Guest Post: Connecting Bar Exam Performance to the Law Student Experience

Aaron N. Taylor
Executive Director
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence

There is much research tying student engagement to academic performance. The more engaged students are, the better their academic outcomes. Little of this research, however, has been conducted in the law school context. This is a significant gap in information, particularly given the extent to which law schools must focus on outcomes, such as bar exam passage rates.

AccessLex Institute aims to fill this gap with an upcoming report summarizing our work with the AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative. The report—planned for release in Spring 2020—will present findings from analyses of factors that impact law school academic performance and first-time bar exam performance among graduates of 19 law schools that are participating in the initiative.

We considered a range of factors, including graduate demographic background; their undergraduate GPA and LSAT score; their law school grades; and responses that many of them provided on the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) in their third year. In all, we tested the marginal influence of over 60 engagement variables on law school grades and bar exam performance.

Understanding the factors that influence academic and bar exam outcomes can aid law schools in identifying high-impact experiences and interventions premised on student success. This insight could also help schools better design their admission processes in ways that properly contextualize admission factors and minimize overreliance on certain factors.

Across all 19 schools, measures of law school academic performance were the strongest predictors of bar exam performance. For the vast majority of schools, LSAT scores and undergraduate grades (UGPA) were partial predictors of law school academic performance. At the median level, a one-point increase in LSAT score was associated with a 0.07 increase in final law school GPA. At the median level, a one-tenth point increase in UGPA was associated with a 0.08 increase in final law school GPA (LGPA). The LSAT score had a statistically significant predictive relationship with final GPA at 18 of the 19 schools. The UGPA was tied to final GPA at 15 of the 19 schools.

The analyses also yielded interesting findings about relationships between different aspects of student engagement (as captured by LSSSE responses) and academic and bar exam performance overall and among the 19 schools. Below are three of the most notable. All of these findings yielded statistically significant relationships to final LGPA or bar exam outcome, even after controlling for the other factors in the model. Put simply, these factors were independently influential.

#1: Raise your hand if you’re……unsure.

The frequency of asking questions in class had a positive and statistically significant relationship to final LGPA. Students who reported asking questions “very often” in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.25, while those who reported “never” asking questions in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.18. Asking questions are a manifestation of engagement, and among the pool of students we studied, questions were associated with higher grades.

#2: Do the reading!

Unsurprisingly, coming to class unprepared was associated with lower grades. Students who reported coming to class unprepared “very often” had a predicted final LGPA that was 0.17 grade points lower than those who reported “never” coming to class unprepared. So, students: do the reading. Your grades really do depend on it.

#3: Student-faculty interaction matters

At nine of the 19 schools, the quality of relationships between students and faculty had a positive, statistically significant relationship to final GPA (the strongest predictor of bar exam outcome). Students who rated these relationships highly tended to have higher GPAs. Interactions with faculty members are central to the law student experience. How students view their professors – as teachers, as mentors, as sources of guidance and support – translates into more engagement and better outcomes.

Be on the lookout for our national report as well as a companion blog on this website providing a more in-depth discussion of key findings. This analysis will employ applied research principles and methods to provide participating schools with tangible, actionable information, including explanation and illustration of significant findings from the project and appropriate recommendations. If your law school would like to be a part of our initiatives involving student engagement and bar success, contact us at

Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter – Student Relationships

Decades of research on student engagement and student learning demonstrate the importance of peer interactions. Engaging with classmates in meaningful ways contributes to a deeper sense of belonging and enhances understanding of classwork, leading to better academic and professional outcomes (Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; NSSE, 2013).

Although law school is an inherently stressful and anxiety-producing endeavor, the vast majority of students (76%) report that their peers are friendly, supportive, and contribute to a sense of belonging. There are noticeable variations by race/ethnicity. White students are most likely to report positive relationships with peers (79%), as compared to Black (69%), Asian American (71%), and Latinx (73%) students.


The Student Stress Module examines law student stress and anxiety—their sources, impact, and perceptions of support offered by law schools to manage stress and anxiety. One question asks directly about various sources of stress and anxiety that students may face in school. High percentages of students report that academic performance (77%) and academic workload (76%) produce stress or anxiety, but competition amongst peers does not create or magnify these feelings for most students. Students report that competition amongst peers is most significant during the first year of law school but sharply declines each year. Forty-two percent of 1L students report that peer competition is a source of stress or anxiety. By the third year of law school that number drops to 24%.

Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter – Advising

A majority of students are pleased with the quality of advising and their relationships with administrators:

  • 69% are satisfied with academic advising and planning.
  • 66% are satisfied with career counseling.
  • 64% are satisfied with job search help.
  • 70% are satisfied with financial aid advising.
  • 68% report that administrative staff are helpful, friendly, and considerate.

The quality of relationships with advisors and administrators is both positive and relatively consistent across race, gender, and year in school. Seventy percent of 1L students (and 67% of 2Ls and 3Ls) report that administrative staff are helpful, considerate, and flexible. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of students consider at least one administrator or staff member as someone they could approach for advice or guidance on managing the law school experience. Higher percentages of Black students (87%) rely on these relationships than students from other racial backgrounds (79% for Asian American, white, and Latinx students).



Interactions with academic support personnel drive whether a student would choose to attend the same law school again as well as overall satisfaction with their law school experience. Though students report positive relationships with administrative staff, satisfaction with advising services is less consistent and more varied across race/ethnicity, year in school, and gender. Sixty-nine percent of all respondents report that their law school provides the support they need to succeed academically, with higher perceptions of support among 1L students. Similarly, academic advising, career counseling, and job search help are key support services that students appreciate greatly when they begin law school, though they are more dissatisfied as graduation nears.



Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter - Student-Faculty Interaction

Faculty, administrators, and classmates are key ingredients to law student success. These relationships serve as important ties to the law school and impact student satisfaction, sense of belonging, and academic and professional development. This year’s annual report explores relationships and examines the nuances of the impact they have on law students.

The vast majority of students (76%) report positive relationships with faculty, including interactions both in and out of the classroom. Meaningful interactions vary across student demographics, with notable race/ethnic differences. On multiple dimensions Black and Latinx students report more engagement and interaction with faculty than white and Asian American students. For instance, while a majority of all law students (57%) discuss assignments with faculty “often” or “very often,” 65% of Black students do so, the highest of any racial or ethnic group, followed by 58% of Latinx students, 56% of white students and 53% of Asian American students.


The pattern of Black and Latinx students enjoying higher rates of engagement with faculty persists across multiple dimensions. For example, Black students (47%) are more likely to discuss career or job search with faculty than Latinx (41%), white (40%), or Asian American (38%) students. Black and Latinx students are also more likely to talk with faculty outside of class. The vast majority of students find faculty available, helpful, and sympathetic. Interestingly, this sentiment does not directly track interaction with faculty, as a higher percentage of white students report favorable relationships with faculty than Black and Latinx students.