Eek! The national Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) mean scaled score is back to an all-time low. This isn’t what we like to see when it comes to the bar.
Last February’s mean scaled MBE score — 134, an increase of 1.4 points from 2020 — gave those in legal academia some hope that the future would be brighter for test-takers. Nope. According to the the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), we’re right back down to a dismal 132.6. This is (once again) the lowest February MBE score on record.
If you recall, in February 2020, the NCBE pinned the low score on repeat takers. That seems to be what’s happening again. Here’s a statement Rosemary Reshetar, NCBE director of assessment and research, gave to Law.com:
“There hasn’t been a consistent trend in February MBE results for the past several years, and we should be cautious about reading too much into this year’s February scores. While the mean is slightly lower than last year’s, it is identical with 2020’s mean and very close to 2018’s.”
“A number of factors may be at play in this year’s results. In particular, we know that test takers who have previously taken but not passed a bar exam tend to show lower performance on the MBE than first-time test takers, and the majority of this February’s test takers belong to that category.”
According to the NCBE, of the 16,504 people who took the February 2022 exam, approximately 68% were likely repeat test-takers, meaning they’d already failed the exam previously. The February administration is usually dominated by repeaters, as July is the traditional time for new law graduates to take the test.
For those keeping track, this February’s MBE was administered exclusively in person, while the last three tests were administered both in person and remotely (and the majority of examinees took the exam remotely in February 2021). Could that have made a difference? Reshetar has some thoughts:
“Regardless of the possible reasons for these mean score differences, it’s important to note that the MBE is equated as part of the scoring process to control for any possible differences in exam difficulty compared to previous administrations,” she said. “Thus, differences in MBE results reflect differences in the composition of the examinee pool, not differences in the test itself.”
Jurisdictions are currently in the process of releasing results. We’ll have to wait to see just how bad this early indicator is for overall pass rates.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.