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UNLV law school sees big jump in bar exam passage

Updated October 17, 2017 - 9:17 pm

The verdict for Nevada’s most recent bar exam is in, and it’s a positive outcome for UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

Boyd students who sat for the test for the first time in July passed at a rate of 81 percent, 15 percentage points higher than in July 2016.

“This is good news,” said Dan Hamilton, the law school’s dean. “This shows significant improvement. And I’m grateful to the leadership of the Supreme Court of Nevada in carefully considering how the Nevada bar exam is structured and how it best serves its purpose of serving Nevadans.”

Nevada’s bar exam, which is administered twice a year, is notorious for being one of the nation’s toughest. But this year, the state Supreme Court made several decisions to make the test more user-friendly.

In June, the court lowered the “cut score,” the figure required to pass the multistate bar exam — a six-hour, 200-question, multiple-choice portion of the overall test — from 140 to 138. Test takers were also given access to a more detailed subject-matter outline on the test’s contents.

“Taken together, these were positive steps,” Hamilton said.

Nevertheless, Rick Trachok, chairman of the Board of Bar Examiners, said the increase in passing scores resulted more from test takers scoring “much higher” on the bar exam’s multistate section than from the changes the court implemented.

He said test-takers who fell in the top quartile scored almost 10 points higher on the exam’s multistate portion than their counterparts in the previous few tests.

Even test-takers who failed to come close to the revised cut score achieved five or six points higher than those in previous exams.

Trachok said that reading the responses to the eight one-hour-long essay questions, another portion of the overall exam, confirmed that the test-takers had performed “much, much better.”

Even with the improved passage rate, Hamilton, wants to keep getting better. School officials are reviewing hundreds of pages of results from studies California has done on its bar exam, he said.

Ultimately, he believes the next logical step is for the state to institute the Uniform Bar Exam, which places less emphasis on essay responses and enables graduates to take their scores to other jurisdictions that use the test.

So far, 26 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the uniform test. Hamilton wants Nevada to be next.

“This is, in my mind, an important next step for the bar in Nevada,” he said. “Ultimately, of course, it’s up to the Supreme Court.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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