The Fall bar exam wasn’t the complete nuclear disaster that the lead up to its administration certainly suggested. But while we judge Star Wars films by, “well, it could’ve been worse” it’s not how a profession should judge its admissions process. Frantic examinees worried about uploading documents. Human biology forced people to quit the exam or persevere under horrific conditions. Black and brown folks were routinely told that they weren’t real people by the facial recognition software. California ended up flagging a third of the examinees for cheating because someone fidgeted while sitting for hours on end. That “most” people made it through is not an acceptable answer.
Though I guess for people that consistently misdefine “minimum competency” the way they do, we shouldn’t expect standards to be the strong suit.
So imagine my surprise when, after all that happened in the Fall, I learned that the UBE jurisdictions are subjecting applicants to 200 MBEs, 6 essays, and 2 MPTs for the February exam. In other words, they are making February applicants perform TWICE the work.
So… more people unable to complete the exam because they have to use the bathroom mid-test. More people flagged as cheaters because they shift in their seat during the doubly long test session. More technical concerns as sluggish servers deal with uploading two times the material. Of every problem identified during the last go around, extending the test only exacerbates the issues.
And for what purpose? Since October, bar examiners have stressed that the shorter exam administered in the Fall was more than sufficient as a licensing measure. So I guess they decided that they were lying? If that’s true, should we have reservations about the people who passed it last year?
The correct answer is no. They knew the test was more than sufficient then and they know it would be more than sufficient now. It’s mostly theater anyway. Every credible inquiry suggests building a radically different skills test or — even better — reforming the law school curriculum to guarantee every graduate is license ready upon earning a diploma.
How is this fair to the people that either opted out of October amidst the craziness or got dinged due to the test’s ill-conceived algorithms? As it stands, it just seems like petty revenge upon any applicant who dared to doubt that the October exam would work. Which certainly tracks for a group of people who openly mused about using the character and fitness process to retaliate against critics.
Doubtless, the NCBE and state examiners will find succor among the crowd of boneheads who will point out that the February exam is simply returning to the test format that past applicants had to deal with. And that’s true, except past examinees didn’t have to take the test online with a slapped-together testing system that flags blinking too many times over the course of 90 minutes as cheating. If the conditions of the test aren’t the same then there’s no justification to go back to the same old substance. The test was shortened to work under online conditions for a reason and for all the problems encountered in October, not a single one suggested “this would probably work better if it were longer.”
On the other hand, for those of us criticizing the bar exam process and advocating for better licensing procedures, this move could hardly make the argument against this exam more clearly. The content really doesn’t matter. It could be half as long or twice as long and make no difference to the question of competence. All that really matters to examiners is that their own existence is self-justified. Everyone else is just a pawn in that process.
Earlier: Like COVID-19, Online Bar Exam Is A Disaster And Was Entirely Preventable
If You’re Menstruating Or Lactating During The Bar Exam You’re Screwed
The Online Bar Exam Amounted To Two Days Of Cruel Vindictiveness
Online Bar Exams Rely On Facial Recognition Tech And Guess What? It’s Still Racist!
California Bar Exam Flagged A THIRD Of Applicants As Cheating
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.