In an earlier blog post I began a discussion titled “Bar Exam Truths.” Today we’re looking at

pass rates

In an earlier blog post I began a discussion titled “Bar Exam Truths.” Today we’re looking at one of the most difficult truths to pin down: Pass Rates.  Here are 5 Truths about Bar Exam Pass Rates that you should know:

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Truth #1:

The only pass rate that really matters is your pass rate. There’s either a 0% pass rate or a 100% pass rate. I think, often what people do, is that they start looking at all these varieties of passes and pass rates, and they lose sight of the fact that your situation and your circumstances are unique. Therefore, the only pass rate that really will matter is your pass rate. When you lose sight of that, when you start saying, “Well, I’ll just follow the herd, I’ll do what everybody’s doing,” you’re going to discover a couple of things. One, pass rates are highly deceptive and they’re used in really, extraordinarily misleading ways. But even if they were being used accurately and given accurately, it doesn’t really make much of a difference, because what might work for somebody else, may not work for you.

People use pass rates to make a decision about how to study or what course to take or what platform to use or where to go, which state exam to take? I’m not sure that that’s really a good decision making process. What you really want to do is look at your own strengths and weaknesses, your own history, first time taker or repeat bar taker or distant bar taker (that’s someone that’s either a long way away from their past exam or maybe took an exam in a foreign country). You want to look at those factors before you look at pass rates. It should be way down on your list of things. Because frankly, it doesn’t matter if someone says they have 90% pass rate versus 10% pass rate. If you pass, you pass, 100%. If you fail, you fail, 100%. You really want to be locked in that your pass rate is the one that matters and everything else is really peripheral information.

Truth #2

There is no single pass rate. I continue to be surprised at how often people talk about pass rates as though there is one, uniform pass rate in a jurisdiction, or even in a particular exam. Let me give you an example. When you look at the statistics that the National Conference of Bar Examiners produce, and they produce these yearly on bar pass rates, they break the rates down by a number of different criteria. For example, the people that went to ABA accredited law schools who are first time takers. People that went to non ABA accredited law schools, foreign trained attorneys. People who are repeat bar takers. People who are repeat bar takers and licensed attorneys in other states. It is a nearly endless collection of numbers. The problem, of course, is that when you start parsing the rate down by all of these categories and subcategories, you get down to such small numbers, particularly when you’re talking about individual states that it’s very difficult to come up with a meaningful pass rate.

For example, if someone were to say, “Well, what’s the pass rate in the New Mexico exam for ABA approved law school students who are repeat bar takers?” Really? We’re probably talking about 5 people. It’s very difficult to come up with a single pass rate in that situation. Even with that, there’s no single pass rate. Or for example in California, you have a first time pass rate, you have an overall all takers pass rate and then you have an incredible collection of differentiated passing rates based on where you went to school, (if you’re a first time taker, repeat taker, multiple time taker, foreign trained attorney and so on). When you hear about pass rates, it’s very difficult to know which pass rate really matters. If you’re a repeat bar taker that went to a non-accredited instate law school, should you be looking at the first time bar taker pass rate for that state? I’m not sure that pass rate really applies to you. (See Truth #1,  the only pass rate that mattered was yours.) Since this number doesn’t describe your circumstance, I’m not sure it tells you anything.

The implication of this lack of a single pass rate is that the only way you can use it, this one single number, is if you’re comparing one state to another. If you want to know what the pass rate is in Florida versus the pass rate in Texas or California, it gives you some comparison that way. Again, it’s not even entirely accurate from that standpoint because it depends on what your group is in those two jurisdictions or three or whatever it might be.

In addition, if you’re comparing a large jurisdiction, like California with a small jurisdiction, or more likely if you’re taking the UBE in New York in July and comparing that to the UBE in South Dakota, it’s very hard to compare a jurisdiction with just a few bar takers with a jurisdiction with a huge number. Added to that, you’ve got some states like California, Texas,  and New York that allow foreign trained attorneys to come in and then have historically, a much lower pass rate. This group of applicants bring the pass rate down in those jurisdictions. In other words, there’s so many different way to parse the numbers that when people talk about a single pass rate, they’re really simplifying to the point of really making that number almost useless in most situations.

