The Bar Exam Curve: It’s Real

Even after years of published MBE results and graphs, there are still people who try to convince others that the bar exam curve is not real. Those people must not have studied the MBE every year since its inception in 1972.

If you look at the 2017 MBE National Scaled Score Distribution from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, you will see that MBE results fall in a pattern that looks like a bell curve. This happens Every. Single. Administration.

This is also why you often hear of people who fail the bar exam by just a few points. Look at the distribution.  A large number of examinees are clustered right around the top of the curve – right around the score you need to pass the bar exam. This also means that just a few additional points can tip many people over into the “pass” category.

Many students begin studying for the bar exam as they would for any other exam for which they’ve prepared in their life. They are focused on their percentage correct in every area – or getting an “A” or a “B” on everything. Studying this way for the bar exam can hurt you and focus your attention in the wrong areas for the result you want – which is an overall passing score of course.

The bar exam is a pass / fail exam that covers a ton of material. The key to passing the exam is doing well enough, in enough areas. For a lot of students who have focused on excelling at everything they do, that isn’t intuitive, and it doesn’t feel right. They want to ace every section and can’t mentally move on if they have a 60% or a “D” for example. Well, for the bar exam, that may be good enough to pass.

So how do you know you are doing well enough in enough areas? This is where percentile rank comes in. Percentile rank is simply the comparison of how you are doing vs everyone else. Or in other words, what percentage of students are doing better than you and what percentage of students are doing less well than you. Depending on your state, the bar exam pass rate is typically around 60-80%. Therefore, your goal is to do better than 20% to 40% of other bar takers, or to be in the 20th to 40th percentile or above in each subject – that’s how you know you’re on track to pass.

If your percentile rank is already high in a particular subject– let’s say in the 50th percentile or above- it likely won’t benefit you to spend much more time on that particular subject. To raise your overall score, your time is better spent on a subject with a lower percentile rank to move you over that peak into the passing score range.

An important note about percentile rank: The only way percentile rank is reliable is to have a large enough sample size to make it a valid “real world” comparison. Since the majority of students sitting for your state’s bar exam study with BARBRI each administration, BARBRI Bar Review is the only way to get this statistically valid and meaningful view of where you sit on the bar exam curve before you actually take the exam. It’s one of the key reasons why year after year, most students choose BARBRI.

As you progress through BARBRI Bar Review and answer MBE practice questions, your percentile rank will build by subject and allow you to see where you stand throughout the course. Then, just a few weeks before the actual bar exam, you’ll have the opportunity to do a full simulated Multistate Bar Exam. This is critical.

This simulation mentally and physically prepares you for the exam. In fact, just the experience alone statistically increases your chances of passing your bar exam. After the simulation, you will also get a Pass Predictor score report that shows your overall percentile rank – where you sit on the bar exam curve compared to everyone else preparing for your state exam – as well as your percentile rank in each subject and subtopic. With enough time to act upon the results.

With the Pass Predictor, you will know exactly where to spend your remaining study time before the actual exam to ensure you are doing well enough, in enough areas, to pass the exam.