By Lana Shatat
For the first time in 20 years, the minimum passing score, or cut score, for the Illinois bar exam is set to increase by four points. Beginning this July, the Illinois Board of Admissions recently announced that, students taking the bar exam must earn a combined written and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) passing score of 268, four points higher than the current passing score of 264. By July 2016, this cut score is set to increase an additional four points, requiring a minimum passing score of 272 on the bar exam. Law graduates taking the February and July 2015 bar exam will be tested on the newly added Federal Civil Procedure topic incorporated into the MBE portion, a topic that is to be introduced in the February 2015 bar exam, along with the current MBE topics (Constitutional Law, Contracts, Torts and Evidence). According to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Illinois’ overall passing rate has declined in the past five years, from 89 percent in 2009 down to 80.9 percent in 2014. Raising the cut-off score by eight points over two years is predicted to lower Illinois bar examiners’ passage rate further.
How will these changes affect law students? On one end, there is a higher chance that graduates will fail the bar exam with an increased cut score. However, the silver lining is that soon-to-be law school graduates and recent law school graduates may benefit from the effects of the projected decrease in bar examinees’ passage percentage. A decrease in the issuance of law licenses may lead to more employment prospects for law school graduates who pass the Illinois bar exam. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that employment in the legal sector is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is a normal growth rate compared with other employment sectors. While this may seem like great news, it is a paradigm because it appears that the cut score is not providing a higher than normal growth rate for job prospects in the legal sector as one would anticipate while considering the direct correlation between the cut score and passage rate. Regardless, an increase in the Illinois bar exam cut score should not change the high intensity at which law graduates should anticipate to prepare for the Illinois bar exam prior to the increase because, as a law graduate, one should prepare to achieve a maximum score.
This article originally appeared in the WBAI Winter 2015 Newsletter.
Editor’s Note: Since the original publication of this article, the Illinois Board of Admissions increased the cut score from 264 to 266 instead of to 268 as the Board had originally planned.