On a Friday in early May, unsuccessful California Bar Exam candidates receive a letter from the Committee of Bar Examiners stating “… you were unsuccessful on the February 2021 California Bar Examination.”
The CA Bar results are in. If you didn’t pass, you likely spent the evening alternating between tears and anger. If you did pass, you’re probably celebrating instead of searching the internet for ways to pass next time.
The sting of failing is tough.
But it’s time to step into problem-solving mode.
Use your bar score letter to help you figure out what to focus on going forward. With this information in hand, you can dedicate your time + resources to areas that require the most improvement.
This is an opportunity.
Let’s dive into maximizing it!
First, a refresher on CA Bar Exam scoring.
You need to achieve a total scaled 1390 or better to pass the CA Bar Exam. The exam is broken into two parts for scoring purposes.
The written portion of the exam (essays and performance tests) 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 big takeaway?
Good PTs can carry you—and bad PTs mean you’ll take the exam again.
The MBE also makes up 50% of your total score.
Because it’s worth half of your score, it’s difficult to score well enough on the MBE to overcome serious writing deficits.
For example, you can score slightly over 1400 on the MBE, but still fail because your written score was in the mid-1300s. BarMD teaches students how to improve their MBE score by breaking down the question to the narrow controversy. With our methodical process, students truly have to demonstrate they understand what is being tested.
Your Bar Exam Scores
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 didn’t 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.
If your score after two readings is 1390 or higher, you pass. I’ve 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’s the formula used for the February 2021 bar exam:
Written scaled score = (Raw written score x 4.1641) – 386.5342
The number needed to get to a 1390 on the written portion was 60.9473. The means you needed to average 60.9473 across all written graded assignments, and a total scaled score of 426.631 on the written portion.
If you got a 427, should you be happy?
I wouldn’t be.
Scores to hit a 1390 can be much higher. Repeating a 427 may not be good enough in July. Even if you did well on the written portion in February, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels and ignore essay + 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 California 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 Cal Bar provided a scoring table, the number of correct scores needed to achieve a scaled 1440 ranged from 126 to 135. If you divide your 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 (the score required to pass at the time). If you scored 120 correct answers, your scaled score would be a 1372. That gap seems greater than just eight correct answers.
And this is why:
- You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself; and
- It’s smart to review your score letter with a California Bar Exam expert.
Take the steps that are necessary to end up on the CA Bar pass list. We’re here to help!
BarMD can help you become an attorney.
Turn around your CA Bar results with BarMD.
Whether you need an intensive course or a lighter regimen, we have a program to match your needs.
The BarMD toolbox includes everything from a course focused on just PTs to our CA Bar Review Extreme package, which includes 10 hours of one-on-one tutoring with me (Maureen MacManus, President + CEO of BarMD). In our CA Bar Review Courses, you gain a comprehensive foundation for the entire exam. You learn how to issue-spot like never before. Your MBE skills can skyrocket. Your analysis can be pristine. Your structure can be perfect. You can maximize your score.
Feel free to email email@example.com if you’d like help with choosing the right program for you.