Big changes for bar exam suggested by NCBE testing task force
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Bar exams of the future should be delivered online as an integrated test with scenarios to answer questions from, rather than in, sections with different formats, according to preliminary recommendations released Monday by the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ testing task force.
A series of stakeholder webinars are scheduled for this month to discuss the recommendations, and the NCBE board of trustees is scheduled to vote on finalized recommendations Jan. 28. Any changes would take up to five years to implement, according to an overview of the recommendations.
Computer-based exams could be administered at test centers or jurisdiction-managed sites with both options proctored in person, said Judge Cynthia L. Martin of the Missouri Court of Appeals, who chairs the task force, in a Zoom call Monday.
Noting that COVID-19 led to an October online bar exam, she added that the pandemic solidified the NCBE’s view that exams can be given on computers, and it’s important tests ensure fairness to applicants.
Some applicants who took the NCBE’s October online bar exam said they had problems with the software’s remote proctoring.
Also, in December, some California bar exam applicants reported receiving violation notices from the state’s office of admissions, which appeared to be related to online proctoring. Megan Zavieh, an attorney who represents some of the applicants, tweeted Dec. 23 that some notices were getting “closed out without action against the applicant.”
Regarding an integrated test, scenarios with a handful of questions could replace the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination and the Multistate Performance Test. Test-takers would use the scenarios and perhaps a digital library provided by the NCBE to answer questions.
“That would allow us to assess different elements based on one scenario. We can assess your knowledge of some doctrine and your ability to apply some skills,” said Kellie Early, chief strategy officer of the NCBE, during the Zoom call.
As an example, a scenario could center on information that a new client gives their counsel in an initial meeting, she added. Specific questions could focus on what the primary issues are—whether additional information is needed and how should the lawyer proceed. Some questions could be multiple choice or short answers, which could be graded by a computer. Others could be long-form and require human graders.
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination will remain a separate test because stakeholders thought that the topic warrants its own grading, according to Early.
The task force also suggests ceasing the expectation that candidates know legal doctrine for family law, estates and trusts, uniform commercial code and conflicts of law, according to Early. She added that those subjects could be the context for legal problems or case scenarios with necessary resources, such as statutes, caselaw and regulation provided in testing materials.
For now, it’s too early in the process to determine the length of a revamped bar exam.
“The intent is not to make the exam longer. The intent is to make it as efficient as it can be while still being valid and reliable,” Early said, adding that the next-generation bar exam might actually be easier to complete.
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