Legal Education

What can bar applicants learn from the October 2020 exam?

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For the 30 jurisdictions offering a remote bar exam in a few weeks, there are hopes the technology has improved since last year’s administrations, when candidates reported issues with facial authentication technology, software crashes and problems uploading videos.

However, those who work in academic support advise July 2021 candidates to develop a worst-case scenario plan.

“Get a sense of some of the challenges others had with online testing mechanisms, and start to acclimate to that. Who do you contact if you have a problem, and how do you manage that?” says Goldie Pritchard, assistant dean of the academic success program at Michigan State University College of Law.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced in an April 2021 administrative order that the July bar exam would be administered remotely. The February 2021 and July 2020 Michigan bar exams were also remote. For July 2020, the state used its own questions, in place of ones developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. ExamSoft, a software provider, provided the software, and there was a July testing delay caused by a distributed denial of service attack, according to the state supreme court.

ExamSoft also provided software for the remote NCBE exams.

Allie Robbins headshot Allie Robbins.

“The very dissatisfying advice is to just keep trying. You will get into the system; keep pushing forward. If you need to, you can write an affirmation afterward,” says Allie Robbins, the interim senior associate dean for academic affairs at the City University of New York School of Law. Robbins also writes at The Activist Guide to Passing the Bar Blog.

ExamSoft uses “facial authentication technology,” like the Apple Face ID that unlocks iPhones, for remote proctoring, says Nici Sandberg, its associate director of marketing content and communications. She adds that after the October exam, the software company clarified error messages during the photo-taking process.

“Since then, we have seen very few support cases regarding the error messages or the ability to successfully take a baseline photo,” she told the ABA Journal in an email.

Also, ExamSoft has increased its support staff, to answer questions about the mock exam process and the actual bar exam, according to Sandberg.

Even without software problems, adopting to a remote bar exam can be difficult if candidates are used to studying on paper, says Sara Berman, AccessLex’s director of programs for academic and bar success.

“With remote work, there are studies that show people read more quickly and miss details. I strongly urge people to slow down, especially as they are practicing, and touch every word on the screen. A missed word could turn the outcome,” she explains.

There are some concerns that July 2021 bar candidates may study less than those who took the July or October 2020 bar exams because, thanks to the COVID-19 vaccination, more people feel safer leaving their homes now. However, Mike Sims, president of BARBRI, says the percentage of students using the bar review company’s online resources is similar to last summer. Also, the total number of users this year increased from last year.

“The best news in my opinion is there will only be one bar exam date,” says Sims, adding that last summer, jurisdictions made various last-minute changes for when, how and if the bar exam would be administered.

“People taking the bar exam are scared, and they are uncertain. Having a certain date will help,” he adds.

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