Legal Education

Following repeat problems with remote bar exam, California releases investigation findings

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Updated: Out of more than 7,000 people who took the July 2021 California bar exam, about 31% experienced software issues. But those problems didn't result in losses of testing time, the State Bar of California announced Monday.

According to a news release, 2% of examinees lost testing time because of software issues. The agency is working with its psychometrician to determine whether any grade adjustments hhave to be made, and 158 applicants who lost time were granted requests to retake testing sections affected.

Additionally, the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar posted a notice that the announcement of bar exam results would be delayed because it’s “committed to carefully reviewing” information from candidates who experienced technology issues.

“We know how hard applicants worked, and we are working just as hard to complete the review process,” the agency wrote.

In California, the state bar claims the issues were caused by high memory use between software for video proctoring and generating the test’s digital images. Out of a total of 7,931 applicants, 7,742 took the exam remotely.

ExamSoft provided software for the remote exam. On the first day of testing, the business reported some examinees having a “black screen” or a “blue screen” on their laptops, which required laptop reboots, according to the news release.

“ExamSoft takes seriously its responsibility to provide an integrity assessment tool that helps the California bar administer the bar exam. We continue to assist California and other jurisdictions regarding impacted exam takers and remain committed to all those who depend on us for their assessment needs,” a spokesperson for the software company told the ABA Journal in an email.

Following the July 2021 exam, bar candidates for California, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania reported having technical issues with the remote test. Some reported blank screens during the Multistate Performance Test, while others said the software froze during an essay question. According to the California investigation, ExamSoft claims that the screen issue happened nationwide, and 1% of test-takers needed additional help to continue with their exams.

The problems followed various technical issues with the remote October 2020 bar exam.

A spokesperson for the National Conference of Bar Examiners told the ABA Journal in an email that it is planning for the February 2022 bar exam to be administered in person, unless prohibited by a jurisdiction’s public health authority.

“The work the jurisdictions are doing to better understand the technical issues that occurred during the remote administration of the July bar exam—how those issues affected examinees and how best to provide resolution is applauded by NCBE,” the spokesperson wrote.

Marsha Griggs, advocacy chair of the Association of Academic Support Educators, said the organization did an “unofficial survey” of the July 2021 bar exam, and she suspects that the number of test-takers affected was much greater than 2%.

“At one California law school, 25% of survey respondents reported experiencing tech issues. This ExamSoft debacle is another example of the lack of transparency that we are victim to when private and unregulated entities play too great of a role in the attorney licensure process. That is what appears to be happening here, and we have no meaningful access to records that would disprove the numbers reported by California,” wrote Griggs, an associate professor and director of academic enrichment and bar passage at the Washburn University School of Law, in an email.

Updated Sept. 28 at 11:29 a.m. to add the comment from ExamSoft. Updated Sept. 28 at 3:22 p.m. to add the comment from the Association of Academic Support Educators. Updated Sept. 30 at 1:58 p.m. to add information about the Illinois bar exam.

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