With spring semester drawing to a close, graduating law students must be getting really antsy. After all, the July 2013 bar exam is just around the corner, and in this kind of a competitive job market — you know, the kind of job market where only 56 percent of graduates secured long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage in 2012 — passing the test is more important than ever.

That being said, wouldn’t it be convenient if you knew how hard you needed to study for your own state’s exam (not that you shouldn’t be studying hard in the first place), as compared to other states’ exams? Luckily, there’s a brand new ranking for that.

You’ve all got some preconceived notions about which states have the toughest bar exams, so the top 10 on this list might just blow your mind. Let’s take a look….

This ranking of the most difficult bar exams in the country comes to us courtesy of Robert Anderson, a professor at Pepperdine School of Law. While most people measure bar exam difficulty by comparing state-by-state passage rates, evaluating the test takers themselves is useful because it allows you to size up your competition. Here’s the methodology that Anderson used to come up with this list:

Prof. Robert Anderson

To develop a slightly more accurate assessment of relative bar difficulty, I ran a regression of the bar passage rate for each ABA-accredited school for 2010 and 2011 on the school’s median undergraduate GPA and LSAT, with an indicator variable for each state, weighted by the number of takers at each school. I collected this information from the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools (Alaska, Delaware, and the DC bars were omitted because of too few observations).

The table below sets out the resulting ranking of state bar exams in order from most difficult to least difficult. For each state, the weighted average LSAT score and the calculated (in the data) and overall (reported by the state) bar passage rates for 2010-2011 is set forth, along with the “bonus percent” relative to the California bar. The “bonus percent” is, roughly speaking, the percentage point bonus for a school’s bar passage rate relative to the California bar (with predictors held at their averages).

We hope that you haven’t been scared off by math-related words like “regression” and “variable,” because the information we’re about to show you could prove to be extremely useful to you in your studies — your chances of passing could very well depend on it if you choose your state wisely.

Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Most Difficult Bar Exams, brought to you by the power of math:

If you’d like to see the full ranking of the most difficult bar exams, click here.

As expected, California takes the top spot for the most difficult bar exam in the nation. At 18 hours of testing spread over three days, this one was a gimme. Of particular interest here is the fact that New York, an exam that’s generally regarded as one of the hardest in the country, doesn’t even make an appearance in the Top 10. The Empire State can be found further down the list, at No. 12.

We bet that you didn’t know the competition was so stiff in Arkansas and West Virginia, for example. Just speculating here, but perhaps there’s some sort of a John Deere tractor-riding component to the exam in those states where you lose points if you’re maintaining a BAC that’s lower than average.

In terms of the “easier” bar exams on this list, Illinois, which just made its bar exam harder, is currently ranked at No. 32 (and is quite close to No. 37, a state which shall forever be known as “Passachusetts”). The prize for the least difficult bar exam in the nation goes to South Dakota, so if you’re willing to brave the wilderness and share your home with a buffalo, go West, young law grads. We hear there are jobs there in rural communities that offer state-funded tuition reimbursement!

Has this changed your perspective on which state’s bar exam you’ll be taking, or do you think it’s ridiculous to base your future career on a list like this? Let us know what you think in the comments.

The Most Difficult Bar Exams [WITNESSETH: Law, Deals, & Data]

Earlier: The Whole ‘Illinois Bar Exam Is Getting Harder’ Thing Was NOT An April Fool’s Joke


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