Which States Have the Most Difficult Bar Exams?

Students taking an exam
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As you finish law school, you likely already have an idea of where you want to practice. That is the state where you will take the bar exam, so this is an important decision to make. The degree of difficulty of the bar exam varies by state; some states have noticeably more difficult exams than others coupled with lower pass rates.

Bar Exam Study

Robert Anderson, a professor at Pepperdine School of Law, used statistics to determine which states had the most difficult bar exams. According to the website, Above the Law, Anderson studied the bar passage rate of each American Bar Association-accredited law school for 2010-2011, as well as each school's median undergraduate GPA and LSAT.

Anderson did a regression analysis, a statistical approach to quantifying data, weighted by the number of bar exam test takers at each school. He used this information to determine the 10 schools with the most difficult bar exams to pass. He found that California had the most difficult exam, followed by Arkansas, Washington, Louisiana, and Nevada. The results are discussed below.

California

The California Bar Exam is notoriously difficult and has one of the lowest passage rates of any bar exam in the country. As of 2017, the exam takes two full days, including a performance test designed to evaluate applicants' ability to handle a number of legal challenges involving a client, according to the State Bar of California, which created and administers the exam.

In addition to the performance test, the exam also includes five essay questions and the Multistate Bar Examination, a standardized bar test created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which is administered to applicants taking the bar in nearly all states nationwide.

Arkansas

According to Anderson's rankings, Arkansas has the second-most difficult bar exam in the country. (Although Hillary Clinton said it was easier than the Washington, D.C., bar exam.) As in California, it is also a two-day bar exam. The degree of difficulty is due to the number of state and local laws represented on the exam. If you are planning on practicing law in Arkansas, make sure you take your bar exam studying seriously.

Washington

Washington state also has a difficult bar exam. There are three law schools in Washington, producing a fairly high number of students each year who sit for the two-day exam. In addition, Seattle is becoming one of the most moved-to cities in the country, attracting many out-of-state bar exam takers. If you are thinking about practicing law in Washington, prepare yourself for a challenging exam. And neighboring state, Oregon, also has a difficult bar exam, which pops into the top five most difficult depending on the data that is being used in the rankings.

Louisiana

Louisiana prepares its law students in an entirely different way than any other state in the country—the four law schools there teach both common law (the tradition in England and the other 49 United States) and civil law (the tradition in France and continental Europe). If you are thinking of practicing law in Louisiana, you must go to law school in the state to learn the unique legal system in place there, and then take a bar exam that is completely different from any other state.

Nevada

There is only one law school (UNLV) in the state of Nevada, but having Las Vegas within the state's borders makes it a popular destination for new (and experienced) lawyers. The Nevada bar exam is two-and-a-half days long and has one of the lowest passage rates in the country. This is because of a combination of unique laws in the state and a higher required score to pass.

Easiest Bar Exams to Pass

If you’re wondering what states have the easiest bar exams, stick to the heartland. South Dakota ranks as the state with the easiest exam, followed by Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. There are fewer law schools in these states (South Dakota only has one, and Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa each have two), meaning that there are generally fewer law graduates who take the bar. And Wisconsin has an even sweeter policy—only those who attended law school in other states need to take the bar exam. If you graduated from law school in Wisconsin, you are automatically admitted to the state bar by a policy known as diploma privilege.

If you are trying to decide which bar exam to take, consider taking a jurisdiction that uses the Multistate Bar Exam, discussed previously in the California section. That bar exam makes it easier to move between states that also use the test.

State-by-State Pass Rates

Check out how your state ranks in pass rates with these numbers for 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, compiled by Law.com. The states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are ranked by the percentage pass rates of those taking the bar exam for the first time starting with Oklahoma, the state with the highest pass rate, and descending from there.

  • Oklahoma - 86.90
  • Iowa - 86.57
  • Missouri - 86.30
  • New Mexico - 85.71
  • New York - 83.92
  • Montana - 82.61
  • Utah - 82.61
  • Oregon - 82.55
  • Nebraska - 81.67
  • Kansas - 81.51
  • Minnesota - 80.07
  • Illinois - 79.82
  • Pennsylvania - 79.64
  • Idaho - 79.33
  • Massachusetts - 79.30
  • Alabama - 79.29
  • Wisconsin - 78.88
  • Tennessee - 78.83
  • Washington - 77.88
  • Connecticut - 77.69
  • Arkansas - 77.49
  • Louisiana - 76.85
  • Texas - 76.57
  • New Hampshire - 75.96
  • Delaware - 75.95
  • Hawaii - 75.71
  • Virginia - 75.62
  • Ohio - 75.52
  • Colorado - 75.37
  • Michigan - 75.14
  • West Virginia - 75.00
  • Discrict of Columbia - 74.60
  • Maine - 74.38
  • Georgia - 73.23
  • Indiana - 72.88
  • Wyoming - 72.73
  • Nevada - 72.10
  • South Carolina - 71.79
  • North Dakota - 71.21
  • New Jersey - 69.89
  • Vermont - 69.33
  • Kentucky - 69.02
  • South Dakota - 68.18
  • Florida - 67.90
  • Maryland - 66.70
  • California - 66.19
  • North Carolina - 65.22
  • Arizona - 63.99
  • Mississippi - 63.95
  • Puerto Rico - 40.25