MBE scores suggest students were more prepared for bar exam in July despite pandemic problems

The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) scaled score increased by five points this July, a significant improvement over the prior year, but an achievement that comes with an asterix. The number of students who took the exam was far lower than the prior year, as states cancelled exams or moved them to the fall. 

The mean scaled score for the July 2020 multistate bar exam is 146.1, compared to 141.1 in July 2019.

The president of BarBri, Mike Sims, told the ABA Journal that the bar exam prep company saw more people finishing the test perp work and more users also completed additional course work because they started studying earlier for the July exam. 

The number of test takers dropped dramatically from the previous year’s test. Only 5,678 people took the exam this year compared to 45,334 in July 2019. The exam was also given out in fewer jurisdictions (23) compared to last year (54). The NCBE says this was a result of the alternative test dates given in many jurisdictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The director of academic achievement at Oklahoma City University School of Law, Steven Foster, told the ABA Journalthat he believes students found comfort and relief studying for the summer exam.

“Many students of color experienced extreme anxiety and other emotions about life during the summer,” Foster wrote in an email to the ABA Journal. “We had numerous [people] contact the law school about the difficulty of going through everyday experiences. They were also in quarantine, so those students may have turned to the one constant from their life over the last three years, which is law school and studying.”

First-time test-takers comprised about 75% of people taking the July 2020 bar exam, and that was about 6% higher than the July 2019 cohort. 

Jurisdictions are currently in the process of grading the written components of the bar exam; once this process is completed, bar exam scores will be calculated and passing decisions reported by jurisdictions.