Bar Exam Statistics & Pass Rates

If you're one of the thousands of law students each year hoping to pass the infamous bar exam, you're not alone. Whether you're a first-timer, giving it another go, or researching which state and/or law school will prepare you the best for the bar exam, you've come to the right place! Here, you will find national and state bar exam statistics, a list of the states and the law schools with the highest versus the lowest bar exam pass rates, and some helpful tips on how to pass the bar exam on the first try.

Bar Exam Statistics by Each State (Test Takers and Pass %)

Wondering how test-takers are doing as a whole? According to the most recent data released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE®), in 2021, of the 64,833 total persons taking the bar exam, 39,873 passed, which is an overall pass rate of 60% (down 1%from the previous year). While the overall pass rate has been on a downward trend from a 68% pass rate in 2009 to a 58% pass rate in 2019, the good news is that it appears that the overall pass rate is slowly creeping back up.

While it’s nice to know the overall trend, it’s more useful and predictive to look at more specific data, such as bar exam pass rates by state and by school, as they vary widely depending on the state exam components and the law schools’ quality of preparation.

The bar exam pass rate is generally considered to be the percentage of students who pass the bar exam on the first try, which tends to be higher than the pass rate for all test takers in a given state. However, as shown in the table above, bar exam pass rates are divided into categories such as Overall Pass Rate, First-Timer Pass Rate, and Repeater Pass Rate to allow for further comparison.

First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rates

As stated above, the overall pass rate includes the pass rates of all test-takers, whether they are first-timers or repeaters. On the other hand, the first-time bar exam pass rate averages the first-timer pass rates for the February and July sessions of each year and tends to be higher than the overall pass rate.

Just like the overall bar exam pass rate, the first-time bar exam pass rate has been on a decline over the past ten years, dropping from 79% in 2009 to 69% in 2018, with another significant drop occurring in 2014 at 74%. The good news is that it looks like those numbers are starting to recover. For example, in 2019, the first-time bar exam pass rate jumped to 73%.

While the ultimate goal is to pass the bar exam, most test-takers want to pass the bar exam the first time. That's why it's essential to pay special attention to the first-time bar exam pass rates, which can give you a more accurate picture of how you can expect to perform based on your state or law school.

Keep in mind that there are many factors behind these bar exam statistics and the most misunderstood assumption is that the lower the pass rate, the more difficult the exam is. Remember that while going to a particular law school or taking the bar exam in a specific state can give you an advantage or disadvantage, your effort is the most significant factor in determining whether you pass or fail the bar exam.

States With Highest Bar Exam Pass Rates

As you can see, when it comes to bar exam pass rates, not all states are equal. Each state has its own bar exam components and minimum passing score. Thus, just because you passed the bar in one state does not guarantee that you'll pass the bar in another.

With that said, according to recent bar exam statistics (all states), the Midwest has several states that have held a steady near-80%passing rate over the last ten years (except for a quick dip in 2016). Below is a list of states with the highest first-time taker bar exam pass rates from the July 2021 bar exam:

North Carolina
New York
District of Columbia

States With Lowest Bar Exam Pass Rates

On the other end of the spectrum, below is a list of states with the lowest first-time taker pass rates from the July 2021 bar exam:

New Hampshire
West Virginia
Puerto Rico

Exceptions to passing Bar Exam

If you want to avoid the bar exam, you can apply to one of the two ABA-accredited law schools in Wisconsin, where you'll have the opportunity to qualify for "Diploma Privilege." Diploma Privilege allows you to practice in Wisconsin without taking the bar exam if you meet their state specific requirements. However, if you attended law school in another state, you must take the Wisconsin bar.

The bar exam is challenging no matter where you went to law school. However, while all American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools teach content that will be on the bar exam, how well they prepare students for the big test varies widely. For instance, Harvard Law has earned its reputation by maintaining a consistent bar pass rate of almost 100%.

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How to Pass the Bar Exam First Time?

That said, here are some tips for studying and preparing so that you are more likely to pass the first time:

1. Use High Quality Study Materials

Study materials matter when preparing for the bar exam, so don't just sit there passively listening to professor lectures and filling in the blanks. Ask questions after classes, and seek out resources available on campus and from reputable sources such as our UWorld MBE QBank, especially resources that are as close to the real thing as possible- such as MBE practice questions released by the NCBE. It’s also important to find a course that has a history of proven success like Themis Bar Review, where pass rates have been published every year.

2. Know How You Learn Best

Some first-time takers stick to the study schedule assigned or suggested by the commercial course or prep materials they use. However, understand that every student is different, and creating a unique study schedule and strategy that works for you is more effective. Moreover, that means taking time to reevaluate and reflect on which topics you are mastering and which ones you are still struggling with, so you can carve out extra time to revisit those. Additionally, by knowing your unique learning style, you can study more efficiently and be more confident that you will retain and apply the knowledge you have gained.

3. Review, Review, Review

Whatever you do, don't cram all of your studying into the last few weeks or days before the bar exam! You might be able to memorize the information temporarily, but retaining knowledge takes time, consistency, and active learning of the material. That means regularly revisiting the material you learned during your three years of law school.

4. Self-Grade and Self-Assess

Remember that it's not just about knowing the material but how to take high-stakes exams. The exam designers try to trick examinees and have their own biases regarding what constitutes a complete or acceptable answer, especially for written responses. That means that it's not good enough to check whether your answers were correct or not; you must assess how you arrived at your answers (hopefully not just guessing or eliminating) and, if it was wrong, where you went wrong. Additionally, you should compare your answers with the models and examples of highly-scored responses and try to emulate them.

5. Practice Self-Care

Most of all, don't neglect your well-being even though you're laser-focused on studying for weeks or months. Remember that in order to reach your highest potential, you must eat well, sleep well, be physically active, and take mental breaks. If you're feeling excessively anxious, depressed, or lonely, seek support from friends, family, or professional help.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Factors that can negatively affect the bar pass rate for any bar exam are which topics are chosen to be covered , whether or not there are state and local-specific questions, the length of the test, the number of components, and the minimum passing score.

The average bar exam pass rate refers to the average pass rate for examinees taking the test for the first time during the February and July sessions for any given year.

Each US jurisdiction determines their passing score that examinees must meet in order to become licensed. That said, UBE states require a passing score between 260 and 280; therefore, if you score a 280 or higher, you have achieved passing score in every Uniform Bar Exam.

Read more about the Bar Exam

While each state (jurisdiction) has the authority to decide which components are on its bar exam, most have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE®) for more score portability between states.

In order to practice law in a specific jurisdiction in the United States, most states require examinees to pass the The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE®), which is a high-stakes multiple-choice section of the bar exam.

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