1903 Preliminary Examination

All applicants not grandfathered under the rules were required to successfully complete the preliminary examination and prove they were of good moral character, prior to becoming registered as a student at law 1   for the purpose of becoming admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. Each successful applicant was issued a certificate, which was required for admission to law school or clerkship in a law office. The first preliminary examination, drafted by the original Board members, was administered to 43 applicants on June 23 and 24, 1903. Of those 43, 24 were successful, six were conditioned, 2   and 13 were unsuccessful. The purpose of the preliminary examination was to insure applicants possessed the educational qualifications necessary to pursue the study of law. At the turn of the century, an applicant who chose to pursue his legal studies by entering law school had only two options - University of Pennsylvania Law School or Dickinson School of Law. In the alternative, an applicant who chose to pursue his legal studies through serving a three-year clerkship was required to do so in the office of an attorney licensed and in good standing in Pennsylvania.

At the turn of the century, educational opportunities were limited, and a statewide structured school system did not exist, which forced a number of candidates to be home-schooled and never receive a high school diploma. However, the Bar Admission Rules in effect at that time did not require a high school diploma to be eligible to sit for the preliminary examination and, if successful, enroll in the study of law. As attendance at reputable colleges became more commonplace, the Board began accepting degrees from approved colleges in lieu of the preliminary examination.

The preliminary examination was developed to ensure all law candidates possessed the requisite knowledge and abilities necessary to complete the study of law. Candidates were expected to be knowledgeable in specific subjects required for admission to the freshman class of average colleges of reputable standing. The preliminary examination was administered over two days, for a period of eight hours each day. The first day of the preliminary examination tested candidates' knowledge of algebra, geometry, English language and literature, Latin and modern geography. The subjects tested on the second day were universal history, history of England, and the history of the United States.

Here is a sample of the 1903 Preliminary Examination.

In 1927, the Board began reevaluating the educational qualifications that had been required for the past two decades and determined that the educational deficiencies, which had been the basis for developing the preliminary examination, no longer existed. The Board adopted a new standard for measuring the necessary educational qualifications to pursue the study of law, and in the late 1920s began accepting a Bachelor's Degree from an approved college or the successful completion of the College Entrance Examination in lieu of the preliminary examination. As a result, the last preliminary examination was administered in December 1928. The Board continued to evaluate preliminary education requirements as well as college curricula for the next 15 years. In 1941, upon recommendation of the Board, the Court approved the amendment to Rule 7, which mandated that candidates must possess a Bachelor's degree from an approved college for registration as a student at law.

1. A student at law was defined as one who either entered law school or served a three-year clerkship.

2. "Conditioned" is defined as any applicant who was unsuccessful in no more than two subject areas tested on the preliminary examination. Any applicant who was conditioned was permitted to apply for the next examination, to be tested only on those subject areas where he was not successful.