The bar examination is often regarded as one of the most difficult exams to take and pass on the first try. Many students find that they end up having to repeat this exam several times before they achieve their desired score. The bar exam is also made difficult by the fact that it is administered on a pass or fail basis only – there is no middle ground, so you need to make sure your score is high enough to pass without question.
For many, it can be helpful to understand each jurisdiction’s bar exam pass rates. These rates will give you an idea of which state’s exams are the hardest and if it is likely that you will need to do a retake, allowing you to prepare your studying schedule accordingly. Below, we will discuss why the bar exam is one of the most notoriously difficult tests, in addition to giving you some of the most important statistics regarding bar exam pass rates.
Why Is the Bar Exam So Hard?
The bar exam is a time-consuming, rigorous test, which is part of what makes it so hard. The exam is typically administered over a period of 2 days and contains a multiple-choice question portion and an essay portion. Many states have adopted the uniform bar exam (UBE) which standardizes many of the questions on the bar exam. But in states that have not adopted the UBE, students will likely be tested on local law topics, in addition to overarching legal knowledge.
The content of the bar exam covers everything from constitutional law and contracts to criminal law, evidence, real property, and torts. In order to score well on the test, you should be very familiar with these topics in addition to being able to analyze writing, apply legal knowledge to real-life scenarios, and understand how to compare and contrast legal reasonings. With all of these subjects to review and practice, it is no wonder that it takes most students an average of 400 hours to properly study for the bar.
The Bar Exam Passing Score by State
Each jurisdiction that administers the bar sets its own passing score. This can be beneficial when it comes to the UBE – if you don’t achieve your desired result, you can always transfer your score to a jurisdiction where that score is passing. However, it can be a disadvantage if you are taking a state-designed bar exam. With state-designed bar exams, you will need to keep taking the test until you reach the passing threshold, and will not be able to transfer any score you receive to a different jurisdiction.
The scores included in bar admission grading are the 200-point multistate bar examination (MBE) that almost every jurisdiction administers, and other state-specific components of the exam that contribute to the overall score needed to pass that jurisdiction’s bar exam. Below, we have listed some of the most difficult and some of the easiest bar exams to pass by state.
Most Difficult Bar Exams to Pass
- Alaska: 280 overall bar score needed, accepts the UBE
- California: 1440 overall bar score needed, does not accept UBE. More information on the grading of the California bar can be found here.
- Colorado: 276 overall bar score needed, accepts the UBE
- Oregon: 274 overall bar score needed, accepts the UBE
Easiest Bar Exams to Pass
- Wisconsin: 258 overall bar score needed, does not accept the UBE
- Missouri: 260 overall bar score needed, accepts the UBE
- Iowa: 266 overall bar score needed, accepts the UBE
You can see the full layout of the state’s required passing scores by checking out the bar admission guidelines located on the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website here.
Bar Exam Passage Rate by State
The bar exam passage rate varies by state. The overall percentage is calculated from how many test-takers pass the exam out of the total number of takers that sit for it. By looking at the bar exam passage rate, you can determine roughly how difficult that jurisdiction’s test is and what your chances are of passing. Keep in mind that the statistics listed do include both first-time and repeat bar exam takers.
The numbers listed below are for the 2020 bar exam administrations from both February and July.
|Jurisdiction||Test Takers||Test Passers||Pass Rate Percentage|
|District of Columbia||2493||1598||64%|
**The data for Delaware is taken from the 2019 administrations of the bar exam, as the 2020 administrations of the exam were both canceled.
The overall bar passage rate for all jurisdictions after the 2020 administrations was approximately 61% (37,161 test-takers passing out of 60,770 total test-takers). This means that slightly over half of the test-takers passed their exam, but 39% of test-takers will need to retake their jurisdiction’s bar exam.
It is important to note that bar passage rates change with each administration of the exam. While a jurisdiction might have an especially high or low bar passage rate after one specific year of exams, this could change very quickly. Make sure to always check with your jurisdiction’s bar association for the most updated passage rate statistics, and take the time to look at a jurisdiction’s bar passage rate history for a better idea of overall scores.
States with the Highest Bar Passage Rate
As you can see above, there are several states that have an especially high bar passage rate. This could mean that the test in these jurisdictions is easier, or that the law students taking these exams are more accurately prepared for what that state’s bar exam may mean. Either way, it is worth looking into the states below to learn what makes their bar passage rate so high.
- New Mexico: Bar passage rate of 83%
- Iowa: Bar passage rate of 73%
- Kansas: Bar passage rate of 83%
- Maine: Bar passage rate of 75%
- Montana: Bar passage rate of 76%
States with the Lowest Bar Passage Rate
The states below have some of the lowest bar exam passage rates out of all U.S. jurisdictions. This could be because the exam is especially difficult, or that the students in these areas are not preparing themselves adequately for the bar exam. If you are trying to avoid taking the bar exam multiple times, you may want to avoid taking it in one of these jurisdictions.
- California: Bar passage rate of 50%
- Alabama: Bar passage rate of 46%
- Florida: Bar passage rate of 53%
- Louisiana: Bar passage rate of 55%
- Washington: Bar passage rate of 53%
Bar Exam Passage Rate by Law School
Another factor you can look at before you even enroll in law school is the bar exam passage rate of the school you are considering attending. Most accredited law schools will list the bar exam pass rate of their graduated students somewhere on their admissions website; by looking at this statistic, you can get a good idea of how well the program prepares you for taking the bar exam and the outcomes you may receive by attending that specific school.
