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Three years ago, the University of Georgia law school could brag that its first-year students had the highest entering grade point average and LSAT scores among state law schools. Now, UGA can brag that its entering 1999 class has the highest pass rate on the Georgia bar exam. The numbers seem to confirm what a study shows is the main predictor of bar exam success: a student’s academic proficiency. Predicting success on the exam is tricky, James M. Vaseleck, executive assistant to the president and associate counsel for the Law School Admission Council, based in Pennsylvania. For an individual student, it may come down to getting enough rest the night before the exam, getting the right coffee the morning of, or dealing with stress. But for most students, those who do well in school do well on the exam. “Law school grades tend to be the best predictor,” said Vaseleck. COMPARING WITH 2001 Law graduates who took the State Bar of Georgia exam in July received their test results Monday, and for most, it was cause for celebration. Of the 1,204 graduates who took the bar exam, 934, or 77.6 percent, passed. Of the 1,039 first-time test-takers, 878, or 84.5 percent, passed. Only 56 of 165 repeat test-takers passed the exam, for a pass rate of 33.9 percent. Those numbers have decreased from the 2001 exams, when 80.5 percent of all test-takers passed the exam, and 88.4 percent of first-time test-takers passed. Students from Georgia law schools outperformed students from out-of-state schools who took the exam. Graduates of out-of-state schools had a pass rate of 80.9 percent. The decreased pass rate reflects slightly lower numbers on the Multistate Bar Exam, which decreased from an average 148.7 in 2001 to a mean score of 143 in 2002. The national mean for the MBE is 141. Of the state’s four ABA-accredited law schools, only the University of Georgia improved its pass rate, from 90.7 percent in 2001, to 92.8 percent in 2002. Georgia State University’s rate fell from 93.3 percent last year to 90.0 percent in 2002. Emory had the biggest decline, from 94.3 percent to 86.5 percent for all test-takers. Mercer University’s pass rate also fell, from 89.1 percent to 81.8 percent in 2002. The pass rate at schools without American Bar Association accreditation was much lower. Of 73 students from John Marshall Law School who took the exam in July, 15 passed — a rate of 20.5 percent. One of the four Woodrow Wilson College of Law alumni who sat for the exam passed. None of the four Atlanta Law School graduates who sat for the bar in July passed. STILL HOPE Those who failed can take solace in a study the LSAC released in 1998: 94.8 percent of those who took the test in 1991 eventually passed it. The findings come from a study the LSAC released in 1998 after researchers tracked more than 27,000 law students over five years. The study found no difference in pass rates between men and women, and only minor differences among people of different ages, races and socioeconomic background. Some of the traditional predictors of academic difficulty such as the need to work to pay for undergraduate school didn’t seem to hold true for law students. Minorities had an eventual pass rate of 84.7 percent. “When a series of background variables typically identified as potential contributors to low academic achievement were examined, they showed no relationship to bar passage or failure,” the study found. The biggest differences were from state to state. Bar pass rates vary widely: In California, 57 percent passed the July 2001 bar exam, and in Utah, 94 percent of the test takers passed. Vaseleck said the short answer to why any student should fail a bar exam after years of schooling is that it’s a grueling, comprehensive ordeal. “The bar exam itself covers the full spectrum of the law and not everyone will have covered all of the bases during their time in law school,” he said. “Even if they have, it’s an awful lot to keep in your head.” In Georgia, as in most jurisdictions, the state supreme court sets the passing score for the exam, and determines what the standards should be for admission to the Bar. For Georgia, students must score 270 out of a possible 400 points to pass — 67.5 percent. While Georgia’s pass rate may be higher or lower than other states, it doesn’t fluctuate more than a few points year to year, noted Hulett H. “Bucky” Askew III, director of the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions. That’s an indication of its fairness and reflects the consistency the bar examiners seek in administering the test. Wild fluctuations in pass rates would be cause for concern, he said, and would prompt an examination of the test and of student preparation. But there’s no policy mandating that someone has to fail the bar exam every year, Askew said. Theoretically, he said, everyone taking the test one year could pass it. “The bar examiners would be happy if everybody passed,” he said. “We would celebrate, and we would wonder what was going on, but we wouldn’t be upset by it — and it wouldn’t be contrary to any policy regarding the exam.”

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