How is the California Bar Exam Scored?
Effective as of July 2017, the California bar exam is composed of three parts: the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), which consists of 200 multiple choice questions; one 90-minute performance test; and five, hour-long essays. On the first day, exam takers complete five one-hour essays and one 90-minute performance test. On the second day, examinees take the MBE.
The California bar exam has 2000 possible points.
On July 16, 2020, the California Supreme Court announced that it was permanently reducing the passing score from 1440 to 1390. On August 10, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued an order stating that the 1390 passing score would not be applied retroactively to past exam takers. Thus, effective as of October 2020, you need 1390 points to pass the California Bar Exam.
UPDATE: California passed an order on January 28, 2021 that allows examinees who narrowly passed the California Bar Exam between February 2020 and July 2015 to be admitted to the state bar after completing 300 hours of supervised law work (no second bar exam is required).
The California bar exam has 2000 possible points. You need 1440 points to pass the California bar exam.
How, exactly, is the California Bar Exam scored?
Each portion of the California bar exam is scored as follows:
- 200 multiple choice questions (MBE) worth 50% of your overall score (maximum number of points you can receive is 700)
- One ninety minute performance test (MPT) worth 200 points each or approximately 14.3% of your overall score (maximum number of points you can receive is 200)
- Five one-hour essays worth approximately 35.7% of your overall score (maximum number of points you can receive is 500)
You will note that the most important part of the California bar exam is the written part. Your MBE is currently worth only just over 1/3 (35%) of your overall score. The written portion is worth 65 percent (with your essays counting for 39% of your overall score and your performance tests counting for 26%). Note that this will change in July 2017 — and the written portion and MBE portion will both be weighted equally.
The written portion and MBE portion are both weighted equally—each section is worth 50% of the overall scaled score.
As mentioned above, you need a score of 1390 out of 2000 possible points to pass the California bar exam. When the passing score was 1440, the California bar exam committee used a phased grading system. The process is outlined below:
- If you receive a score at or over 1440, you automatically pass the California bar exam.
- If, after one reading of your answers, your score is below 1390, you fail the California bar exam.
- If your score is 1390 or greater but less than 1440, you will get a “second read” by a different set of graders. If that set of graders ends up giving you a score of 1440 or higher, you will pass the bar exam. (If there is a 10-point discrepancy in what score you receive for an answer, then your answers will be referred to a supervisor who will assign a grade.)
Note: The State Bar of California has not yet updated its phased grading process to account for the 1390 passing score. However, our best guess is that if a similar system is adopted, an applicant’s essays will get a “second read” by a different set of graders if their score is 1340 or greater but less than 1390. Once this information has been updated by the State Bar of California, we will update our blog post accordingly.
For more information about how the California bar exam is scored, please visit the website for the State Bar of California.
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