There was a recent story in Bloomberg about the increasing failure rate of bar exams.
In Idaho, bar pass rates dropped 15 percentage points, from 80 percent to 65 percent. In Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, scores dropped 9 percentage points or more. By the time all the states published their numbers, it was clear that the July exam had been a disaster everywhere. Scores on the multiple-choice part of the test registered their largest single-year drop in the four-decade history of the test.
That is a monumental drop in a short window of time. As with all standardized tests, they are not actually standardized. Some years are harder than other years. It’s entirely subjective but usually the large pool of test takers gives you a pretty good idea of whether the test was too hard. Most of the time testing authorities simply grade it on a curve and the pass rates stay the same. What’s interesting is that the NCBE (like AICPA but for lawyers) did not retreat and grade the exams on a curve. They dug in their heels and implied that the caliber of law student has weakened demonstrably in recent years.
For the CPA exam there was a lower pass rate in Q4 of 2014 as we mentioned previously. However, it was a rounding error compared with the bar exam passing rate drops. It appears as though the caliber of CPA exam applicant is more or less the same as it was a decade ago.
The only explanation for the bar exam drops I can think of are that a disproportionate number of students are now graduating from law schools that perhaps should not be accredited. The for profit online education industry has been under fire in recent years for the poor job placement numbers of recent students. The industry does not have a sterling reputation and it’s possible that far too many wannabe lawyers are getting their degrees in this fashion. However, this explanation does not hold water because students are also studying accounting at dubious institutions. CPA pass rates should also be plummeting, but they are not.
Perhaps we’ll just have to wait a little longer as it also appears that SAT scores are plummeting especially the math section.