Supreme Court adjusts passing grade for bar exam
By John McPhaul
The Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the minimum desired ability to be a legal professional is currently better represented in the score of 569 adjusted points on the general law bar exam, which represents a decrease in the minimum score required from 596 adjusted points.
The new minimum score was agreed on after the high court receiving the final report of the Special Commission to Evaluate the Passing Mark of the General Law and Notary Law Revalidations, an organization that was entrusted to evaluate various aspects related to the passing marks of revalidation exams, among other related matters.
As explained by Resolution EC-2022-03 of the Supreme Court, the admission exams to the legal profession administered by the Board of Examiners of Candidates for the Practice of Law and Notary Public are subject to continuous evaluations to ensure that they meet the highest standards recognized in the practice of psychometrics for measurement instruments of this nature. The evaluations have consistently reflected that the results produced by the tests are valid and reliable, and adequately represent the knowledge and skills of the people evaluated.
Regardless of the quality and reliability of the exam, the Supreme Court recognizes that the periodic evaluation of the minimum score or passing grade that an applicant must obtain to pass these exams is recommended. The evaluation of the passing grade seeks to determine if the minimum score continues to represent the minimum desired capacity to practice law or notary in the jurisdiction. The last evaluation study dated from 1985 and based on that, the Supreme Court established in 1994 the passing grade of 596 adjusted points.
In view of the foregoing, the Supreme Court decided to analyze whether the current minimum score of 596 adjusted points to pass the exams to enter the legal and notary profession should be modified or maintained. Therefore, the Examining Board commissioned a psychometric study to empirically evaluate the performance of the applicants. The first psychometric report, entitled “Conducting a Standard-Setting Study for the Puerto Rico Bar Exam and Notary Exam,” recommended considering the public policy factors pursued in the country regarding the exercise of the legal profession before lowering the minimum score needed to pass the general revalidation.
In order to complement the evaluation required to set that score, the Supreme Court created the Special Commission. To that effect, among other matters, the Special Commission compiled data to inform the survey of the profile of the graduates of the three law schools in Puerto Rico and their academic-curricular management. Using the information and data compiled by the Examining Board, the Special Commission requested a second psychometric report in which the performance of the applicants between 2010 and 2020 was empirically evaluated. That second report, entitled “Puerto Rico Bar Examination Applicant Comparability Evaluation 2010-2020,” concluded that people tested in 2020 were not equally prepared for the revalidation exam when compared to the population of people tested in previous years.