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The 1,564 people who took and passed the February bar exam have one more thing to celebrate: a slightly higher percentage of successful test takers than last year. According to the State Bar of California, 37.3 percent of the 4,191 applicants who took the bar exam passed. That’s the same percentage that passed the winter test in February 2001, and compares with the 33.4 percent who passed the February exam in 2002. A State Bar official was vague about whether any kind of conclusion can be made. “Every group who takes the exam is different from every other group,” said Jerome Braun, the Bar’s senior executive for bar admissions. “As a result, we expect to see a variation.” This time around, 1,280 people were taking the test for the first time. Of those, 50.2 percent passed. First-time test takers who attended American Bar Association-approved California law schools had a 57 percent pass rate. Of those who came from out-of-state ABA-approved law schools, nearly 49 percent passed. Of those first-timers who went to schools accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners but not approved by the ABA, about 22 percent passed. First-timers who studied at an unaccredited school had about a 17 percent pass rate. The 2,911 repeat test takers did not do as well as the first-timers. Overall, 31.7 percent of them passed. Repeat test takers who attended American Bar Association-approved California law schools had a 41 percent pass rate. Of those who came from out-of-state ABA-approved law schools, about 39 percent passed. Of those repeat test takers who went to schools accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners but not approved by the ABA, about 16 percent passed. Those who studied at an unaccredited school had about a 6 percent pass rate. According to Elizabeth Belser, an academic attorney with BAR/BRI who directs the company’s private tutoring program, she usually tells wannabe lawyers that they need to get 65 percent to 70 percent of the answers right on both the multiple choice and the separate, written part of the exam to pass the bar exam. Some people who got less than 65 percent of the questions right overall still passed the exam, according to numbers Belser compiled for July 2002 and the February exam. “That suggests to us at BAR/BRI that the applicant pool probably didn’t do very well,” said Belser. She speculated that this year’s test takers attended law school during the dot-com boom, a time when law school enrollment went down and it became easier to get in. That would partly explain why performance on the exam dipped, she said. Now that the boom is over, and law school admission is more competitive, scores may rise again, she said. Braun said he doesn’t know how Belser’s numbers were compiled, so he couldn’t comment on them, but he stressed that raw scores would fluctuate depending on the difficulty of the exam. That’s why the Bar uses a scaling system that adjusts for that, he said. The three-day bar exam is administered in July and February. Traditionally the pass rate for applicants who take the test in the winter is much lower than those who take it in the summer. Just over half �� 50.5 percent �� of those who took the exam in July passed. At the time, that was the lowest pass rate in 15 years. Attorney hopefuls who pass the exam must clear other hurdles, including moral character and professional responsibility requirements. Braun noted that, in general, California’s bar exam pass rate was lower than that of other states because California allows a broader spectrum of applicants to take the exam. For example, in some states only those who attend approved schools can take the exam. According to online law school Concord Law School, six of 10 graduates of its inaugural class passed the February exam. “We don’t like to have people fail the exam; we like to protect the public,” Braun said.

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