As the February 2016 bar exam results continue to be released, we are seeing a very troubling trend: bar pass rates are still dropping across the country. The mean scaled score on the February administration of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) fell to 135, down 1.2 points from the previous year, and the lowest average score on a February administration of the test since 1983. That is a long time ago!

The pass rates for students who had previously taken the bar exam and failed are also at historically low rates. Unfortunately, unlike many other tests where performance gets better when you take the test over, this is not true of the bar exam.

In a first-time bar review, the course simply reviews the law. You take notes, gather information and then, when formal classes end, you memorize the rules and do lots of practice. Bar exam repeaters who go back to the same or a different first-time course just repeat the process. They accumulate lots of notes for a second time in a row, however, their problem was not a lack of knowledge, but their inability to score points with what they did know.

Most bar exams test 5 or 6 essays. If you are in a jurisdiction that administers the Uniform Bar Exam, also known as the UBE, you will be taking the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). The MEE contains 6 essays that must be completed in 3 hours. This means you only have 30 minutes to write each essay.

On the MEE, there are going to be 3 to 4 major rules per essay, which means the entire essay section is testing fewer than 25 rules of law. Think about that for a second. You only get 1 to 4 rules per subject. You already have the rules from your first-time bar course. What you need to do now is work on memory and practice, not gathering more rules. You need to take a bar course designed specifically for the retaker.

You have most of the law from your first course; now you need to be trained to pass. With only 3 or 4 rules per subject on an essay, it is likely you will not remember one or more of the rules tested. Training is learning how to maximize points when you know the rule, and being able to write an essay even when you do not. Retakers fail because they continue to approach the bar exam as if it were a law school final, which it is not. Unlike your finals in law school, bar exam essays have a predetermined answer. You can be trained to recognize what the examiners want you to write.

With the MBE, one major problem you faced the first time around was narrowing your answer choices to two possibilities, but not being able to correctly choose between them. This time, get trained on how to select between two MBE answer alternatives based on how the question is written.

As a retaker, you can improve upon your results from the first time, but only if your preparation is building on what you did — not repeating it.

If you have any questions or would like me to review your bar exam score report with you free of charge, just email me at info@marinolegal.com.

I am here to help students pass the bar exam.


Professor Joseph Marino has been a fixture in the world of legal education for the past 40 years. Whether you’re just starting law school, about to take the bar, or an attorney in need of CLE, he and Marino Legal Academy are here to help. He is the Director of Marino Bar Review and the Marino Institute for Continuing Legal Education. He writes a bimonthly column, Ask the Professor. Visit the Marino CLE page on ATL, connect with him onLinkedIn and Facebook, or email him viainfo@marinolegal.com.