How Do I Interpret My California Bar Score Letter?
If you have already received your California Bar Exam score letter and found you failed, we are sorry to hear that. You likely spent the weekend wondering why you did not pass. Now, this is the moment of truth! The moment you will find out what went wrong, what you will do, and how to pass the bar exam as a repeat taker.
NOTE: California passed an order on January 28, 2021 that allows examinees who narrowly passed the California Bar Exam between July 2015 and February 2020 to be admitted to the state bar after completing 300 hours of supervised legal work (no second bar exam is required).
How Do I Interpret My California Bar Score Letter?
Stop Sobbing and Grab A Calculator!
You may be angry and questioning why some of the scores don’t make any sense. Subjects that you thought you performed very well on might have been scored low and subjects that you thought you did poorly on might have been scored high. You may think that the scoring is unfair, but don’t blame the Bar Examiners. Take responsibility. Wipe your tears, clean up your desk, and do the math! Take this score letter very seriously. This letter is a very good source to improve your score as a repeat taker. This letter can help you figure out what the Bar Examiners are looking for when they are grading the essays and the performance test (PT), what to focus your time and resource on, and where you need the most help. It is your roadmap to success on the next exam!
How to Interpret the Cryptic Score Letter
Let’s admit to one thing: most lawyers are math averse. So here’s a simple break-down on how to interpret your bar exam letter and how to calculate the scores.
Effective with administration of the July 2017 California Bar Examination the format of the examination was changed from a 3-day exam to a 2-day exam. The minimum scaled score of 1440 remained the same, which is the required score to pass the California Bar Exam. The written portion (essays and PT) and MBE portion of the examination are weighted equally, 50 percent each.
To break it down further, five essays are worth 40% of your overall exam score, and PT is 10% of your overall bar exam score (one PT counts for two essays).
How to Interpret the MBE Score
There are 200 questions and the MBE score is out of 200. However, only 175 of those questions are actually scored. The other 25 questions are considered “pretest” questions and are not scored. The MBE score is scaled based on a conversion determined by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) who develops and scores the MBE.
Remember, 1440 is the passing score. If your scaled MBE score is over 1440 it means that you have passed the MBE portion of the exam. If you scored close to this, more practice would suffice. But if you scored substantially lower than this score, refer to How to Pass the MBE in Six Simple Steps.
The average raw score for passing the MBE is about 130 (roughly between 128 and 134), which is 65%. A raw score of 130 should equal a scaled score of 144. Keep in mind, California uses a thousand-point scale. To figure out your scaled score, simply move the decimal a point over. Hence, a scaled score of 1440 is a 144.
How to Interpret the Written Score
This score is typically close to your MBE score. But sometimes an applicant does drastically better or worse on one part of the exam than another. Commonly, it will be either because the candidate is more talented in one of the areas, or the applicant spent more time practicing or studying those subjects. Remember, the written portion and the MBE portion of the exam are weighted equally, so you should make sure you allocate enough time to studying for both.
You will see a score for each tested essay topic and a score for the PT. If you see a second column that says “2nd Read,” it means that your scaled written score was at least 1390, but did not reach the required passing score of 1440. If your written score was at least 1390, your written work is then assigned to a different person, who reads and scores your written exam. When the differential is 10 points or less, the scores are averaged. The average score per essay/PT will be your score for that essay/PT.
The Bar Examiners have suggested that if you have received a score lower than a 60 on an essay, then your answer is incomplete – meaning you have missed issues.
The passing scaled score for the written portion of the exam is also 1440. This means that you would have reached a raw score of 61.81 across all of the written exams in order to pass. This amounts to a raw score of 432.667.
How Did I Reach This Number?
The passing score per written assignment is 61.81 and there are five essays. The score of 61.81 multiplied by 5 equals 309.05. The exam has one PT. However, one PT counts for two essays. Therefore, you’d need a raw score of123.62 to pass the PT. So, the passing score for the written portion of the exam (5 essays and PT) is 432.667
Remember, this is the minimum score you need to pass the bar exam. When studying for the exam, you have to set your goals higher than just the minimum requirement to pass. Be sure to work on both the subject areas you performed poorly on as well as those you received passing scores on previously.
The “total scaled score” is the average score between the scaled written and scaled MBE scores. The passing total scaled score is 1440. Evaluate your score sheet. How close were you to pass the California Bar Exam? An applicant who failed the bar exam by one point (which has happened in the past), is very different from an applicant who failed it by 200-300 points. Analyze what went wrong by thoroughly reviewing your exam, and comparing it to the Bar Examiner’s sample answers. Try to figure out why you scored lower in some areas than others. Did you miss an issue, or was an overall misunderstanding of the law? Understanding your scores and reviewing your essays and understanding exactly what went wrong can help ensure that the same mistakes don’t occur next time!
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