Earlier this year, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners disclosed that it would be grading essays according to a new undisclosed grading curve. The curve is supposed to ensure that “essay test scores across administrations reflect the same skill level” and continue to “reflect differences in the difficulty between the multiple choice and essay portion of the exam.”
We assumed that this grading scale was going to be very complicated – maybe points were added to particularly difficult questions or maybe the Board came up with a complex formula based on the exam scores. After reading several essays and looking at several score reports for the July 2014 bar exam, we noticed a pattern in the amount of points awarded.
What is the new Michigan bar exam grading formula?
It seems that the secret new grading curve for the July 2014 Michigan bar exam essay is simply: raw score + 34 points.
[Note: Do we know for sure this is the curve? No, it is undisclosed! However, all of the score reports we have seen follow this basic formula. If you have a July 2014 Michigan bar exam score report that does not show that your essays were graded using this formula, please let us know so we can look into it and update this post!]
The good news is that if you received a raw score of 105 or below (average of 7 points per essay) on the July 2014 Michigan bar exam essay portion of the exam, the curve helped you. If you received a score of 105 or higher on the July 2014 Michigan bar exam, the curve hurt you (and the higher the score you received, the more the curve hurt you in comparison to the old grading formula – which multiplied your essay score by 4/3).
Let’s look at a few examples:
If you received a raw score of 105 on the essay portion of the July 2014 Michigan bar exam under the “old” scoring system (multiplying the raw score x4/3) your overall essay score would be 140. Under what appears to be the new grading curve, it is 139. That is a 1 point loss – which could make the difference between passing and failing. If you receive a raw score of 120 on the essay portion (an average of 8 points per question) under the old grading curve your overall essay score would be 160. Under the new grading curve your score is 154 – a loss of six points!
The new grading curve is not bad news for everyone though. In fact, the lower your raw essay score was on the July 2014 Michigan bar exam, the more the curve helped you. If you received a lower raw score of 90 on the essays (average of six points per essay) under the old scoring your overall essay score would be 120. Under what appears to be the new grading formula, your score would be 124 – a gain of four points.
It looks like the BLE is trying to even the playing field – bring the scores of the highly-scoring outliers down and bring the scores of the low-scoring outliers up. This creates less outliers and puts more people right in the middle.
Will the essays continue to be scored this way for the February 2015 Michigan bar exam? Only time will tell. The announcement by the Michigan BLE implies that the scoring system will be the same but that maybe a different number of points will be added to the raw score based on the difficulty of the exam.
What is the effect of the new Michigan bar exam grading formula?
There are many ways to look at this new Michigan bar exam grading curve. You may look at it as though the BLE is punishing those that score high on the essay portion and rewarding those with lower scores. Or you could look at it as though the BLE is merely boosting the low scorers to try to increase the passage rate of the Michigan bar exam takers.
No matter how you look at it, though, under the new formula, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners is giving itself more power to determine exactly what the Michigan bar exam passage rate is. The older purely mathematical formula was more objective – simply multiple one’s raw essay score by 4/3, add it to the scaled MBE score and the passage rate was whatever it was. The new formula gives the Board power since it is the one drawing the line. If the Michigan Board of Law Examiners decides to add more than 34 points to each applicant’s score for the February 2015 Michigan bar exam, the passage rate will be higher; if it decides to add less, the passage rate will be lower.
Will the Michigan bar exam grading formula be the same for the February 2015 Michigan bar exam and future bar exams?
We don’t know! It appears as though a certain amount of points will still be added to the essay raw score of the Michigan bar exam. Time will tell whether the Michigan board of law examiners adds more, less, or the same amount of points.
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