Legal Education

5 jurisdictions commit to using NextGen bar exam

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Five jurisdictions have committed to administering the NextGen bar exam, the National Conference of Bar Examiners announced on Wednesday.

According to a press release, Maryland, Missouri and Oregon will be the first to administer the new test starting in July 2026, with Wyoming following in 2027. Connecticut has committed but not finalized its first test date.

“We’d rather be at the vanguard than the rear guard,” Jeffrey Shipley, secretary and director of the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners told the ABA Journal. “The board is confident that the materials the NCBE provides in the future are going to be of high quality and that we can administer them fairly and get the results we’re expecting.”

Study aids for the new test for candidates and law schools will become available in 2024, although more sample questions will appear on the National Conference of Bar Examiners website soon, Judith Gundersen, president and CEO of the Madison, Wisconsin-based organization told the ABA Journal. She expects other jurisdictions to commit to the new exam by the first half of 2024, she adds.

Judith GundersenJudith Gundersen is president and CEO of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Based on a multiyear, nationwide legal practice analysis, the new exam mimics what newly licensed attorneys encounter day to day, including the skills and knowledge needed in litigation and transactional legal practice, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

“That is based on the feedback we got listening to stakeholders,” Gundersen says. The integrated question sets, which include short-answer and multiple-choice questions based on a common fact scenario, especially reflect that emphasis, focusing on situations new lawyers often handle, she adds.

“We feel it aligns well with law school curriculum that not only teaches doctrine but also teaches skills, anything from legal research and writing up until alternative dispute resolution clinics, other clinical placements, simulations, externships,” Gundersen says.

The law school deans contacted by the ABA Journal support the shift in theory, but they are anxious to see the exam.

Dean Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law says his school emphasizes practical skills in clinics and its first-year curriculum. “So rather than testing your memory of a list of hearsay exceptions, for example, you’d be opening a file and deciding what you would do as a lawyer in those circumstances,” he explains. “The approach makes sense to us. And we think our students will benefit.”

Russell Osgood, dean of Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, wants to wait and see. “I’m going to be a little cagey and say I need to see more about it to definitely say yes, but I am supportive of the idea that the overall bar exam needs to be updated.”

While the new exam aims to make students practice-ready, “there are, like, 700 different kinds of practices,” he says. “We have a lot of students who are interested in intellectual property. Is the NextGen going to work for that?”

Osgood hopes the NextGen exam will be widely adopted because there may be Washington University law students taking the bar exam in 30 or so different states. “Part of the difficulty is the current huge variations. We have trouble getting everyone ready psychologically when the exams are so different,” he says.

Baltimore School of Law has not yet modified the curriculum in light of this new exam but might later, Weich says. And according to Osgood, Washington University’s faculty members can decide how they will adjust their teaching once they see more draft questions.

The new test, developed with the input of more than 15,000 U.S attorneys, jurists and legal educators, is the first reimagining of the bar exam in 25 years.

“It’s best practice for any high-stake licensure exam to periodically take a look at to see if the exam still faithful to entry-level practice,” Gundersen adds.

Last week, the NCBE announced the current bar exam and its components—the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination and the Multistate Performance Test—will remain available to jurisdictions through the February 2028 administration. This means that the current exam and the NextGen exam will be offered concurrently for two full years. Previously, plans were to sunset the current exam in July 2027.

While there will be some similarities to the current exam, such as multiple-choice questions, the new exam will also include a new type of question requiring the selection of two correct answers. There will also be performance tasks similar to those encountered in the Multistate Performance Test section of the current bar exam.

The individual jurisdictions will continue administering the test and grading the written portions. The new exam will have three sessions of three hours each, with each session containing two integrated question sets, one performance task and two blocks of stand-alone multiple-choice questions, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The sessions will take place over one and one-half days, with six hours of testing time on Day 1 and three hours on Day 2. The current bar exam is typically administered in 12 hours over two full days.

“The test is shorter. That’s arguably good for everyone,” Shipley says. “It’s less physically grueling.”

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