Easiest Bar Exam in 2020: Which State Bar Should You Take If You Just Want to Pass with the Best Chance?

All right, so you just want to pass the easiest bar exam in the easiest state and get it over with.

No honor, no warrior spirit, or any of that shit—just gimme the bar card! This is especially true if you plan to practice in a state that accepts UBE scores (or MBE scores in some non-UBE states). You may be able to transfer your UBE score from an “easier” state.

You also want to avoid the hardest bar exams, naturally. Why waste a good six months torturing yourself again just because you missed a few points?

No judgment from me. You’re here to move on with your life and forget I ever existed. That’s cool.

So what are we going to look at to figure out the easiest bar exams to pass?

  • Recent pass rates by state
  • Minimum passing UBE scores
  • Number of applicants by state
  • Score portability and transferability
  • The verdict – a shortlist of three states to consider, and states to avoid

Bar exam pass rates by state

I looked at the 2019 pass rates in each of the 50 states (excluding Puerto Rico, Guam, Palau, etc.) and sorted them from highest to lowest. The pass rate gives you a ROUGH indication of how difficult the exam might be in that state going forward.

I say ROUGH because the percentage doesn’t give you YOUR likelihood of passing. Maybe the grading is more forgiving. Maybe the students are better. Maybe there aren’t enough applicants to give you a precise number. It’s still up to you to know how to use the material.

That said, this is the lowest hanging fruit and one of the first things to consider if you just wanna fuckin’ pass. Also, I’m assuming recent pass rates are a better predictor than older pass rates since recent exams and trends are more similar to current exams than older exams.

I sorted data for 2019 in July and then February and the full year combined, sorted by the highest pass rates by state first.

July first because it feels most representative of the exam with more people taking it and fewer repeaters taking it (scroll right to see the other columns):

Jurisdiction - JulyTakingPassing% PassingUBE?UBE passing score
Kansas1008585%Yes266
Utah22818782%Yes270
Montana998081%Yes266
Iowa19015280%Yes266
South Dakota655280%
Nebraska15612479%Yes270
Minnesota55743578%Yes260
Missouri67052378%Yes260
Oklahoma30823877%Yes264
Oregon36727775%Yes274
Virginia63747975%
North Carolina78356873%Yes270
North Dakota826073%Yes260
Ohio88564773%Yes270
Pennsylvania1,27092873%
Wyoming594373%Yes270
Colorado73152572%Yes276
Massachusetts1,37798572%Yes270
New Mexico21215272%Yes260
Illinois1,9631,39271%Yes266
Tennessee70049771%Yes270
District of Columbia1,7991,24169%Yes266
Louisiana50334468%
Maryland83857368%Yes266
South Carolina44430368%Yes266
Texas2,8981,98568%2021270
Washington62843068%Yes270
Kentucky35723867%
Mississippi15610567%
West Virginia16811367%Yes270
Arizona52134566%Yes273
New Jersey78752166%Yes266
Georgia1,17876965%
Idaho1429365%Yes272
Indiana45729665%
New York10,0716,53665%Yes266
Wisconsin1217864%
Total All Jurisdictions46,37029,83464%
New Hampshire1056663%Yes270
Florida2,6881,66262%
Hawaii16710462%
Alabama48629861%Yes260
Michigan64139461%
Nevada31319161%
Vermont764661%Yes270
Arkansas21012760%Yes270
Connecticut30318260%Yes266
Rhode Island724360%Yes276
Alaska573256%Yes280
Delaware21311152%
Maine1306752%Yes270
California7,7643,88950%
Jurisdiction - FebTakingPassing% PassingUBE?UBE passing score
Delaware*
Kansas494082%Yes266
Montana332679%Yes266
Oklahoma1238872%Yes264
Utah996970%Yes270
South Dakota392667%
North Carolina52033665%Yes270
South Carolina21814064%Yes266
Hawaii1056663%
Virginia27317163%
Missouri27817262%Yes260
Colorado29918261%Yes276
Mississippi1026261%
Kentucky17810760%
New Mexico1116760%Yes260
Pennsylvania51030760%
Idaho563359%Yes272
Vermont412459%Yes270
Nevada21312358%
Oregon19711458%Yes274
Louisiana23213357%
Michigan37021057%
Iowa724056%Yes266
Texas1,19463954%2021270
Ohio37820053%Yes270
Arkansas1326952%Yes270
Illinois67535352%Yes266
Washington31516051%Yes270
Indiana24012050%
Minnesota21210750%Yes260
Wyoming241250%Yes270
District of Columbia78538749%Yes266
North Dakota371849%Yes260
Rhode Island452249%Yes276
New Jersey51824948%Yes266
Wisconsin803848%
Massachusetts49823146%Yes270
Tennessee28913446%Yes270
West Virginia743446%Yes270
Total All Jurisdictions21,93510,03946%
Arizona30713945%Yes273
Nebraska442045%Yes270
New York4,1291,84445%Yes266
Florida1,35760144%
New Hampshire572442%Yes270
Connecticut1586340%Yes266
Maryland30211939%Yes266
Alaska321238%Yes280
Georgia52319036%
Alabama29610535%Yes260
California4,6401,45831%
Maine451431%Yes270
* No February Examination

