This Formula Shows the Importance of Each 5-Point Increment on the California Bar Exam

To pass the California Bar Exam, you need an overall scaled score of 1390.

That could look like a scaled score of 1390 for the written portion and 1390 for the MBE. These are generally referred to as “passing scores” since they put you on track to pass.

But how do the raw scores on your essays and PT convert to scaled scores? What do you need for a “passing score” for an essay or PT?

In answering those questions, it turns out there’s quite a sensitive correlation between the written raw scores and the written scaled score.

That is to say, EACH 5-point uptick gets you MUCH closer to passing the California Bar Exam. In fact, if your written score is in the low/mid 1300s, you’re MUCH closer to passing than you might think.

Here’s how…

Raw written score needed to “pass”

First of all, a “passing score” for an essay or PT is a raw score of approximately 60-63.

Examples and explanation
For example, to achieve a scaled score of 1390, you needed:

  • An average raw written score of 60.29 in the 2021 July exam
  • An average of 62.78 in the 2022 February exam
  • An average of 61.33 in the 2022 July exam

The average raw written scores needed were calculated using the published formula such as the one shown below.

In other words, an average raw written score of 60-63 generally puts you on track to a 1390 scaled written score, which puts you on track to pass the exam assuming your scaled MBE score is also in the 1390 neighborhood.

So targeting at least a 60-65 on each of your essays and PT is a good idea.

To determine your average raw written score, divide your Raw Written number by 7 (PT counts twice).

Formula for converting raw written score to scaled written score

Here’s what the bulletin for unsuccessful applicants for 2022 July California bar takers says:

This actually reveals a very important point about the value of every 5-point increment on the written portion:

Using the formula above as an example, we see that the multiplier is 4.5926. Note that the formula will vary slightly with each exam. But here, for every 5 raw points, that adds about 22.5 to your scaled score.

If we plug in some illustrative numbers, we see the difference more clearly and what that means for California bar takers:

EXAMPLE 1. Written scaled score if you got 60s across the board: 420*4.5926 – 581.4888 = 1347.4032.

Since there are five essays worth 100 points and a PT is worth two essays, we get 420 by multiplying 60 by 7.

Not too bad but not quite there. This would also put you in the risky reread zone. Good luck getting multiple graders to give you extra points.

EXAMPLE 2. Compare with getting 10 more points: 430*4.5926 – 581.4888 = 1393.3292 (passing).

420 + 10 = 430.

Just by getting 5 more points on two essays or just 5 more points on the PT, you can turn a so-so written score into a passing score!

You’d pass the exam assuming the MBE score was also on track (1390 scaled score).

Conversely, if your written score was somewhere in the 1300s, you’re much closer to passing than you might think.

This means that, while you should target at least an average of 60-65 on the written portion (although you could raise/lower this target depending on your comfort with the MBE), you should also recognize the value of each 5-point uptick on the essays and the PT.

I call this the “5-point insight”

You could easily gain these highly leveraged points—simply by realizing this 5-point insight and tweaking something small in your essay. In fact, you could be PASSING the California Bar Exam just by making small improvements. One insight could even apply across ALL five of your essays for +25 points (over 100 scaled points).

That’s the power of the 5-point insight.

Examples of things you could adjust in your essay and PT preparation:

  • Improving your presentation
  • Structuring your IRAC better
  • Remembering a relevant issue in an essay
  • Simply exposing yourself to more PTs (neglecting the PT is a common mistake). You could just try one every Tuesday. Remember that just an extra 5 points on the PT could spell the difference between failing and passing.
Passer’s Playbook 2.0 contains plenty of these 5-point insights. Implementing even one or two small of these insights could bump your score from so-so to passing.
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