What State has the Easiest Bar Exam to Pass in the Country?

If we look at bar passage rates alone the answer is South Dakota, which had a 93% pass rate last year. However that may not be the full story.

Professor Robert Anderson of Pepperdine has blogged on this subject: “There is a tremendous difference among the states in the difficulty of their bar exams,” he says. “Some bars are so easy you could accidentally get admitted to them by walking too close to the testing center. Some bars are so difficult that the former Stanford Law School dean could fail them.” (That’s something that apparently actually happened.) [source]

While we can look at the bar passage rates for various states, that alone doesn’t tell us the full story because there are considerable differences in the talent pool lining up to take the bar in each state. Recognizing this, Professor Anderson used data of passage rates where the LSAT score average for that same pool of students was was known, to determine a “Bonus Percent” by which other bar exams are easier than the hardest one, California.

I freely admit that I don’t understand how regression analysis works, but the assumption here is that students who scored better on the LSAT are more likely to pass the bar all things being equal. At any rate, it gives us something nice to look at that probably approximates the relative difficulties of various states’ bar examination. I’ve certainly always been told California’s was the hardest so I guess the numbers back that up.

RankState Bar ExaminationBonusPercentCalculated Average LSATCalculated Passage RateOverall Passage Rate
1California0160.6876.8573.41
2Louisiana0.91154.7972.0768.23
3Washington3.90158.1278.2774.54
4Oregon5.05158.8380.1177.96
5Nevada5.19158.0979.5374.28
6Virginia5.56162.8284.4778.73
7Arkansas5.60154.4576.4377.35
8West Virginia5.72153.2275.3677.56
9Maryland7.02159.8583.0680.08
10Vermont8.44155.0279.8282.24
11New Jersey8.98158.6583.8683.12
12New York9.14162.8988.1386.49
13Rhode Island9.28151.5377.2978.90
14Colorado9.88159.6485.7282.58
15Florida10.02154.4080.8078.44
16South Carolina10.29156.0182.6280.41
17Arizona11.27159.2686.7480.83
18Utah11.39160.9788.5287.56
19Hawaii11.43155.9983.7483.30
20Indiana11.46156.7884.5483.01
21North Carolina11.88156.5684.7478.18
22Texas12.27157.8686.3884.38
23Idaho12.56154.3283.2682.31
24Wyoming12.93153.3282.6772.83
25Kentucky13.57156.5986.4684.61
26Georgia14.36160.3990.9385.99
27Illinois14.86159.6890.7489.97
28Connecticut15.32157.3288.9286.64
29Pennsylvania15.49157.2088.9784.61
30Tennessee15.82158.3190.3884.83
31Ohio16.00155.5487.8886.69
32Maine16.06155.2987.7086.58
33Massachusetts16.07158.3090.6290.16
34Kansas16.40155.4988.2389.22
35New Hampshire16.76153.2986.4786.09
36North Dakota17.18151.0084.6783.23
37Mississippi17.31152.6486.3985.35
38Minnesota18.27157.2791.8291.46
39New Mexico18.51155.5690.4187.26
40Michigan18.67151.5786.7284.98
41Montana18.97154.5489.8990.73
42Iowa19.81156.6992.8190.96
43Missouri20.18157.3093.7691.20
44Oklahoma20.73154.4991.6089.85
45Nebraska20.79155.2792.4188.90
46Alabama21.13157.3394.7587.16
47Wisconsin23.51159.6699.3791.83
48South Dakota28.00150.5195.0293.08

 

I hope commenters can provide some idea about how this chart matches up with local perception of bar exam difficulty. Two things I know are that my classmates considered the Illinois bar relatively easy. Generally we thought it was far and away more easy than the bar most other students took, which was New York. What shocks me here is that New Jersey, which is high on the difficultly list on this chart, is supposed to be incredibly easy from what I’ve heard. This information comes to me from people studying for both NY and NJ at the same time, so it seems possible that this chart isn’t really telling the full story. I am told you need to do nothing much beyond your study for the multistate bar to pass the NJ bar exam.

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This leads me to consider the possibility that there are just a few truly difficult bar exams out there. The rest are considerably easier, but still are failed a lot because of the numerous reasons people have for failing bars. My thinking is that very few people probably study as hard for the NJ bar as they would for the NY bar, but they still fail because they studied less than was necessary despite the lower amount of study required.

In the end, all one can do is theorize about the objective differences between the bars, because it’s not possible to have the same group of people take all of them as if it was their first time taking the bar. Still, the clear take away from looking at the chart is that some bar exams are incredibly easy compared to others.

Just so we all know, by far the easiest bar is Wisconsin’s bar, provided you went to law school in the state. Wisconsin has a “diploma privilege” such that these students don’t even have to take the bar to pass and become full lawyers!

However, after all that analysis it appears that the South Dakota bar is still the easiest one to take if you actually are forced to take one.