How to Interpret Your Bar Exam Score Report
Here, we tell you how to interpret your bar exam score report and how to avoid some of the common mistakes that students make when they attempt to interpret their bar exam score reports! If you passed the bar exam, you may be curious about how well you did. If you failed the bar exam, figuring out what your score means is the first step to making sure you pass the next exam!
A bar exam score report will typically have a few things you will want to pay attention to: your overall score, your MBE scaled score, and your written score. States give a varying level of detail. Some states (like Illinois) won’t tell you your score at all if you pass. Others will only tell you your overall MBE and essay score. Some (like New York and Washington) break down exactly how you did on each essay, each MPT, and each subject on the MBE! We will try to give you a general idea of how to figure out what your score report means, assuming your state provides you with some detail!
Note: if you are in New York, please check out this post on how to dissect your New York Bar Exam score report.
Your overall score
The first thing you will probably look at is your overall score, as this will tell you if you passed or failed the bar exam. (Your bar exam score report should indicate this pretty clearly.)
Uniform Bar Exam states require a score between 260 and 280 to pass the Uniform Bar Exam. So, if your score was above 280, you technically received a score that is considered passing in every Uniform Bar Exam state. Congratulations if that is the case.
One thing you may wonder about when examining your overall score is what percentile you scored in (that is, how did you score in relation to other test takers?). If you read this post on UBE percentiles, you can figure out your approximate percentile. A few numbers to guide you if you are in a Uniform Bar Exam jurisdiction (note: these numbers change every administration, but not significantly; we have updated the below numbers to reflect the February 2019 bar exam. You can also see these in the chart below.)
- A 330 is the top percentile (99th percentile for the February 2019 Uniform Bar Exam)
- A 300 is approximately the 90th percentile
- A 280 is approximately the 72nd percentile
- A 270 is approximately the 58th percentile
- A 260 is approximately the 44th percentile
- A 250 is approximately the 26th percentile
- A 240 is approximately the 16th percentile
- A 230 is approximately the 8th percentile
- A 220 is approximately 4th percentile
- A 210 is approximately the 2nd percentile
Your “percentile” tells you the number of people you scored higher than. So, if you are in the 40th percentile, you scored higher than 60% of examinees (and lower than about 59% of examinees). If you failed the bar exam, your percentile can tell you how much work you need to do to pass! For example, if you are in the 2nd percentile, you have a lot more work to do compared to someone who is in the 44th percentile.
If you are not in a Uniform Bar Exam jurisdiction, see if you state bar releases any information about percentiles. Many states do not. If that is the case, look at your MBE scaled score because you can figure out your percentile on your own for at least the MBE portion!
Your MBE scaled score
You will not get your MBE “raw” score (i.e., the exact amount of questions you answered correctly). Rather, you will get a scaled or “converted” score. The scaled score is converted from the raw score but the National Conference of Bar Examiners does not reveal the formula it uses to do this. So you will not know the exact percentage of questions you answered correctly.
It is very important to dissect your MBE scaled score to see how well you did. For example, review this chart below from the February 2019 bar exam. (This was promulgated by Illinois.) On the very left side, find the column titled “Scale Score” then see “MBE Percentile” right next to it. Compare your scaled score to your MBE percentile. This will tell you about how you did even if you did not take the Illinois bar exam.
If you scored a 105 on the MBE, you are in the bottom 2 percentile, meaning you have a lot of work to do. If you scored a 140, however, you are in the 73rd percentile! So, that is quite good. (Note: percentiles change from administration to administration, but this can be used as a decent guide as to where you stand.)
The MBE is curved, so just because you scored “close” to passing doesn’t mean you are as close as you think. For example, a 125 is the 32nd percentile, and a 135 is in the 57th percentile. That is only a 10-point difference in score, but is a 25-point difference in percentile! So, if you are in the 120’s on the MBE, you may still have a lot of work to do to move your score up.
In most states, you want to aim for a score between 130 and 140 to “pass” the MBE. If you are not sure what score you should aim for, and you are in a Uniform Bar Exam state, just take the overall score needed and divide it by two. So, for example, in New York, you need a 266 to pass the bar exam. If you divide 266 by two, that is 133. So you should aim for at least a 133 on the MBE. (You also can check out this post on passing MBE scores by state if you don’t want to do the math!)
Note: Some jurisdictions also tell you how you scored in each MBE subject. This is worth paying attention to as it can reveal where your weaknesses are! If your jurisdiction tells you that you scored in the 70th percentile in Evidence and in only the 5th percentile in Torts, that is a sign you likely need to work on Torts!
Your written score
In a Uniform Bar Exam score report, you may also see six scores for your Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) answers, and then two scores for your Multistate Performance Test (MPT) answers (not all states release this information, but most do). The vast majority of states grade on a 1–6 scale. (Some states grade on a 1–10 scale, and other states, like New York, do their own thing, which you can read about here.) Your score report may look something like this:
- MEE #1: 4
- MEE #2: 4
- MEE #3: 5
- MEE #4: 2
- MEE #5: 1
- MEE #6: 3
- MPT #1: 3
- MPT #2: 4
So, the first six scores generally are your MEE scores. And, the last two scores are your MPT scores. Remember that these are not weighted equally! The six MEE essays are worth 60% of your written score. The two MPTs are worth 40% of your written score! So, the MPTs are worth more.
In most states that grade on a 1–6 scale, a 4 is considered a passing score. Here is the exact number a passing score for each essay:
- A 3.9 is considered passing in Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions that require a 260 to pass.
- A 4.0 is considered passing in Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions that require a 266 to pass.
- A 4.1 is considered passing in Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions that require a 273 to pass.
- A 4.2 is considered passing in Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions that require a score of 280 to pass.
Most students make the mistake of just assuming they passed the MPT and MEE portion of the exam when in reality, they have work to do! Make sure to carefully examine your score report to see if you actually passed either of these portions of the exam!
If you are not in a Uniform Bar Exam state, please consult with your jurisdiction to see what their grading scale is and what a passing score is.
If you did not pass the bar exam, we recommend you read this detailed post on what to do if you failed the bar exam. The last thing you want to do is make the same mistakes and fail it again! We tell you how to avoid that and how to study better!
If you have questions about how to interpret your bar exam score report, feel free to post in the comments below or contact us.
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