Community Update on CA Bar Exam and Scoring

The California Supreme Court just announced its decision regarding this fall’s bar exam. It’s a huge decision, and includes lowering of the cut score. The court’s announcement follows:

The California Supreme Court on Thursday July 16 announced it will permanently lower the passing score for the California Bar Exam and released plans for an October test administered online.

The court’s letter to State Bar of California trustees includes the following measures for exam takers and 2020 law school graduates:

  • The California Bar Exam will be administered online on October 5-6;
  • The court directed the State Bar to extend registration for the October exam through July 24;
  • 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.

“The changing circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in California, and throughout the country, have had an unprecedented impact on professional licensure testing for graduates seeking admission to many professions,” the court wrote in its letter. “Many law school graduates are being substantially affected by the resulting disruption.”

“The court has sought the safest, most humane and practical options for licensing law graduates by encouraging and working with the State Bar to pursue the option of administering the California Bar Examination online as a remote test, to avoid the need for, and dangers posed by, mass in-person testing,” the court wrote.

California is one of 16 states to move its 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.

Ten other jurisdictions will hold online bar exams over Oct. 5-6, including: Arizona, Washington D.C., Kentucky, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

This month, 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.

The court’s letter to the State Bar is available here.

Dean David Faigman
David Faigman, Hastings College of the Law

UC Hastings Chancellor and Dean David Faigman wrote to the community: “It’s not everything that the deans advocated for, but, all in all, it’s pretty good news! As I told my fellow deans, the decision was rather more than I thought that I could hope for, and certainly more than I expected.  I am deeply grateful to the California Supreme Court for this decision, which takes into account the needs of the candidates for the bar and ensures protection for the public. It is a sensible and fair outcome.”

Faigman was among a prominent group of deans lobbying for a sensible, equitable solution to the typical bar exam. His letter to the California Supreme Court, along with fellow deans, can be read here.