MADISON, WISCONSIN, March 31, 2023— The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) announced today that the national mean scaled score for the February 2023 Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) was 131.1, a decrease of 1.5 points compared to the February 2022 mean of 132.6. The MBE, one of three sections that make up the bar exam in most US jurisdictions, consists of 200 multiple-choice questions answered over six hours.
19,228 examinees took the February 2023 MBE, an increase of more than 16% compared to the 16,504 examinees who sat for the exam in February 2022, and the largest examinee count for a February administration since 2019.
Approximately 72% of February 2023 examinees were likely repeat test takers, and approximately 28% were likely taking the exam for the first time. 1 This reflects an increase in the proportion of likely repeaters and a decrease in the proportion of likely first-time takers compared to February 2022, when approximately 68% of examinees were likely repeat test takers, and approximately 32% were likely taking the exam for the first time.
NCBE Director of Assessment and Research Rosemary Reshetar, EdD, commented: “We know that first-time test takers tend to perform better on the MBE, on average, than those who are repeating the test. A high proportion of repeat test takers compared to first-time takers is typical for February, resulting in lower February means compared to July results. This February is no exception in that regard, and we believe that an increase in the number of likely repeat examinees compared to February 2022 is a partial reason for the decrease in the average score this year.”
However, the higher number of repeat test takers does not in itself fully account for the drop in the mean this February. “We saw a decrease in performance across all groups of examinees, and the decrease was the greatest (about two scaled score points) for likely first-time test takers. Research in K-12 and undergraduate settings clearly shows that the global COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on learning, and surveys of law students similarly suggest that those students who began law school in 2019–2020 would have been significantly impacted by pandemic-related educational disruptions,” said Reshetar. Law school typically takes three years to complete, and many bar exam-tested topics are taught in the first year of law schools’ curricula. Examinees who sit for the first time in February likely either delayed taking the bar exam during the July following graduation or have graduated a semester early.
Reliability for the February 2023 exam was 0.92, the same as the reliability for the February 2022 exam and consistent with the 5-year average for February administrations. (Reliability is an indicator of the consistency of a set of examination scores, with a maximum value of 1.0.)
According to Reshetar, MBE scores are carefully calibrated at each administration to ensure that scores have the same meaning over time and that fluctuations in the MBE mean reflect real differences in examinee performance. “The MBE is equated as part of the scoring process to control for any possible differences in exam difficulty compared to previous administrations. In keeping with best practices in high-stakes testing and our own quality control protocols, we also engage outside, independent measurement experts to conduct a separate scoring exercise in real time to verify the results our team has calculated. Because of this, we know that differences in MBE results reflect differences in examinee performance, not differences in the test itself,” said Reshetar.
Jurisdictions have begun reporting their February 2023 results; bar examination pass rates as reported by jurisdictions are available on the NCBE website. Many jurisdictions are still in the process of grading the written components of the bar exam; once this process is completed, bar exam scores will be calculated and passing decisions reported by those jurisdictions.
About the National Conference of Bar Examiners
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1931. NCBE promotes fairness, integrity, and best practices in bar admissions for the benefit and protection of the public, in pursuit of its vision of a competent, ethical, and diverse legal profession. Best known for developing bar exam content used by 54 US jurisdictions, NCBE serves admission authorities, courts, the legal education community, and candidates by providing high-quality assessment products, services, and research; character investigations; and informational and educational resources and programs. In 2026, NCBE will launch the next generation of the bar examination, ensuring that the exam continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for competent entry-level legal practice in a changing profession. For more information, visit the NCBE website at https://www.ncbex.org.
About the Multistate Bar Examination
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice examination developed by NCBE and administered by user jurisdictions as part of the bar examination, typically given twice each year. The purpose of the MBE is to assess the extent to which an examinee can apply fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze given fact patterns. The subjects tested on the MBE are Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. In addition to assessing examinee knowledge and skills, the MBE is used to equate the bar exam. Equating is a statistical procedure used for most large-scale standardized tests to ensure that exam scores retain the same meaning across administrations and over time. More information about the MBE is available on the NCBE website at https://www.ncbex.org/exams/mbe/.
About the Uniform Bar Examination
The UBE is a two-day bar examination composed of the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored and results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions. More information about the UBE is available on the NCBE website at https://www.ncbex.org/exams/ube/. 41 US jurisdictions currently participate in the UBE, and more than 42,000 examinees took the UBE in 2022.
- The first-time and repeat MBE-based test taker information calculated by NCBE is an approximation based on the NCBE Number and biographic data, which has not been used consistently in all jurisdictions across time. Prior to 2022, approximately 10% of examinees could not be tracked with certainty by NCBE as either first-time or repeat takers due to a lack of sufficient biographic information. (Go back)