Friday, July 22, 2011

The Hardest Bar Exam in the World?

With July bar exams right around the corner, a weekend of panic is perfectly normal. We hope you’ve kept up with your study program, and consulted our additional tips for bar exam success from earlier this month. But if you just can’t shake that sense of dread, here are some fun (or maybe not-so-fun) facts about bar exams in other jurisdictions to help put things into perspective.

The ABA’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (Reference KF302 .Z9 C65 2011) is chock-full of statistics about the bar exams in other states and U.S. territories, and it just might reassure you that the grass is greener than you think. Take, for example, the length of exams, which is compared in Chart 6 on page 23. California has long been famous for its grueling 3-day bar exam, but did you know that Mississippi and Palau also triple the fun? Nine other states also use a two-and-a-half day format, which might as well be three for those souls who must hole up in a hotel. Suddenly that 2-day format isn’t looking so bad (or 1.5-day, if you are heading to Wyoming or Nebraska).

The cost of examination application fees is also covered in Chart 7 of the ABA Guide. Duke Law students who plan to remain in North Carolina are unfortunately near the top of the first-time test-taker expense list at $700, but are edged out by Alaska ($800) and Massachusetts ($815).

Passage rates can be found in the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools (Ref KF273 .A86 2011). A country-wide “Career Placement and Bar Passage Chart” uses 2008 exam data to compare state overall passage rates: while California’s 3-day marathon is undeniably difficult, with an overall 78% passage rate throughout the state, the dubious award for toughest exam in the continental U.S. surely goes to Louisiana, whose civil law influence probably plays a part in the nationwide low 67% passage rate.

The alphabetical entries for each law school further break down passage statistics for an individual school. Our grads should be happy to hear that Duke generally scores 5 to 8 percentage points higher than the state’s average, and has a bar passage average of 93% overall. If you’d like to calculate the odds yourself, this guide is also available online.

“But what about that other 7%?” asks the truly nervous Duke Law grad. OK, we’ll need to travel internationally to help ease your troubled mind. As the ABA Journal recently reported, some law schools in Japan reported a zero percent passage rate in 2010. The overall passage rate in the country last year? A dismal 25%. Who’s worried about a measly 7% now?

Finally, while Japan’s bar exam is indisputably tough, nothing beats the passage rate (or lack thereof) from fellow Pacific Ocean island Guam. This tiny U.S. territory doesn’t attract a lot of bar-takers each year, but as the Official Results from July 2006 suggest, they just might have administered the hardest bar exam in the world.

Good luck to all of our recent graduates who will sit for a bar exam next week, in whatever jurisdiction you’ve chosen. (But hopefully not Guam.)