The below table shows the composite pass rates based on the number of bar takers who passed relative to total takers in February and July:

Jurisdiction - TotalTakingPassing% PassingUBE?UBE passing score
Kansas14912584%Yes266
Montana13210680%Yes266
Utah32725678%Yes270
Oklahoma43132676%Yes264
South Dakota1047875%
Iowa26219273%Yes266
Missouri94869573%Yes260
Nebraska20014472%Yes270
Virginia91065071%
Minnesota76954270%Yes260
Colorado1,03070769%Yes276
North Carolina1,30390469%Yes270
Oregon56439169%Yes274
Pennsylvania1,7801,23569%
New Mexico32321968%Yes260
Ohio1,26384767%Yes270
South Carolina66244367%Yes266
Illinois2,6381,74566%Yes266
North Dakota1197866%Yes260
Wyoming835566%Yes270
Louisiana73547765%
Massachusetts1,8751,21665%Yes270
Mississippi25816765%
Idaho19812664%Yes272
Kentucky53534564%
Tennessee98963164%Yes270
Texas4,0922,62464%2021270
District of Columbia2,5841,62863%Yes266
Hawaii27217063%
Washington94359063%Yes270
Maryland1,14069261%Yes266
West Virginia24214761%Yes270
Indiana69741660%
Michigan1,01160460%
Nevada52631460%
Vermont1177060%Yes270
New Jersey1,30577059%Yes266
New York14,2008,38059%Yes266
Arizona82848458%Yes273
Wisconsin20111658%
Total All Jurisdictions68,30539,87358%
Arkansas34219657%Yes270
Florida4,0452,26356%
Georgia1,70195956%
New Hampshire1629056%Yes270
Rhode Island1176556%Yes276
Connecticut46124553%Yes266
Alabama78240352%Yes260
Delaware*21311152%
Alaska894449%Yes280
Maine1758146%Yes270
California12,4045,34743%
* No February Examination

Based on pass rates alone, we might narrow the list down to these four states that rank highest in pass rates:

  • Kansas (UBE)
  • Montana (UBE)
  • Utah (UBE)
  • South Dakota

Of the four, Kansas is at the top every time.

The above is true whether you look at July alone, February alone, or both together. We ARE in Kansas now, baby. Let’s look at some other factors, too.

Minimum passing UBE (Uniform Bar Exam) scores

You still want to make it easier to score high enough to pass. The lower the score requirement, the better, assuming grading is as lenient across the board.

This is simpler to compare for UBE states only. Below are the passing UBE scores by state:

Passing UBE ScoreJurisdiction
260Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota
264Oklahoma
266Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Virgin Islands
270Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming
272Idaho
273Arizona
274Oregon
276Colorado, Rhode Island
280Alaska
Data from the NCBE website
Potential bar exams to consider as easy based on UBE passing scores by state
Taken from the NCBE website

Kansas from the earlier list needs 266 points out of 400 to pass. So does Montana. Utah requires 270 to pass.

Do you want to consider the states that only need 260 points? (Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota)

Let’s refer back to our composite table above and pull out these states and their total pass rates:

Alabama52%
Minnesota70%
Missouri73%
New Mexico68%
North Dakota66%

Btw, why are we even comparing these pass rates when the UBE is uniform? It’s all the same test, right? Right, but the leniency of graders may be different.

To that end, from the above five states, we find that Missouri has the highest composite pass rate at 73%. That’s among the top 10 states in terms of highest pass rate—not bad!

This means Missouri has a low cut score and a high pass rate (that is, probably easier grading). So let’s keep Kansas, Montana, and Missouri in mind as we continue. Note that these are all UBE states.

Number of applicants in each state

Statistically, the lower the sample size, the less precise the data derived becomes, with a higher margin of error.

To illustrate, if we look at a hypothetical jurisdiction with 10 applicants with 3 of them failing one year, how precise is the 70% pass rate? What if there were 5 applicants with 2 failing (60%)? Compare that 100 applicants with 25 failing (75%). All similar percentages—but we’re most confident with the last one.

That’s why I want to consider the number of applicants to see how much weight to give to the pass rates. On the other hand, I’d conjecture that the fewer applicants there are, the laxer the state bar would be in administering the exam (e.g., faster results, more lenient grading).

Luckily, all the states we’ve picked out above have at least 100 applicants per year. Moreover, they all have fewer than 1,000 applicants a year.

So the states we’ve picked out so far (Kansas, Montana, Missouri) all have decent pass rates at decent confidence levels. These states also likely offer a relatively lenient and simple administration of the exam.

