If I can jump back in here after being away from the discussion since last summer . . . IF the answer to why the California bar exam pass rate is so low was simple to figure out . . . trust me, our pass rate at Monterey College of Law would be 100%. First, remember that there are 21 ABA law schools, 17 California accredited law schools, and another 20 unaccredited and distance education law schools that feed applicants into the California bar exam. Compare that, for example, to 11 New York law schools, the next most populous state for law schools and other states that range to 1 school for Nevada and 0 for Alaska. This means that the applicant pool is dramatically different than for any other state . . . socio-economic, age, income, primary language, etc. Second, you need to realize that California deliberately scales the multi-state (MBE) scores so that a range of the raw scores that are passing in all 48 other states fail to make the cut in California. This "artificially" lowers the California overall pass rate and disproportionately affects non-traditional students, many of whom fall in the margin of difference. The three-day bar exam means that 2/3rds of the exam is timed essay and 1/3 multiple choice vs. 50-50 in most states. The exams are graded by lawyers who are 100% from traditional ABA schools and who were trained to answer law school exams in a homogenized environment that has changed little over the past 100 years. All in all, what it means is that the cumulative pass rates (not first-time and NOT Repeater - a nonsense number for this conversation) in California are far better comparisons for the state-by-state comparisons. Although the small cohorts of Monterey College of Law (one of the CALS) graduates could range from 0-80% first-time pass rates, the five-year cumulative pass rate of 66-68% is competitive in the context of the California scores.
Likewise, Concord Law School, the largest distance learning law school has about a 60% cumulative pass rate once you factor out their out-of-state and international students who have no interest in practicing in CA and rarely invest in the type of bar prep resources necessary to have a chance to pass in CA.
If you want to make your head hurt, here are the most recent 2012 statistics comparing national bar pass rates.http://www.ncbex.org/assets/media_files/Bar-Examiner/articles/2013/8201132012statistics.pdf