The Bar Exam is just a few short weeks away, and I wanted to put together a post explaining the how the essays are actually graded, along with scaling information.

The California bar is made up of three sections, 2 performance tests, 6 essays, and 200 multiple choice questions from the MBE (The only multistate portion of the exam). The MBE portion is worth 35%, while the written portion is worth 65%

Essays and Performance Tests:

Essays and Performance Tests are initially given a raw score between 40-100 points, in 5 point increments. Essays are worth 100 total points, while Performance Tests are worth 200. In order to provide for accurate scaling, these points are then doubled and multiplied by .65 (coming up with a scaled number valued at 65% of the total exam).

The MBE portion has a raw score of 2,000 possible total points, which are then multiplied by .35. Each portion is broken down as follows after scaling:

  • Essays – 780 maximum scaled score
  • MBE – 700 maximum scaled score
  • Performance Tests – 520 maximum scaled score

Each applicant must end with a scaled score above 1,440 to be on the pass list.

The Process for Grading an Essay or Performance Test

A California bar examiner comes from a pool of approximately 150 experienced attorneys. They are one of 88 experienced graders or one of 24 apprentice graders. Many graders have graded exams for at least 5 if not 10 years.

. I’ve outlined each step of the calibration process below. At the end of this process, the group will have read and come to agreement on 60 essays.

Bar Calibration Process: (here)

  •  112 experienced attorneys selected from a pool of 150 attorneys
  • Group is broken down into 8 groups of 11 (8 experienced graders, 3 apprentice)
  • Each grader is given the same set of 15 sample answers  to reader
  • Calibration 1: Graders discuss the set of sample answers, afterwards graders receive a new set of 15 copies of answers
  • Individuals assign grades to each answer, then discuss in their groups until they arrive at a consensus on a grade for each answer.
  • Individuals are then given a new set of 20 answers to grade, which after grading submit grades for review at the second calibration session
  • Calibration 2: Graders discuss the results of the first meeting and resolve any differences seen. The group reads an additional 10 books to read and discuss. Afterwards, attorneys are given their first grading assignments
  • Calibration 3: The group once again meets to ensure that each grader is grading to the same set of standards they agreed on during Calibrations 1 & 2.

After this process is completed, each grader completes the reading, the scores are tallied up. Individuals who have a scaled score above 1,440 are automatically placed on the pass list. Individuals who fall between 1,390 and 1,440 are selected for a re-read. As long as there are no grading discrepancies (more than 10 points on any one question) between the first and second read, if the person has not met the minimum threshold of 1,440, then they fail the bar.

Applicants who have discrepancies have their questions referred to the team member supervisor. If the person then meets this threshold, they are placed on the pass list.

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Copyright © 2015 by James Mullen, J.D., Published at James Mullen is the author of “How to Write a Bar Exam Essay in 60 Minutes.”

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