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Is America “dumbing down” its law school admissions?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 01/10/15

The end of the summer is typically a nail-biter for students – or exam-takers – around the world, and not just because winter is coming (at least in the northern hemisphere), but because with it comes news of their results. Over in the US, the legal sector has seen some shock results from July’s Bar exams – the grades were the lowest in 25 years.

Debate has raged over whether this is down to papers becoming harder or the profession itself “dumbing down”. Although it would be a lot easier to assume the former is correct, the results show that there has been a steady decline over the past few years – the mean score in July stands at 139.9, as opposed to July 2014 where it was 141.5 and July 2013 where it reached 144.3.

So what does this mean? There are claims that law schools are lowering their admission standards in order to recruit more candidates as many students are currently put off the profession by the difficult prospects for graduates. In reaction, the sector is dumbing itself down in an attempt to keep its brighter candidates engaged and under their roof. But is this having an effect on the ability of other students to pass the Bar exam? Commenting on this, Professor Derek Muller of the Pepperdine University School of Law said: 'You can only train students so far and so much, a lot depends on ability.'

But what will happen next? There seems to be one logical outcome for this situation, although it is unlikely to be popular. Many are arguing that the US’s law schools must reinstate their high admission standards and accept that classrooms may not be as full as they have been in the past. The argument is that lowering their standards would be doing a disservice to their students and their own future clients.

How would you solve the exam results crisis?