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D.C. Bar Results Continue To Feed False ‘Everything Is Normal’ Narrative

Positive results are great, but they can’t overshadow what we just witnessed.

As bar results trickle in from the screwiest bar exam season ever, the results have been relatively decent.

Idaho posted some horrid results and Kentucky threw the results in a blender, but generally jurisdictions are reporting results in line with prior years.

The District of Columbia announced its results and they’re also relatively normal. In fact, D.C. seems to have a 76.3 percent passage rate this time around as opposed to 69 percent in 2019 (UPDATE: D.C. hasn’t posted its official numbers yet, but Bloomberg is reporting that this is what those will ultimately reveal). D.C. has multiple paths to licensure including a form of diploma privilege so we generally applaud D.C. bar examiners for embracing the spirit of experimentation that the pandemic demands.

Bar examiners and their auxiliaries around the country are certainly pleased to see results like those in the District feed into the normalcy narrative. After technical screw-ups, relying on discriminatory tools, and plainly cruel test-taking procedures, the bar examiners must be ecstatic to report that everyone did just fine and there’s no reason to question any of their methods throughout this madness. Hey, if anything, people did better!

Don’t buy into this spin.

First of all, the fact that the results of these messed up exams generally track past results (assuming a large enough population of examinees) is not the surprise outcome that some vested interests are trying to paint in the press. Bar exams aren’t minimum competency tests — despite popular misconception — they are always scaled and in this year, where the online bar exam results are scaled at the jurisdictional level without insight from the NCBE’s nationwide reach, we have a bunch of black boxes turning raw scores into passing and failing marks. This isn’t a conspiracy theory about Dominion exam tabulators, it’s how bar exams are always scored. When you do that, the results are always going to come down within a few percentage points up or down from the state’s usual outcome.

Hypothetically if everyone bombed these questions in epic fashion there’s no amount of scaling that could cover that up. It’s statistically unlikely, but the testing procedure was far from normal so that possibility shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Thus, to some extent, it’s great that the COVID bar exam didn’t generally result in the mass exclusion of applicants who would otherwise be successful. However, that’s the absolute bare minimum we should expect from a licensing exam! And people were excluded simply by getting locked out of the test itself — the people who couldn’t log in, the people who got their period unable to step away from the monitoring software without forfeiting, and the folks with needs that the online exam couldn’t accommodate — are all victims of a broken exam no matter how closely the test hews to normal passage rates. Even among those who completed the exam and potentially passed, there’s never a valid justification for all the Black and Brown people who had to take the test knowing they’d already been flagged as possible cheaters because facial recognition software didn’t pick them up or the people who urinated on themselves rather than risk breaking eye contact with the almighty webcam.

The point is, we can offer our congratulations to everyone who passed these online bar exams and still call out the whole process as badly in need of reform. The New York legislature held a hearing on the bar examination misadventure and serious licensure reform yesterday. Hopefully more states will follow suit. This isn’t about results, it’s about getting the process right. For the public and the profession.

For over eighty years, PLI has provided training and resources for lawyers at all stages of their careers. Get an inside look at the organization that practically invented CLE.

For over eighty years, PLI has provided training and resources for lawyers at all stages of their careers. Get an inside look at the organization that practically invented CLE.

Positive results are great, but they can't overshadow what we just witnessed.

District of Columbia Bar Exam Information

Learn about the District of Columbia Bar Exam format, subjects tested, dates, and requirements.

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Based on past exams

MBE Exam Simulator

District of Columbia Bar Exam Dates, Cost & Location

Exam Type: 2-day Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)
Dates: Oct. 5–6, 2020
Location: Washington, D.C.
Filing fee: $110
Plus MBE fee: $64
Plus MEE and MPT Fee: $50
Plus NCBE Character Report: $355, $500 or $875

The District of Columbia Bar Exam is a 2-day Uniform Bar Exam. Day 1 consists of two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions in the morning and 6 Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) questions in the afternoon (30 min each). Day 2 is the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a 200-question, multiple-choice exam.

What subjects are tested on the District of Columbia Bar Exam?

Agency, Commercial Paper, Conflict of Laws, Corporations, Family Law, Federal Civil Procedure, Partnerships, Sales, Secured Transactions, Trusts & Future Interests, Wills, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts.

What’s the minimum score for MPRE?

A scaled score of 75 on the MPRE is required for admission.

Need to sign up for MPRE? Learn about registration, testing policies, and more on our MPRE Registration Guide.

How is District of Columbia Bar Exam scored?

The MBE is weighted 50% and the MEE is weighted 30%, and the MPT are weighted 20%. Examinees must score a minimum scaled score of 133 on both the MBE and the written (essay) portion. Thus, the minimum scaled score required for passing is 266.

When are District of Columbia Bar Exam results released?

The Committee releases results in mid-May for the February exam, and in mid-November for the July exam.

Can I transfer my MBE scores from another jurisdiction?

An applicant may be admitted without exam if applicant received a scaled MBE score of 133 or higher on an exam upon which applicant was admitted in another jurisdiction, achieved a scaled score of 75 or better on the MPRE, and graduated from an ABA accredited law school. An applicant who received a scaled MBE score of 133 or higher on a prior MBE taken within 25 months of the present exam, may waive in the MBE score and take only the essay exam. An essay score of 133 will then be required to pass the DC exam. An applicant who received a scaled essay score of 133 or higher on a prior DC Bar Exam taken within 25 months of the present exam, may waive in the essay score and take only the MBE. A scaled MBE score of 133 will then be required to pass the DC exam.

What about DC Bar Exam reciprocity?

An applicant who has been a member of another bar and in good standing for 5 years immediately preceding application may be admitted without exam.

What are District of Columbia Bar Exam application deadlines and fees?

Please visit the District of Columbia Committee on Admissions website for details on application deadlines and fees, as well as for more information on other topics.

The DC Bar Exam is a 2-day Uniform Bar Exam. Day 1 consists of two 90-min MPT questions + 6 MEE questions. Day 2 is the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).