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):
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:
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 Score||Jurisdiction|
|260||Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota|
|266||Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Virgin Islands|
|270||Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming|
|276||Colorado, Rhode Island|
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:
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!
- “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:
- District of Columbia
- Florida (non-UBE)
- Indiana (non-UBE)
- Kentucky (non-UBE)
- Michigan (non-UBE)
- Mississippi (non-UBE)
- 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.
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’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.
Where are you going to take your bar exam? 👇🏻