Below, we’ve listed the top 30 bar exam passing statistics from law schools in the U.S. The statistics are covering first-time test-takers from that specific university only. Many of the law schools that are on the top of the list are ones that are nationally recognized and carry a lot of name prestige, but there are many lower ranked law schools that also produce great bar passage results.
|Law School||Bar Exam Pass Rate|
|University of Virginia||100%|
|University of Wisconsin—Madison||100%|
|University of Pennsylvania (Carey)||99.2%|
|University of Chicago||98.7%|
|University of Alabama||98.5%|
|George Washington University||96.4%|
|New York University||95.8%|
|University of Iowa||95.7%|
|Ohio Northern University (Pettit)||95.7%|
|University of Georgia||94.5%|
|University of Oklahoma||94.4%|
|Florida International University||94.4%|
|George Mason University||94.2%|
|Northwestern University (Pritzker)||94.1%|
|University of Minnesota||94%|
|University of Michigan–Ann Arbor||94%|
|University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill||93.9%|
|University of Texas–Austin||93.9%|
|Brigham Young University (Clark)||93.8%|
|Wake Forest University||93.3%|
These statistics are 2021 numbers, based on 2020 bar exam administrations. More information and complete rankings can be found here.
Law Schools with the Highest Bar Passage Rate
Law schools that have a high bar passage rate among their graduates are typically able to better prepare their students for the bar exam, or it could be that students in that area are putting in more work when it comes to studying for the bar exam. Either way, it is never a bad thing to attend a law school that touts a high bar pass rate.
As you can see from our list, the University of Virginia, Marquette University, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison all have bar pass rates of 100 percent. This means that out of all of the school graduates who took the bar exam in 2020, every one of them passed. The University of Pennsylvania (Carey Law School) and Harvard University are not far behind these universities with bar pass rates of 99.2% and 98.9%, respectively.
Law Schools with the Lowest Bar Passage Rate
We didn’t list the following law schools in the data above because, unfortunately, they were on the lower end of the scale when it comes to bar passage rates. You may want to avoid law schools that have very low pass rates, as there is a good chance the law program is not complete enough to adequately prepare students for their bar exams after graduation.
- Florida A&M University: Bar passage rate of 49.6%
- Golden Gate University: Bar passage rate of 47.6%
- Elon University: Bar passage rate of 46.9%
- Western Michigan (Cooley School of Law): Bar passage rate of 43.9%
- Florida Coastal: Bar passage rate of 42.5%
- University of the District of Columbia: Bar passage rate of 38.5%
- Thomas Jefferson: Bar passage rate of 29.2%
Many of these law schools are also not ranked very high, so while they may be a little bit easier to get into, you should seriously consider if the outcomes these law schools produce are what you want to invest in when working towards your bar admission.
How to Prepare for the Bar
These studying tips below can help you get an idea about how to prepare yourself to take the bar examination in your jurisdiction.
Organize a Study Schedule
One of the best things you can do for your bar exam preparation is to organize a study schedule that takes into account all of your other life obligations. This will help you stay focused and ensure that you have time set aside to study. If you study at random times each day or week, it is easy to put off completing your prep work or to get distracted by life’s other obligations so much that you don’t prepare adequately for the bar.
Once you’ve designed a study schedule, stick to it to the best of your ability. Consistency is key when it comes to reviewing topics and building up the stamina to take the bar exam.
Invest in a Prep Course
Investing in a bar exam preparation course can be a great option if you don’t know where to start when studying, or you want extra help directing your review sessions. A prep course will guide you through the most important bar exam topics, and if you purchase one that includes access to teachers or tutoring, you can get your questions about the bar exam answered and maximize your understanding of the test.
Leave Ample Study Time
Cramming information last minute isn’t a good idea for any test, and especially not for the bar exam. You should be sure to leave at least 4 to 5 months to study before your intended bar exam date. Some students find they need even more time than this, so if you know that you study more slowly or you need extra time to review, it would be a good idea to start studying 6 to 7 months before your bar exam test date.
Additionally, when deciding on a test date, you should keep in mind the requirements of any job you have lined up. If your employer requires a specific start date, you need to be sure to take (and pass) the bar exam before then; factor this requirement into when you decide to start studying for the bar.
Understand Test Day Procedures
After doing your best studying for the bar exam, you should take some time to understand test day procedures. The bar exam is highly stressful and spread over 2 days in most jurisdictions; by understanding ahead of time exactly what is required of you before, during, and after the test, you can reduce a little bit of this stress and simply focus on scoring your best.
For more information about bar exam testing procedures, you can check with your jurisdiction’s bar association website, or you can access the test information section on the NCBE’s website here.
Working Towards Your Bar Admission
Passing the bar is a necessary part of becoming a practicing attorney, but the road to get there is not an easy one. For most students, the bar exam holds a promise of many studying hours and maybe even a retake or two before achieving the perfect score. Understanding bar passage rates for your state and for your specific law school is a great way to determine how difficult your jurisdiction’s bar exam is in relation to others, and will help in preparing your studying sessions accordingly so you can gain admission to the bar with as little stress as possible.