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California Bar Examination - Cal Bar Loses Authority to Determine Cut Score!

Hello everyone!

Good luck to the July 2017 Cal Bar Applicants!  

Big bombshell today.  As reported on


According to the Daily Journal (sub. req.), in an unprecedented move, the California Supreme Court has decided to strip the Committee of Bar Examiners of its authority to decide the minimum score needed to pass the exam:

The state Supreme Court amended its rules to specify only the court has authority to set the passing score on the exam.

The changes to the “California Rules of Court,” which become effective 2018, also empower the court to appoint a majority of members to the Committee of Bar Examiners.

There has not previously been a rule mandating the court set the passing score, said Cathal Conneely, a spokesman for the Supreme Court. The court has the authority to do so, and “the new rules just spell it out and make it absolutely clear,” Conneely said Friday.

The court’s action comes as the State Bar and bar examiners study whether to recommend a lower passing score on the attorney licensing test because of falling success rates.

As noted on the Fleming’s Fundamentals of Law website, the court’s goal was to create scoring practices in California that were not only fair, but uniform with the rest of the country. Mark Stone, chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said, “We also believe [the new rules] are consistent with case law regarding the level of oversight that’s required of the Supreme Court in order to protect the state from antitrust liability. While the Committee of Bar Examiners can recommend the content and the passing score, the Supreme Court has the ultimate authority over those decisions.”

One wonders when the California Supreme Court will set a new passing score for the state’s exam. While we’ll likely have to wait until after scores and passing rates from this summer’s new two-day exam are released for any movement on this front, there is a new hope for law students in California who are fearful that they’ll be unable to pass the state’s bar exam due to its high cut score.

UPDATE (3:45 p.m.): According to Joanna Mendoza, elected trustee of the State Bar of California, via Twitter: “The study on the CA bar exam cut score should be finalized next month and sent to the CA Supreme Court by Sept. It has already been publicly stated that a new cut score could be retroactively applied to July exam by Sup. Ct.” This summer’s test-takers may luck out after all.

Note the "update" above:  The final studies on the Cal Bar Exam cut score should be finished in August and will be sent to the CA Supreme Court by September.  Now, will the CA Supreme Court retroactively apply a lower cut score to the July Bar, say in October, so that a lower score will apply to the July exam?

Who knows.  I wouldn't expect it.  DEFINITELY wouldn't expect it if the Cal Bar was making this decision.  But I don't recall the CA Supreme Court ever rendering opinions about the Bar Exam.  Are they stricter than the Cal Bar?  Or far more lenient?  Who knows?

My thought is this:  the CA Supreme Court wouldn't strip power away from the Cal Bar unless change was afoot.  I could easily see them punting and saying the lower score applies in February 2018.  Or not.

Regardless, my advice to all applicants for July 2017 is this:  assume the cut score of 1440 will remain.  Set a goal to score 1525 so that if you fall a bit short you'll still pass without a problem.  And if the Supreme Court provides good news in October (one month before results come out in November), so much the better.  But as my old accounting professor used to say, "Nothing exists until it does."

Good luck!







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