Truth #3

The “bigbox” bar review companies would like you to forget all about pass rates. They would like you to never mention the word. If you look at their materials very carefully, you’ll notice that they never talk about pass rates. There’s a reason for that. They represent, because they combine for probably well over 90% of the market in almost every jurisdiction. As a result, whatever the state pass rates are, that is also the pass rate for the big companies. There’s no way they can live with that, because it’s not a particularly good number in most cases. In fact, when it’s broken down to these smaller groups, like repeat bar takers, the numbers are horrible. The big companies don’t want you to think about pass rates at all. For many years they were perfectly happy to let the discussion of pass rates go on and to just sort of implicitly allow it to occur without having to say much about it because most people were passing and that was good.

Now, as we see more and more people not passing the bar, there’s more tension, more focus on what these big companies are doing and it’s not very good. This is particularly true for repeat bar takers. There’s a huge drop off in results between first time bar takers and repeat bar takers in every jurisdiction. When the big companies are dealing with repeat bar takers, they’re almost off the table in terms of their lack of success. The last thing they want a potential applicant to do, is to look at pass rates for their company. If you’ve gone to the table at your law school and said, “Hey bigbox bar review number one, what’s your pass rate here?” they’re going to give you the bovine stare. They have no idea what the pass rate is and if they know, they don’t want to discuss it. They’d much rather tell you that everyone takes their course or that they gave a lot of money to your law school or wouldn’t you like some free swag? Or, “Hey, look at this, we’ve got this really impressive professor who will make a 3-hour cameo appearance,” and they don’t really look at the results. They’re simply not results based in their marketing.

Truth #4

It’s necessary to compare similar categories to your circumstances in order to determine your potential pass rate. In other words, I think what you want to do is to look at where you stand. Where did you go to law school? Was it in state or out of state? Are you a first time taker or a repeat taker? Are you a foreign trained attorney? Are you someone who hasn’t taken a bar exam in many years? You should look for those kinds of categories. If you’re in a state like California that offers state accredited and unaccredited correspondence schools, you should look at the pass rates for correspondence schools and unaccredited schools. Then, you should look for repeat takers versus first time takers. What you’re going to discover, of course, particularly if you’re in California, is that you get down to these groups where they are 25 people in your group taking the last bar exam and one or two passed.

Now, it’s very difficult to do that. I know that what a lot of people do is instead is to say, “Well, I’m going to look at my law school and see how my law school did on the pass rate.” I guess I could say that along with truth number three about the big bar reviewers who would like you to forget pass rates, most of the law schools would like you to forget about pass rates as well, because it’s hard for them to group all of their students. Do they put the students that took the bar exam first time right out of school together with people that didn’t take the exam for 4 or 5 years and then took it? Or people that took the bar exam 20 years after they graduated? Or people that failed and then came back or changed jurisdictions? How do you begin to parse all of that information?

For you, as a consumer, one of the things that you need to do is to look very carefully at the similar categories for your pass rate to get a baseline before you have any conversation with a bar review or a provider or a tutor or anyone else. Because frankly, unless you’re looking at those numbers, you just can’t make a reasonable comparison. Anyway, where do you get that information? Some bar exam jurisdictions will publish their numbers, some will not. Frankly, that makes it more challenging. The NCBE does offer some broad categories and then individual states will provide some information. Some states like California, provide a lot, Florida provides less. Some states provide virtually nothing. You’ve got to dig into the site, find out and you can only go so far. Some jurisdictions simply won’t tell you what a repeat bar taker from an out of state law school did. Then you’re stuck, there’s no way to come up with a pass rate.

Truth #5

Select a bar review course or a tutor or a mentor, based on how they can help you, given your current situation and not on pass rates. As I said at the beginning, the only pass rate that matters is yours and not everyone is the same. If you’re having trouble with writing, you should focus on a course that can assist you with your writing. If you’re having trouble with the multistate, you should focus on a course that can assist you on the MBE. If you’re having difficulty with test anxiety, I think you’re going to want a course where you get a lot of personal attention. If you’re someone who is at the top of your law school class, you’re a  3L on law review, you’re a gunner all the way through law school and you’re proud of it, then you’re probably going to go take the bigbox bar review, because you’ll get it for free since the big bar reviews need your inevitable passing scores. That’s how that game works.

But the reality is, for most regular people, you have to select a course, based on how it can help you. Don’t select a course based on pass rates. It’s not a particularly good measure of anything. Because the pass rates may not be applicable to your situation or to your particular needs. I find that sometimes people try to use this pass rate comparison as a shortcut to making a good informed decision. Celebration Bar Review isn’t right for every student, admittedly. I routinely turn potential students away, because I don’t think we’re a good match. I don’t know if that’s true across the board in other courses, but I know that our particular comparison, or criteria is that we want to make sure that we can help you. Because if we can’t help you pass, there’s really no purpose in having you in the course. I think any ethically designed course would take it the same way.


