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Maryland’s February bar exam pass rate hits five-year high

The percentage of Maryland bar exam takers who passed the annual February exam hit a five-year high this year when 43% of the 378 test takers received good news from the State Board of Law Examiners.

The February passage rate was the highest since 53% passed in the winter of 2016. Since that year, the February rate has hovered at 38% and 39%, with 42% in 2017 being the exception until this year, according to SBLE data released Tuesday.

The 378 people who sat for the February exam this year marked the highest number of winter examinees since 2018, when 471 people took the test.

But unlike in past Februaries, this year’s examinees took the test remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

This February also marked the second winter examination in which test takers took the Uniform Bar Examination. Before 2020, the test was Maryland-specific with more questions concerning state law and procedure.

As for graduates of the state’s two law schools, alumni of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law performed better on February’s exam than the overall pass rate of 43%.

According to the SBLE, 94% of the 16 UM Carey graduates and 50% of the 34 UB Law graduates who took the test passed. Both percentages were improvements from February 2020, when the passage rate was 49% for UM Carey alumni and 35% for UB Law alumni.

Donald Tobin, dean of UM Carey, said the graduates’ success was due to their drive as much as their preparation amid the pandemic.

“I give so much credit to the students for their resilience over the past year,” Tobin said Tuesday.

“This has been a trying year for our graduates,” he added. “They have been very resilient with all this chaos around them.”

Tobin said his thoughts are also with UM Carey graduates who fall short on the bar exam, including the one who failed in February.

“I certainly feel for the student who doesn’t pass,” Tobin added. “We will continue to work with any of our students who don’t pass the bar.”

Ronald Weich, dean of UB Law, cautioned against placing emphasis on February bar results, as the number of examinees is much smaller than for the annual July test. The months leading up to the February exam this year also presented test takers with the emotional and physical hurdles of social distancing and masking.

“The pandemic created such obstacles to students,” Weich said.

“It was hard for graduates to study,” he added. “We are proud of the graduates who passed. We continue to support those who did not.”

Of the 378 people who took the exam in February, 162 passed, the SBLE reported.

The SBLE administers the bar exam in February and July. However, the “July” exam last year was delayed by the pandemic and administered remotely in October. The test also contained half the questions of the usual UBE out of respect for the applicants, who needed to prepare for the exam amid the worst of the pandemic.

Seventy percent of the 805 people who sat for the abbreviated UBE in October passed, the highest passage rate for any Maryland bar exam since 72% in July 2014.

This year, the July exam will also be administered remotely but with the full slate of questions, as was the case for February examinees, the SBLE stated.

In announcing plans to hold the July test remotely, SBLE stated in late February that “even for fully vaccinated persons, current and expected future guidance from the CDC and other public health officials continue to call for social distancing, mask wearing, travel limitations, and other health safety precautions that present challenges to a safe and secure in-person bar exam administration.”

“While it is possible that then-existing public health conditions might permit an in-person UBE in July 2021, any plans for an in-person exam would remain at risk of cancellation based on changing pandemic conditions,” the board added.

Typically, most February applicants are repeat test takers. This year, for example, only 48% of February examinees were taking the test for the first time. Among first-time takers, 59% passed, the SBLE reported.

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