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The pass rate for first-time takers of the July Pennsylvania bar exam decreased this year, after markedly improving in 2017 following 2016′s historic low.

Of the 1,092 first-time applicants this year, 79 percent passed. Last year, 81.2 percent passed, up from 75.4 percent in July 2016, which was the lowest pass rate for any July exam for which the state Board of Law Examiners has made data about bar exam pass rates available.

The pass rate for all test takers in July 2018 also dropped, to 71 percent from nearly 73.6 percent. In July 2016, the overall pass rate was 69.3 percent.

And the downward trend in the total number of applicants who took the July exam continued, hitting another new low this year with 1,293 test takers, down from 1,301 in July 2017.

The drop in Pennsylvania’s pass rates was not totally unexpected.

The average score on the Multistate Bar Exam hit a recent low in February, and the average for the July 2018 test dropped more than two points to the lowest figure since 1984.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners on Sept. 14 announced that the average score on the MBE in July fell 2.2 points to 139.5. That’s just slightly higher than 1984’s MBE average of 139.21. That decline dashed hopes that bar exam pass rates were on the road to recovering after plummeting in recent years. Jurisdictions set their own cut scores and calculate results, but the decline in the average MBE score suggested that pass rates would fall, or at least not improve, this go-around.

“Performance on the written portion of the bar exam tracks MBE performance,” said National Conference of Bar Examiners president Judith Gundersen. “Pass rates will be lower in most jurisdictions. Already some jurisdictions have completed grading and have released their results. There have been some upticks, but generally, lower performance and bar passage is expected.”

The percentage of test takers passing Connecticut’s July bar exam saw a dramatic drop as only 55 percent of all test takers made the cut this year, down from 70 percent a year ago.

Results by School

This year, Widener University Commonwealth Law School had the lowest overall pass rate at a Pennsylvania-area school, with 45.6 percent of its 57 applicants passing the July exam. Last year, 57.8 percent of its 71 applicants passed. The school also had the lowest first-attempt pass rate in 2018, with about 54.8 percent of its 42 first-timers being successful.

Widener Law Commonwealth Dean Christian Johnson said in a statement, “Widener Law Commonwealth is dedicated to the success of its students, both in the classroom and on the bar exam. We are disappointed in the Pennsylvania bar exam outcomes for the test administered this summer and are reviewing the data as we discuss ways to improve performance and prepare students for their careers.”

In 2018, as has been the case since 2016, the highest overall pass rate, as well as the highest first-time applicant pass rate, for Pennsylvania-area law schools belonged to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. This year, 92.7 percent of its 38 first-time applicants passed the July exam. And like last year, the school did not have any applicants who had attempted the exam before. In 2017, the school saw 97.5 percent of its 40 first-time applicants pass the July exam.

Ted Ruger, dean of Penn Law, said in a statement, “At Penn Law we integrate academic and experiential programming with professionalism initiatives that prepare students to successfully enter a competitive job market.”

This year’s data was the first since Penn State split its law school into two separate institutions: Penn State Law in University Park and Dickinson Law in Carlisle.

The two schools placed second and fourth, respectively, for first-time pass rates among Pennsylvania law schools.

Penn State Law had a first-time pass rate of 88.6 percent among 44 applicants and Dickinson Law had a rate of 84.2 percent among 38 applicants.

But while Penn State Law also came in second for its overall pass rate (86.7 percent), Dickinson Law’s overall rate of 76.2 percent meant it placed sixth in that metric.

Instead, the third-best first-time and overall pass rates this year both belonged to Duquesne University School of Law, which had an 86.7 percent success rate among its 98 first-timers and an overall rate of nearly 81 percent among its 105 total test takers.

Coming in fifth among the first-time pass rates after Dickinson Law was the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, with about 83.5 percent of 97 first-time test takers passing. As was the case last year, Pitt was followed closely by Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where 82.7 percent of 150 first-time applicants passed.

The rest of the first-time applicant pass rates at Pennsylvania-area schools were: 81.8 percent at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; 77.7 percent at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law; 68.9 percent at Widener University Delaware Law School; and 64.7 percent at Rutgers Law School.

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