Our Take on Pass Rates at Celebration Bar Review Because of these five truths, we don’t publish pass rates. There is no single number that we could give you that would identify anything of meaning. Now, we can tell you that over a one period of time over 10 years, 15 years, or the 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve got thousands of students who successfully passed the bar in every jurisdiction that we teach. One of the reasons we made the decision to not publish pass rates is that we looked at all of the factors that can affect even the publication of any pass rate. For example, should you include someone that buys a course but then doesn’t do the work? In other words, they buy the box and it sits unopened on their living room floor. It doesn’t feel like that would affect your pass rate or should affect a pass rate. So, do you not include them? If you’re going to go down that road then do you include the people that only did 25% of your course? Or 50% of your course? Or 75% of your course? How about the people that decided that they bought the course and then they were going to add on some other courses from other people or maybe they were just going to do the state materials from you and multi state from somewhere else and back and forth. I think you can see very quickly, it’s very difficult to know who should be included and who should be excluded. Do we include the people that were foreign trained attorneys and couldn’t speak English when they sat down for the bar? I don’t know. Is that fair to look at an overall pass rate like that? Again, I don’t think you can make that comparison, unless you’re a foreign trained attorney who doesn’t speak English, in which case you should be looking at the pass rates for that group. Here’s a spoiler alert, they’re not very high. Seems to me, that when you start looking at all those different factors, any company that tells you that they’ve got a pass rate is probably fudging and not telling the truth. Or they’re manipulating those numbers to include only certain situations and certain people and certain circumstances. I’m not sure that that makes the number very useful for anyone. So to put together a pass rate in February 2015 in the UBE jurisdiction of New Mexico by announcing our pass rate was X% is really pointless.

What we do instead is that we invite you to talk to me and talk about your situation. You can schedule a private conference by clicking here. Instead, what we’ve done, because we don’t publish pass rates and because we think there are so many factors that can affect it, is that we’ve put testimonials that past students have given us voluntarily. We don’t force them to do it, but they give us their testimonials and we put their name and their testimonial and their picture on our website. It’s by no means an exhaustive list. It would take far too much space than that we put on our website. But we think those testimonials are useful for people to look at and say, that’s kind of like my situation and that makes sense to me.

We also offer our private Facebook group: The Extra Mile for Bar Exam Takers. Within that group, we’ve got prior successful students who come online and offer their suggestions and their insight and their advice. Obviously, if you’re a regular follower of this group, you know that I do interviews with former students on a regular basis to let them share their stories and let you look at what they’ve done and say, yes, that feels like my situation and I can relate to that and that worked or didn’t work for that person.

What You Should Not Do

Here’s what I don’t think you should do. I don’t think you should put much value in the anonymous trolls that hover around the internet these days. You could certainly find people that are unhappy with us, with me personally, with every bar review that’s out there. But one of the things I’ve noticed about the people that particularly troll our course is that they’re all anonymous. I have no idea who they are or what they’re doing. The few times I’ve been able to dig in and find a little bit deeper, I found that some of those anonymous trolls actually ended up working for other bar review companies. Go figure, isn’t that amazing? But I also think, if somebody is not going to be honest about who they are and what they’re doing and what their results were (in other words, if they don’t tell you that they then went out and passed the bar) and you can find them and here they are and they’re an attorney. I’m not sure that their guidance or their advice is terribly useful. While I think it’s wonderful that the internet gives people the ability to search for anything. I’m just not sure that it’s terribly helpful when it comes to evaluating a course. Because each course and each process is different for an individual we invite you to talk  with me personally to see if we’re the right fit for you.

Another way to tell if we’re a good fit is to attend our Free MasterClass: How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam. Just click on the button below to reserve your FREE SEAT. Claim My FREE Webinar Seat

I think if you look at our information, if you look at the testimonials we’ve received, if you go to our Facebook group, you’re going to get a lot of input about what our course is like. I would put more weight in that, I think, that in some troll that’s out there from 10 years ago who says, “I don’t like that course, she was mean.” Really? What does that mean? Did you pass? Were you likely to pass? Did you fail 10 times before you took the exam? Did you go through the course? What happened? There’s no way to know. I think that that’s part of the reason that that entire line of inquiry just doesn’t go very far.

Really, when we think about the truth about the bar exam in this respect, I think pass rates are something that really don’t tell us much. They don’t give us much insight. They don’t help you as a consumer or as a bar taker. I really encourage you to ignore that and to dig in to what works for you.


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