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The Recent Statewide Low Passing Rate and How to Avoid Failure

In my nearly 40 years of working with California bar applicants, I have seen bar passage rates fluctuate between the mid twenty percent to high sixty percent range.

First, educate yourself on the standards required to pass the bar. In part, you can do this by requesting from the Committee of Bar Examiners questions and model answers from past exams as well as discussing this issue with those who have trained bar candidates to prepare for the test. In addition, repeat bar candidates can be an especially good source o information given the character-building that comes wit insightfully challenging their test-taking comfort zones. In perspective, the most recent 38% rate is not unusual, but it should also signal to law students and bar candidates a number of factors that they should not take for granted in making the prospect of passing the bar more probable than just possible.

While graduating from law school may qualify you to take the bar, learning the pass it often requires a different set of disciplined test-taking skills that will produce a very high standard compatible with the state licensing requirement. Put another way, getting good grades in law school does not necessarily mean that you are performing at the necessary standard to pass the bar exam. You can help remedy this potential problem by taking the following action: 

Second give yourself enough time to prepare to pass -- as opposed to just preparing to take the exam. The timing for you to prepare may be different than the usual arbitrary time set by a bar course. The job to prepare is enormous, and not every candidate is necessarily at the same starting point when the time to prepare begins.

Third, and in the same time-management context, be sure to proportionally strategize the use of your study time given the fact that your (passing) grade is proportionally divided between the three sections of the exam. In my experience, applicants make a fundamentally serious mistake when they over invest in substantive review and spend barely enough time in developing their specific test-taking for the essay, PT, and MBE sections of the exam. When you do not give yourself enough time to prepare the chance of this occurring is greatly magnified.

Fourth, remember that you are preparing for a "problem-solving speed examinations", so that the process of your preparation should combine a disciplined diet of problem-solving exercises in addition to laying a solid foundation of learning the law. In this regard, while an applicant's work ethic may be good, it is key to understand that practice by itself does not necessarily translate to passing results. This is most often because an applicant be reinforcing -- and not aware of the difference -- the same lesser skills that he developed in law school and which does not produce the necessary state licensing required by the bar. This leads to the point that you should find the right fit for the bar preparation course that most meets your needs. In nearly 25 years of working with applicants, it is clear that there is a wide range of need's given a candidates educative experiences, and one approach does not fit all. There are a host of good courses -- find the one that will give you the time to prepare, strategize the use of your time for all three sections of the test, and help to discipline your specific test-taking skills and standards for all three sections of the test.

And most importantly, apply that wonderful common sense that you have in analyzing these factors as soon as you can. Learning how to pass the bar in law school -- and not just treating it as a separate issue once you graduate -- makes the most constructive sense of all. All the very best to each of you in passing your next exam.


Paul Pfau is a retired Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and the owner of Cal Bar Tutorial Review, which has been customizing bar review programs for 40 years. For more information about Cal Bar Tutorial Review, call (800) 348-2401 or (800) 783-6168. Web site: