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California Supreme Court Issues Order Finalizing Lower Passing Score for Future Bar Exam Takers

Lower passing score will not be applied retroactively to previous Bar Exam takers, court writes in letter to State Bar.
Aug 10, 2020

The California Supreme Court on Monday issued an order finalizing plans previously announced to permanently lower the passing score for the California Bar Exam and for an October test administered online.

The court also said the lower passing score would not be applied retroactively to past test takers, in a letter sent today to the State Bar of California's Board of Trustees.

“With one exception, the court is unaware of any jurisdiction in the past decade that has lowered the exam passing score and applied that decision retroactively,” the court wrote.

The Montana Supreme Court in 2016 lowered the passing score retroactive to 2013 examinees to offset the effect of that court’s 2013 decision to increase the passing score. “No similar circumstances are present here,” the court wrote.

Three other states have lowered Bar Exam passing scores during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, changes to the passing score are temporary and only apply to future examinees in North CarolinaOregon, and Washington.

The court first announced the lower passing score and plans for the October Bar Exam in its July 16 letter to the State Bar Board of Trustees, including:

  • The California Bar Exam will be administered online on October 5-6;
     
  • The court permanently lowered the passing score from 1440 to 1390;
     
  • The court directed the State Bar to expedite creation of a provisional licensure program under supervision to 2020 law school graduates—effective until they can take and pass a California bar exam and expiring no later than June 1, 2022.

California is one of 25 jurisdictions to move their bar exam online. The California Supreme Court determined that an online exam can be administered without the need for an examinee to have a high-speed or constant internet connection.

"The court strongly encourages law schools to assist those graduates who lack internet access at home, or who have home environments not amenable to two days of uninterrupted examination" by employing measures, including access to facilities and equipment, schools used to allow students to complete the spring semester, the court wrote.

At least 20 other jurisdictions will hold online bar exams over Oct. 5-6.

In July, California Supreme Court justices met over videoconference to hear from California law school deans, then held a three-hour virtual hearing to receive input from law school graduates registered to take the exam.

Read the California Supreme Court’s administrative order and letter to the State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees here

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