The bar exam, perhaps the most gruesome testing experience that western society has yet concocted, is a two-day ordeal that determines who gets to be a lawyer. It’s so miserable, in fact, that you could be excused for changing your whole future life course just to take the test somewhere that it isn’t *that* hard. To guide you on our your way, in this post we will take a quick look at the states with the best bar passage rates.
The caveat is that a whole lot of factors besides test difficulty determine whether or not people are passing in a given state. Some states attract more talented candidates, both to their schools and later on to the practice of law, so the composition of bar takers is not the same everywhere. The California bar exam, for example, is known for being incredibly hard. Yet it has a passage rate similar to Mississippi’s, which really isn’t known for being that fearsome.
The other thing factor is that people study to the expected difficulty of the test. The bar exam is a pass/fail test, so no sane person was looking to do anything more than give themselves a comfortable margin of error. Thus, people are generally studying harder for the aforementioned California exam than, say, North Dakota’s.
That said, bar passage rate is the best measure we have, so let’s take a look. Here is where the greatest and lowest percentage of potential lawyers attained entry into the profession. The data below represents a summary for the 2017 calendar year.
Bar Exam Pass Rate By State
|State||Bar Exam Pass Rate||Took||Passed|
|District of Columbia||64.20%||1606||1031|
Unsurprisingly, California has the lowest passage rate (44.42%) by a wide margin. Take even a great in-state school like UCLA and only 86% percent of students are passing on their first try. That gives you an idea of how hard the CA bar is.
Although no one is close to CA, 15 states had passage rates below 60%. That starts to give you an idea why the bar exam is so feared.
As a good benchmark in the middle, the New York bar exam comes in with a pass rate of 61%. This is known to be a difficult test, likely significantly harder than many that had a lower pass rate. Although the very top programs like Columbia and NYU had 98% pass rates, even strong schools like Fordham hover around 90% pass rates.
Bringing us the rear of the list are states where the passing the bar probably won’t give a diligent student too much trouble. Ten states had bar passage rates above 70% (Nebraska, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Utah, Montana, New Mexico, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma).
For those interested in first-time takers only, here is a state-by-state breakdown of first-time bar examinees’ performance.
First Time Takers – Bar Exam Pass Rate By State
|State||first time pass %||first time takers||first time pass|
|District of Columbia||70.08%||1357||951|