Is the Bar Exam Hard?

Is the Bar Exam Hard?

What an interesting question. If you’re in law school, it’s one that I’m sure you’ve asked yourself many times. Or perhaps you didn’t actually ask yourself this question, but you felt a vague, unsettling fear wash over you as you thought of THE BAR.

So how does one measure the difficulty of this test? Since there is no unit of measure for test difficulty, I’ll have to start by speaking in stories that might shed some light.

Do you remember when you were an innocent, wide-eyed 1L? Do you remember going to 1L orientation and excitedly mingling with your new classmates, all a-buzz with delight over the fact that Bar Exam hard, ube emoticon - magooshyou made it into law school and were on your way to becoming a lawyer? Ah…what blissful fools we were then, weren’t we? We really had no idea of what we were in for.

I remember a friend I made that day who shared a story with a group of us over lunch. She told us that her father was a lawyer. After being accepted to our local law school, she asked her dad one day, “Is law school really as hard as they say it is?” He laughed for a minute. Then he told her, “As hard as you think it’s gonna be, it is SOOOOOOOOO much harder!”

There was silence as this tidbit sank into our happy little 1L brains.

You see, there are certain things in life that must be experienced to be truly understood. Law school is one of them. The Bar Exam is one other such thing, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to get a handle on what lies ahead. A healthy respect for the intensity of this exam can have a positive impact on your dedication while studying.

Let me tell one more story that I believe sheds some light on the difficulty of the Bar Exam.

On the day before the test we were all checking into our hotel rooms and checking out the exam center. I was riding in an elevator with several fellow Bar Examinees. When the elevator stopped on one floor, PARAMEDICS entered the elevator with us. bar exam hard, paramedics - magoosh

There was silence in the elevator for a moment. Then we all busted out laughing. “Oh my God,” one girl said, “do they think one of us is going to PASS OUT!? Or collapse!” “Holy crap!” said another, “Seriously!? Are you guys here for the Bar Exam!?”

The medical personnel gave each other a knowing look. Then they smirked a bit. “Um, yeah,” one of them replied. “We are here for the duration of the exam. If anyone has any issues, we’ll be located in two corners of the room.”

Queue more nervous laughter as our eyes widened in horror.

I think we all found it a little harder to breathe that night.

Is the Bar Exam hard? Here Are Some Facts and Figures

Ok, enough stories for now. Let’s look at some cold, hard facts that may illuminate this question.

Since lawyers and doctors are so often thrown into conversations in the same sentence, I thought it would shed some light on the subject to do a little comparison. As you may know, aspiring doctors must take their Board Exams. We take the Bar, they take their Boards. Here are some statistics for the 3 steps of the Medical Boards.

U.S. and Canadian USMLE Step 1 Test Takers

  • 2016: 94% passage rate
  • 2015: 95% passage rate
  • 2014: 94% passage rate

As you can see, it’s pretty much the same each year.

USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge Test

  • 2016: 95% passage rate
  • 2015: 94% passage rate
  • 2014: 96% passage rate

USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills Test

  • 2016: 97% passage rate
  • 2015: 96% passage rate
  • 2014: 95% passage rate

USMLE Step 3 Test

  • 2016: 96% passage rate
  • 2015: 98% passage rate
  • 2014: 96% passage rate

(These are the numbers as reported by the United States Medical Licensing Examiners)
Now let’s take a look at the Bar Exam Passage Rate.

National Bar Exam Passage Rates: Combined Average of Uniform Bar Exam and State Bar Exams

  • 2016: 58% passage rate
  • 2015: 59% passage rate
  • 2016: 64% passage rate

Every year is about the same percentage-wise +/- 10%
Individual states may do a better or worse, but these are the nationwide numbers according to the NCBE.

bar exam hard, comparison - magoosh
So it appears that nearly all of the medical students that take all three parts of their Boards pass, whereas about 40% of law students do not pass the Bar. Ouch! Right?

Interesting comparison, isn’t it?

Now I don’t believe for one minute that this is a reflection of the intelligence of the examinees, nor is it an indication of how hard they studied. It is more likely an indication of the intent of the examiners.

The Medical Boards are grueling, there is no question about that. However, the examiners do not enter into the exam creation process purposely attempting to fail a healthy percentage of examinees.

The Bar Examiners do.

Just in case you didn’t notice, law school is one giant “weeding out” system. Most of us have experienced this.

Weeding Out Process Step 1: The LSAT

First there is the LSAT. Looking back, I see now why law schools care so much about LSAT scores. It actually is a good indicator of who will pass the bar exam. (Although I have heard it said that the LSAT is to the Bar Exam as the sniffles are to The Black Plague!)

Law schools care very much about their rankings among the nation’s other law schools. They all want to be on top so they get the best and highest number of applicants, which leads to more money. One of the biggest indicators of a law school’s ranking is, you guessed it—the Bar Exam passage rate. So if they think you will pass the bar, they want you because in the end, you make them look good. If you’re not going to pass, they’d rather you leave quietly.

Weeding Out Process Step 2: 1L

Do you remember how many students there were in your 1L class? Now think back to how many “disappeared” by year two. The nationwide average of 1L’s that do not make it to their 2L year hovers around 20% – 40%. That’s almost half in some schools! Again, this is no coincidence. Law schools want only the best to survive the first year for much the same reason as was sited above.

Weeding Out Process Step 3: The Bar Exam

And now … hang onto your hats … we have the greatest weed-outer of all—the Bar Exam. This exam is not written to be nice. It is not written in a way that hopes that everyone will pass if they just try really hard. My bar prep instructor stated plainly that the Board of Bar Examiners wants to fail a healthy portion of examinees.

There is much speculation as to the “why” of this desire to fail so many. Some say that there are simply too many lawyers, so the Bar Examiners need to whittle down the numbers. The actual reason may never be known, nor does it matter.

The fact is and remains that the Bar Exam, and the MBE in particular, is actively seeking to trip you up.

The Evils of the MBE

The most important thing to know about the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) is that it is designed to fool you. It is not enough to know your black letter law. You must also cultivate excellent test-taking skills to conquer this bad boy. bar exam hard, MBE - magoosh

Exactly how is the MBE evil? Well, each question has two answers that are arguably correct.

Yes, that’s what I said. Two correct answers for each multiple choice question. And you have to choose the BEST of the two correct answers—that is, if you properly narrow it down in the first place.

That is maddening. But it is an excellent example of why it is said that the Bar Exam is created with the intent to fail a good percentage of test takers.

So in conclusion – THE BAR EXAM IS HARD. But it can be done! Always keep that in mind. If 40% fail, that means that 60% or better pass. All you have to do is be determined to be in that 60%! Commit 100% to an intense plan of study, and you will be able to conquer this challenge.

If you are taking the Bar and want more information on the specific sections, please check out our other posts and feel free to comment below with your questions!

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