Pennsylvania Bar Exam Pass Rates Drop, Especially for Repeat Takers

Pennsylvania has announced their pass rate from February and unfortunately the results show a significant drop in the pass rate.

The Commonwealth’s bar exam pass rate highlights a lack of support from law schools for applicants that have taken the exam at least once before.

Consistent with recent years’ trends and other jurisdictions, data released this month by the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners show a much lower pass rate for repeat exam takers.

While the roughly one hundred applicants who took the test for the first time in February passed at a 56% success rate, second-time applicants passed at a 33% rate, third time takers passed at a 9% rate and an 8.3% for those who took the exam 4 times or more.

National bar exam advocates have downplayed the significance of the results from last February as an anomaly because of the higher number of first-time applicants versus repeaters.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners has stated any direct comparison of February 2022 results with February 2021 would “be of limited value.” However, the group said February’s data is “broadly in line” with pre-pandemic data showing a gradual decline in total February examinees, first-timers and repeaters, while those who had taken the exam previously was increasing.

Legal educators in Pennsylvania pointed to Rutgers Law School’s performance as “especially concerning.” Of its 12 applicants—seven of whom were repeat test-takers—only one, a first-time test-taker, passed, according to the results.

From Duquesne University School of Law, only examinees that had tested at least once before were represented in February’s cohort. Of the 22 applicants, only three were successful.

“A passage rate like that obviously is upsetting to everyone here,” said Ashley London, Director of Bar Studies at Duquesne University and the Co-Chair of the Association of Academic Support Educators’ bar advocacy committee.

Legal educators in Pennsylvania offer many reasons for the decline in scores and impact of repeat examinees. Law school professors have pointed to the fewer number of people who took the test—336 compared to February 2021’s 485, and a higher proportion of repeaters—64% compared with 52% in the same time periods.

London said fewer people taking the test means that every test result has an outsized impact on the overall scores.

Professors said February’s diminished testing cohort could indicate more people are waiting to take the July test, when the state will administer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) for the first time. That will allow applicants to transfer scores to 39 other UBE jurisdictions.

Titichia Jackson, a Penn State University Dickinson Law School Assistant Professor of Lawyering skills and Director of Academic Success and Bar Preparation, said repeat examinees have struggled with “surface learning”: challenges in identifying causes of a low-scoring first attempt. she said “One-on-one mentorship has been even more difficult in the remote learning environment of the last two years.”

You can read more about these disappointing numbers here.

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