The Bar examination – the best and the worst performers



Justice Art D. Brion (Ret.) Justice Art D. Brion (Ret.)

The life of a law student formally starts with his entrance exam (the PhiLSAT) and ends at the Bar examination – the reputedly difficult and dreaded reckoning that admission to the Bar requires.

Having gone through the process and having seen many of the exams and the examinees over the years, the problem that I see is not in the Bar exam itself but in the preparation or the lack of it, that precedes the exam.

The Bar exam can truly be a frightful experience when one is not prepared, but can also leave in the successful examinees a gratifying sense of achievement – the heady feeling of having surmounted difficult challenges. Indeed, the number of  examinable subjects and the volume of materials can be daunting, but the challenge can be overcome through focus and preparation.

The formal preparation for the Bar exam is done only in one place – at the law school; complementary preparations are on one’s own but are still  based on guidance from the law school.  The law school therefore – not the coverage of the Bar exam – largely spells the difference between passing or failing the Bar.

The best law schools distribute the Bar exam difficulties across four years of studies. They consistently drill the law into the students’ heads through the pressures of graded recitations and exams, day after day of law school life. Thus, at the formal Bar review, students from these schools are in their advanced stage of preparation that, more often than not, leads to Bar exam success.

In contrast, the non-performing law schools allow law students a relaxed study life and give them the comfort of facing law school life without the pressures of daily preparation.  For many of these students, the Bar review is the 1st focused, but hurried, viewing of the examinable materials. For sheer lack of preparation time, many end up failing the Bar exam.

Rather than view the Bar number of examinable subjects and the volume of materials as problems, the coverage should be seen as a plus factor in lawyers’ professional lives.  The scope and wide coverage of the exam compels them to have the well-rounded knowledge of law they need in law practice. Ideally, this foundational knowledge the law school should provide.

The present Bar exam coverage therefore may need some adjustments to allow for changes in the law and in the legal environment, but does not need any drastic reduction in coverage as some quarters now propose.

Rather than complain about coverage, we should acknowledge that success or failure in the Bar exam is determined, to a large extent, by the examinees’ law school education and preparation.

I cite the record of performance shown below so the readers may draw their own conclusions.

As a reminder from history, the Duke of Wellington, after defeating Napoleon and referring to his old school, famously said: “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” This kind of remark our law schools should never forget.

To complete my thoughts on the Bar exam, I do not believe that the regional relocation of the Bar exam and the use of computers are critical issues that our regulators should prioritize; they need serious and in-depth consideration and should be so handled and resolved.

The regional relocation of the Bar exam may be an attractive and convenient option for some, but may pose an administrative problem in terms of implementation difficulties and risks to the integrity of the exam.  The Supreme Court is well aware of the advantages and the risks and I need not say more.

The computerization of the Bar exam, on the other hand,  is also ideally attractive but is ahead of its time because of the prior preparation it needs.  The use of computers may already be usual in some schools but not in many others.  It may likewise be rash to use computers in a national exam without requiring its use – as a testing medium – in the classrooms.

To give credit to the law schools that prepared their students well in the last 5 Bar exams, hereunder is the ranking of the top 10 law schools based on the percentage of the successful to the total number of new examinees.

 Univesity of the Philippines - 545 out of 631; 86.37%.

  1. Ateneo de Davao University – 123 out of 146; 84.25%.
  2. Ateneo de Manila University– 696 out of 841; 82.76%
  3. University of San Carlos – 305 out of 377; 80.90%
  4. Angeles University Foundation – 39 out of 50; 78%
  5. University of Santo Tomas – 346 out of 453; 76.38%
  6. San Beda University – 736 out of 967; 76.11%
  7. Xavier University – 98 out of 139; 70.50%
  8. University of Cebu – 87 out of 131; 66.41%
  9. Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila – 50 out of 76; 65.79%
At the other end of the spectrum, the dismally performing law schools, based on the percentage of success in the last five Bar exams, can be grouped as follows:
  • 4 schools posted 0% passing rate 4 times.
  • 8 schools posted 0% passing three 3 times.
  • 14 schools posted 0% passing two 2 times.
  • 15 schools posted 0% passing once 1.
They constitute 41 of the total field of 110 law schools, or 37.27% of the total field. That is how bad the numbers are. The lowest ranking among these schools are:
  1. University of Northeastern Philippines, 4 times at 0%;
  2. Ramon Magsaysay Technological University, 4 times at 0%;
  3. Laguna State Polytechnic University, 4 times at 0%;
  4. Southern Bicol Colleges, 4 times at 0%;
  5. Virgen Milagrosa University Foundation, 3 times at 0%;
  6. City University of Pasay, 3 times at 0%;
  7. Urdaneta City University, 3 times at 0%;
  8. Lyceum Northwestern University, 3 times at 0%;
  9. Negros Oriental State University, 3 times at 0%;
  10. Christ the King College, 3 times at 0%;
  11. University of Manila, 3 times at 0%;
  12. Mary’s College, 3 times at 0%.
Those interested in further details may email me at my address below.

I close my series on legal education with my best wishes to the Supreme Court’s Legal Education Summit being held today and tomorrow at the Manila Hotel.

Allow me to congratulate the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, and J. Alexander Gesmundo for this initiative.  Indeed the Summit’s recommendation can serve as good inputs for the court and the Legal Education Board in their future actions on the Bar exam and legal education in the days to come.