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State Bar officials were left to wonder Monday whether an increase of six-tenths of a percentage point on the July bar examination was anything to brag about. While the pass rateannounced late Friday inched up from 48.2 percent last year to 48.8 percent this year, it still marked the second lowest number of successful test takers in 19 years. The 1986 class topped out at 44.4 percent. “The rate is fairly similar to last year’s, and other than that, I’m not sure,” Gayle Murphy, the State Bar’s senior executive for admissions, said Monday. “Every exam is [taken by] a unique group of applicants, and the results are the results.” On the bright side, this year’s results ended a pass-rate decline that began after the most recent high of 56.9 percent in 2001. This year’s July exam also set a record for the number of participants, with 8,343 hopefuls taking the test: 4,072 passed. According to the State Bar, 70.8 percent of the applicants were first-timers, and of those 5,909 people, 63.7 percent passed. Only 12.7 percent of the 2,434 repeat applicants were successful. Of the 325 out-of-state lawyers who took the attorney’s exam, only 92 succeeded, for a pass rate of 28.3 percent. That’s down from 38.8 percent for last year’s July exam. The test results also show that students from schools approved by the American Bar Association fared best. Of the first-timers, 70 percent from ABA-approved California law schools passed; 65 percent from ABA-approved out-of-state schools; 26 percent from schools accredited by the State Bar, but not ABA approved; 22 percent from correspondence schools; and 8 percent from unaccredited colleges. Murphy said that consultants will review the exam results to see if any trends or other significant issues stand out. “We give a very fair exam,” she said. “Hopefully, there will be a better result the next time.” Boalt Hall School of Law professor Stephen Barnett said Monday that the results of the July exam raise questions. “I always wonder how truly comparable on a yearly basis these results are,” he said. “How do we know it’s the students’ papers and not the examiner’s standards that may change year by year? “As a teacher and grader myself, I couldn’t guarantee that my standards don’t change, and I’m the same person,” he continued. “They must have examiners that come and go all the time.” He said the State Bar’s exam system might need “some deconstruction.” The three-day exam is given twice a year � in February and July, and consists of a multiple-choice exam, six essay questions and two performance tests. Before taking the attorney’s oath, successful test takers must receive a positive moral character assessment, pass an ethics exam and be in compliance with family or child-support payments. Admissions ceremonies will be held around the state through December.

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