LOS ANGELES – The California Supreme Court Monday issued an order to permanently lower the passing score for the state’s bar exam by 50 points and administer the test online in October as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The order confirms plans announced last month, and makes clear that the lower score will not be retroactive.
“The changing circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in California, and throughout the country, have had an unprecedented impact on professional licensure testing for graduates seeking admission to many professions,” the California Supreme Court’s executive officer, Jorge E. Navarrete, wrote in a July 16 letter on behalf of the court to the chairman of the State Bar’s Board of Trustees. “Many law school graduates are being substantially affected by the resulting disruption.”
The letter noted that the court sought the “safest most humane and practical options for licensing law graduates by encouraging and working with the State Bar to pursue the option of administering the California Bar Examination online as a remote test, to avoid the need for, and dangers posed by, mass in-person testing.”
The California Bar Exam — which will now have a passing score of 1390 instead of 1440 — will be administered online Oct. 5 and 6.
The lower passing score for the two-day test will not be applied retroactively to past test takers, the court affirmed in a letter to the trustees Monday.
“With one exception, the court is unaware of any jurisdiction in the past decade that has lowered the exam passing score and applied that decision retroactively,” the court wrote.
In 2016, the Montana Supreme Court lowered the passing score retroactive to 2013 test takers to offset the effect of that court’s 2013 decision to increase the passing score.
At least three other states have lowered bar exam passing scores during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, changes to the passing score are temporary and only apply to future exams in North Carolina, Oregon and Washington, according to the California court.
California is one of 25 states that have moved their bar exam online.
The state’s highest court also directed the State Bar to expedite the creation of a provisional licensure program that would allow 2020 law school graduates who may not be in a position to study and prepare for a bar exam in the fall to get a limited license to practice specified areas of law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
The court noted that it is encouraging law schools to assist graduates who lack internet access at home or have home environments not amenable to two days of uninterrupted testing.