Colorado Supreme Court Lowers Minimum Passing Score for State Bar Exam

The Colorado Supreme Court announced Nov. 4 that starting in 2023, the minimum passing score, or cut score, on the Uniform Bar Examination required for admission to practice law in Colorado will be lowered from 276 to 270. 

The change is prospective, the high court announced, and 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 noted it consulted with the Law Committee of the Colorado State Board of Law Examiners before making the decision. Justice Maria Berkenkotter didn’t 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. According to the state Supreme Court, only Alaska uses a higher cut score (280), and just three other UBE jurisdictions use cut scores above 270, including Arizona (273), Idaho (272) and Pennsylvania (272).

When Colorado joined 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, according to the high court. Numerous UBE jurisdictions have lowered their cut scores after initial adoption, including Oregon, which lowered its score twice, according to the Colorado Supreme Court. In 2018, Oregon lowered its cut score from 284 to 274, and last year following a study, lowered its score again to 270. The 41 UBE jurisdictions have cut scores ranging from 260 to 280, but the largest cluster of 16 jurisdictions has settled at 270. 

Oregon’s 2021 study focused on the written portions of the UBE, which the Colorado Supreme Court said it believes are particularly useful to measure a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks required of lawyers in entry-level positions or in opening their own law offices. The court noted in its announcement it found the Oregon study persuasive.

The high court also recognized significant changes to the bar exam are coming in a few years. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is developing a new exam known as “NextGen,” the court explained. NextGen will be in a different format and test fewer subjects but with more focus on lawyering skills. The state Supreme Court noted 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 said it 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.

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