Colorado Supreme Court reduces minimum passing score for bar exam

11/04/2022 11:54 AM | Britt Kwan (Administrator)

DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court announced today that starting in 2023, the minimum passing score, or cut score, on the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) required for admission to practice law in Colorado will be lowered from 276 to 270. 

The change is prospective, applicable to candidates for admission beginning with the February 2023 administration of the UBE as well as to candidates who seek to transfer their scores to Colorado from the February 2023 administration of the UBE in other jurisdictions. 

The Court consulted with the Law Committee of the Colorado State Board of Law Examiners before making the decision. Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter did not participate in the decision.

Colorado’s cut score of 276 was instituted in 1985, before Colorado joined the UBE, and it is now the second-highest cut score among the 41 states that use the UBE. Only Alaska uses a higher cut score (280), and only three other UBE jurisdictions use cut scores above 270: Arizona (273), Idaho (272), and Pennsylvania (272).

When Colorado joined the UBE and began administering the UBE in February 2012, it retained its cut score of 276 on the premise that UBE scores would correspond to scores under the prior exam. Numerous UBE jurisdictions have lowered their cut scores after initial adoption, including Oregon, which lowered its score twice. In 2018, Oregon lowered its cut score from 284 to 274, and then last year, following a study, it lowered its score to 270. The 41 UBE jurisdictions have cut scores ranging from 260 to 280, but the largest cluster, 16 jurisdictions, have settled at 270. 

Oregon’s recent study focused on the written portions of the UBE, which the Court believes are particularly useful as a measure of a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks required of lawyers in entry-level positions or in opening their own law offices, and the Court finds the Oregon study persuasive.

The Court also recognizes that significant changes to the bar exam are coming in a few years. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is developing a new exam, known as “NextGen,” that will be in a different format and test fewer subjects, but with more focus on lawyering skills. Each jurisdiction will decide whether to join a compact similar to the UBE Compact, which will allow applicants to transfer their exam scores to other jurisdictions, and each will determine its own passing score for admission to its bar. 

The Court plans to invite public input on the broader question of how to determine minimum competency of candidates for admission to the Colorado bar, and will announce details once the NCBE has defined the timing and content of the proposed NextGen exam.

El Paso County Bar Association is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
P.O. Box 429, Colorado Springs, CO 80901-0429

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