Bar exam pass rates surge after shift to UBE.


Byline: David Donovan

There were a great number of very happy and relieved lawyers-to-be after North Carolina's bar exam administrators announced the results of this year's July exam. Passage rates soared for the exam administered this summer, the first July exam since the state switched to the Uniform Bar Exam.

568 of the 783 applicants who sat for the exam passed the test, for a pass rate of 72.5 percenta sizeable jump from last July's exam, when only 57.4 percent of those who took the exam passed it (the figure for 2017 was 61.8 percent).

Among first-time test-takers, passage rates were a whopping 83 percent, up from 72.6 percent last year and 72.2 percent in 2017. (See table below.) The total number of applicants also climbed this year, from 697 to 783, but was still well short of the 1017 who sat for the exam in July 2017.

Both the surge in passage rates and the fluctuating number of test-takers have two common causes: The state's shift to the UBE, and the shuttering of the now-defunct Charlotte Law School, which closed its doors in August 2017.

The UBE is a standardized bar exam that produces a score attorneys can use to apply for bar admission in other states, and its format is notably different from the bar exam that the state had been administering before this year. Half of an applicant's score comes from the multiple-choice Multistate Bar Exam, up from 40 percent under the old format. The other half comes from six essays and two "lawyerly tasks" that applicants are required to complete, while the old exam had 12 essay questions.

The old exam was graded on a 500-point scale, and test-takers needed a score of 366 to pass, but the UBE is graded on a 400-point scale, and North Carolina set a score of 270 as its threshold for passage. Kimberly A. Herrick, the incoming chair of the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, said that no cut-off score would have been perfectly equivalent to the old set-up, so administrators looked at the scores that other states had chosen as their cut-offs and settled on a number that was right around the midpoint of those figures.

"I don't think that's the only factor, but I do think it contributed heavily [to the higher passage rates]," Herrick said. "I don't want to say it's a better test, but it's able to assess what we're trying to measure, and much as you can objectively measure somebody's ability to perform legal analysis, I think it does a good job of that."

The closure of Charlotte Law School also...

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