UBE score transfer and portability

First off, the NCBE allows you to transfer your score to other UBE jurisdictions…even if you didn’t pass in the state you took it in!

The NCBE says:

  • “Examinees who take the UBE earn a portable score that can be transferred to seek admission in other UBE jurisdictions.”
  • “UBE jurisdictions will accept transferred scores that meet their own passing standards whether or not the score met the passing standard in the testing jurisdiction, assuming all other admission requirements of the jurisdiction are met.”

In other words, you can apply for admission in any UBE state as long as the score you got is high enough for your target state (see the passing UBE score table above). This includes Texas, which will adopt the UBE in 2021 and require a passing score of 270.

Since our shortlist of Kansas, Montana, and Missouri has all UBE states, you’d be able to take the bar in any of these states and transfer your score to another UBE jurisdiction (including Texas after it adopts the UBE assuming the score hasn’t expired).

If you pass in any of these three states, you’d be able to practice in at least 15 other jurisdictions. More if your score is high enough. Talk about flexibility!

You’d also be able to transfer your MBE score to a jurisdiction that accepts transferred MBE scores:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida (non-UBE)
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana (non-UBE)
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky (non-UBE)
  • Michigan (non-UBE)
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi (non-UBE)
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota (non-UBE)
  • Virginia (non-UBE)
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin (non-UBE)

So which state bar is the easiest to pass these days (2020 and beyond)?

Going purely by pass rates, the winner is Kansas. Also consider Montana for its low minimum passing UBE score.

Missouri is another contender because of its relatively high pass rate and lowest minimum UBE score of 260.

Interestingly, “Passachusetts” (nickname for Massachusetts because it was considered easy) doesn’t qualify as the easiest bar exam here—at least according to recent data. It has a 65% total pass rate and a 270 minimum UBE score. Not the hardest but nowhere near the easiest.

Caveats and things to be aware of

The biggest pain may be getting fingerprinted as an out-of-state resident, but you can’t avoid this with any of the jurisdictions. Also, there’s a fee for the admission process (called admission without examination or admission on motion), which can cost you around $1,000-2,500 (for example, it’s $1,250 for Kansas, $2,500 for Montana, and $1,240 for Missouri).

Another caveat is that some of these states do not have reciprocity agreements with some states, including some UBE states. Kansas, for example, “does not have a reciprocal agreement with California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wisconsin.”

But at the end of the day, the scores you earn in any of these states are portable to many other jurisdictions.

Even if you don’t earn a score high enough to transfer to your desired state, at least you will have passed the bar and be able to do law somewhere! That’s what you’re looking for, right?

So if you plan to practice in a UBE state (or even one of the non-UBE states listed above), look into Kansas, Montana, and Missouri for a relatively easy experience. But make sure that the state you eventually want to practice in will take your score from one of these states.

Start with UBE Magicsheets and Approsheets to make your bar prep even easier. Save time on practice and memorization, and use roadmaps to write those MEEs.

Which bar exam is the hardest?

My answer is two-fold. Part 1 of this answer:

California is likely the hardest bar exam.

Since I’m biased and Californians think the world revolves around them, I have to default to California.

There are reasons why California has a low pass rate, such as its deluge of unaccredited law schools, overpopulation leading to ruthless culling of fresh admissions to the bar, and people not finding MTYLT soon enough.

That said, California still boasted the lowest composite pass rate of 43% in 2019 (31% in February, 50% in July). It has five one-hour-long essays. The essay grading is notoriously inconsistent and tough. Having thousands of people taking the California Bar Exam means you’ll be crammed in large, crowded spaces, making logistics another challenge.

In addition, even if you pass the California Bar Exam, your pass status is not transferrable to any other state, nor does California take other jurisdictions, making the fruits of your endeavor limited to within California. No one else will know your struggle.

Unless you have a specific reason for wanting to be in California, it would behoove you to avoid taking the California Bar Exam on purpose. Some of my readers wanted to move to California to be with their fiancée or expand a practice to California.

If you want to breathe a sigh of relief and lessen the overwhelm that is the California bar, check out the original Magicsheets and Approsheets.

If you’re already a practicing lawyer in another U.S. state, you can take the California Attorneys’ Examination, which is only one day and consists of five essays and a performance test (PT). Read this post to see if you should take the Attorney’s Exam or the full two-day General Bar Exam.

Part 2 of this answer:

All bar exams are difficult, but there are states to avoid if you can help it.

The bar exam is a professional licensing exam, so by its very nature it isn’t a breeze in the park.

If we take a look at the tables again, there are other states with low passage rates with unique grading systems and non-transferable scores. Florida, Georgia, Nevada to name a few. Like with California, no need to go out of your way to take these exams unless you have a reason to.

If you want more flexibility and a more reasonable likelihood of passing, go with the “easiest” bar exams we discussed above.

Either way, I got you. Get started with a suite of study resources to make this your last time, no matter where you plan to take the bar.

Where are you going to take your bar exam? 👇🏻

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