Ohio and Maryland have notched their highest bar exam pass rates since 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Both jurisdictions on Monday announced the results of their first-ever online bar exams, administered Oct. 5 and 6—making them the first outside of Idaho to unveil pass rates on that exam, which was given in 30 states. Ohio reported an overall pass rate of 77%, which is the highest since 2013, when the pass rate on the July test hit 82%. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, 958 people took the October online exam, which was rescheduled from July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 85% of first-time takers passed. In July 2019, 73% of bar exam takers passed.
In Maryland, the overall pass rate among the 805 October examinees was 70%, while first-time test takers had a pass rate of 79%. That’s an improvement over the July 2019 overall pass rate of 68% and is the highest since 2014, when 72% of takers passed the July exam. Illinois on Tuesday informed examinees of their results, but did not disclose the overall pass rate on it’s October online exam.
Ohio and Maryland’s strong pass rates are a good sign for examinees in the 28 other states that gave the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ October online exam, which includes New York, California and Illinois. (New York has said it will release results in late December, while California won’t have results until January.) But unlike previous bar exams, the October online exam is not being scored and scaled by the National Conference, but by individual states. Thus, it remains to be seen whether Ohio and Maryland’s higher pass rates are replicated elsewhere. Sean Silverman, a bar exam tutor, said the shorter format of October’s online exam could be a factor in the higher pass rates.
“Part of what makes the [200 multiple-choice-question Multistate Bar Exam] difficult is the length of the exam and the fatigue that results from that length,” Silverman said of the traditional bar exam format. “By cutting the exam in half [for the October online version], that variable plays less of a roll. That does mean that every question counts a bit more since there are fewer of them but the test is shorter and so that’s likely one reason why people are scoring better.”
Moreover, states had more leeway in scoring the October exam and had the ability to be lenient in grading given the many challenges that COVID-19 presented to this cycle’s examinees, Silverman said. Put another way, states could avoid lower pass rates simply by modifying how they graded exams, he said.
Several other jurisdictions have announced the results of their own state-specific online bar exams, with mixed results. The first-time pass rate on Florida’s one-day online bar exam, given Oct. 13, was 71.7%, which is down from the 73.9% first-time pass rate on the July 2019 exam. Michigan’s pass rate on the online bar exam it gave in July was 68%, up from 60% the previous year. Indiana also gave its own online bar exam in August and saw the pass rate rise to 78% from 65%. In Nevada, the pass rate for its open-book, online exam was 64%, up from 61% in July 2019.
Besides Florida, the only other jurisdiction to report a lower pass rate for an online exam thus far is Idaho, which said only 32% of the 28 people who sat for the Oct. 5 and 6 online exam passed. However, far more people took the state’s in-person July exam—120—and they had a nearly 77% pass rate.
It’s difficult to know what the early pass rates from the Oct. 5 and 6 bar exam signal about the upcoming February exam. A growing number of states have said they will give the two-day online bar exam prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, including New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It will be a full-length exam, instead of the abbreviated versions given last cycle. And the results will be scored and scaled by the national conference, which will give states less control over pass rates.
“I’d predict that yes, we’ll continue to see passage rates higher than average on this remote exam,” Silverman said. “The next [Uniform bar Exam] in February will be remote for many states but also back to the traditional format, length, etc. Once those grades are in I’d say we’ll have a better idea as to how the modified exam contributed to higher scores.”