July 2016 bar exam scores improve slightly but remain near all-time lows

The good news for recent law school graduates? The July 2016 pass rates for test-takers will likely increase slightly nationally. As Deborah Merritt recently shared, the mean Multistate Bar Exam score rose from 139.9 in July 2015 to 140.3 in July 2016. Professor Merritt offers a few reasons why scores improved slightly, and I won't add to her good thoughts (despite other possible reasons that may come to light later!).

Given that bar exam scores hit a 27-year low last July, this is surely good news--particularly as the incoming predictors of law students across the nation continued to decline between the entering classes in 2012 and 2013. But there is an important matter of perspective: a 140.3 is still near all-time lows.

The July 2016 score is the second-lowest since 1988 (the lowest being July 2015), and still well off the mark of even the July 2014 score, much less the July 2013 score. In an absolute sense, the score is not good. Indeed, while modest improvements in the bar passage rates in most jurisdictions will be good news for those passing students and for law schools looking for any positive signs, they will not approach the pass rates of three or four years ago.

We should see pass rates from states like North Carolina and Oklahoma soon. As the fall wanes, we'll see more individual jurisdictions and more results from specific schools. And perhaps we'll see if dramatic changes occur in a few places or at a few schools--or whether the change is small and relatively uniform everywhere.