Bar Exam Statistics for LLM students: Ignore?

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

It is the time of the year during which LL.M. students across the country are biting their fingernails. The New York Bar Exam is right around the corner. Every February and July, LL.M. graduates from around the globe are sitting for the often-feared two-day exam.

A look at the statistics may suggest that the fear is not unwarranted. Between 2004 and 2017 the passing rate of all foreign educated test-takers ranges from 25 to 48 percent.

So, should you be worried? Now, 20 days before the exam? Absolutely not.

A statistic is a “piece of data obtained from a study of a large quantity of numerical data” (Oxford University Press Dictionary). The bar exam statistic, therefore, tells us what happened in the past to other test takers before us. But can we now make a prediction of what may happen in the future to us? No!

When I took the bar exam in February 2013, only 30 percent passed the exam (I was one of the 30 percent and I was the most average law student you can imagine; I simply devoted myself completely to two months of study). In July 2017, on the other hand, 57 percent passed. That is a passage rate of almost double. The problem with this statistic is that it does not consider how devoted the test taker was during the preparation period. How she prepared, for how long she prepared, her English skills, her prior education, whether she took a bar preparation course, whether she was nervous or sick during the exam, whether she didn’t sleep the night before the exam, or whether passing the exam is her career priority.

As diverse as LL.M. students are, equally diverse are the factors that play into why someone does not pass the exam. All these factors are not captured in the bar passage statistics. If you are studying persistently and focused for two months, with the unwavering intent to become a New York admitted attorney, you cannot and should not compare yourself to a statistic which includes those who took the exam “just to try it.”

What should you do instead? Free yourself from all the noise around you — those “horror stories” that former exam takers are sharing about how difficult it is for foreign LL.M. graduates to pass the exam, how students left the exam site crying and screaming, how someone passed out seeing the first essay. All this chatter has nothing to do with reality, nor is it helpful. This is the noise you absolutely must avoid. The only things you should be focusing on are your health, your study material and a good mental attitude. And finally, do not forget to enjoy this opportunity — this amazing pursuit: to become a New York licensed attorney.

If I did it, you can and will do it, too. All the best for July 24-25!


Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).