 1390 on the written portion was 60.285. The means you needed to average 60.285 across all written graded assignments, and a total scaled score of 422 on the written portion. If you got a 425, should you be happy? I would not be. Scores to hit a 1390 can be much higher. Repeating a 422 may not be good enough in February. Even if you did well on the written portion in February, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels and ignore essay and PT practice.
Previously, bar candidates were given a raw MBE score and sub-scores for each of the six MBE topics. Now, the bar only provides scaled MBE scores. Why does the bar use scaled scores? The idea is scaled scores balance out the difficulty of the exam so that, in theory, no exam is harder than another. When the Bar provided a scoring table, the number of correct scores needed to achieve a scaled 1440 (the passing score at the time) ranged from 126 to 135. If you divide you scaled MBE score by 10 or 11 points, that should give you a rough idea of how many correct answers you got out of the 100 scored MBE questions.
Scaled scores are deceiving. In February 2011, you need to score 128 answers correct to reach 1440. If you scored 120 correct answers, you scaled score would be a 1372. That gap seems greater than just 8 correct answers. This why you should: 1) not be too hard on yourself; and 2) review your score letter with a bar exam expert.
July 2021 Techincal Difficulties
In July 2021, a number of applicants encountered technical difficulties whereby ExamSoft had a memory utilization issue which impacted performance.
If you experienced this technical issue, the State Bar used a “pro rata” method to adjust your grade by calculating how difficult the question was and adjusting a score upwards to account for the technical issue.
For example, if the average score on all essays was a 62 and the average score on Essay 1 was a 60, that State Bar classified that question as more difficult.
So, how did this impact you? If you had such technical difficulty and you scored a 55 on Essay 1, you would receive 2 extra points on your Essay 1 and you would receive a 57.
BarMD Can Help
BarMD ensures examinees enter the test with the skills they need to craft the ideal bar essay or performance test. Students complete numerous practice exams, all of which are reviewed by a staff of experts—legal writing professors, honors graduates of top law schools, and practicing attorneys. Every time, students receive a wealth of individualized comments. And these are designed to push them to the next level of essay writing.
BarMD’s revolutionary method of teaching takes students beyond the “memorize and regurgitate” formula. You’ll learn how to issue spot like never before—a skill crucial to both MBE and bar writing performance. Your analysis will be pristine. Your structure will be perfect. You will maximize your score.