The bar exam may look different in a few years based on recommendations from a National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) Testing Task Force that is aimed at taking the exam into the next generation.
In late January, NCBE’s Board of Trustees approved several changes to the bar exam that were the culmination of the Task Force’s three-year, comprehensive study into the design and content of the exam. The preliminary recommendations are targeted at ensuring a more integrated bar exam continues to assess the minimum competencies required for newly licensed lawyers entering a changing legal profession.
The Task Force’s decisions were guided by the prevailing viewpoints of the lawyers, bar admissions agencies, legal educators, and other stakeholders who participated in the study: the exam should test fewer subjects and less broadly within subjects, a greater emphasis should be placed on real-world lawyering skills, the exam should be affordable, fairness and accessibility for all candidates must be ensured, and the portability of Uniform Bar Exam scores should be maintained (Read: New IAALS Effort Aims to Build a Better Bar Exam).
The Approved Changes
The new version of the bar exam, set to debut in five years, will require less broad memorization and will put a higher emphasis on testing legal skills. It will include new types of questions and ensure accessibility for candidates with disabilities. Other notable changes include:
- The integrated bar exam will reflect a fundamental shift from the distinct Multistate Bar Exam, Multistate Essay Exam, and Multistate Performance Test. The integrated approach will use “scenarios that are representative of real-world types of legal problems that newly licensed lawyers encounter in practice,” according to the Task Force.
- Admissions decisions will be based on a single, combined score (based on a compensatory scoring model) to be consistent with the integrative nature of the exam.
- The exam will be administered on the computer, “either on candidates’ laptops in jurisdiction-managed facilities and/or at computer testing centers managed by a suitable vendor.”
- Foundational concepts and skills – like negotiation, and client relationship and management – will be assessed using text or video-based scenarios. Subjects including family law, estates and trusts, the Uniform Commercial Code and conflict of laws will be dropped.
What to Expect Next
These proposed changes are still four-to-five years out, meaning other changes could pop up along the way. For example, the length of the integrated bar exam is still up for debate. The Task Force stated that “If possible, the length of the exam will be reduced, but this will be done only if the necessary validity and reliability of scores can be maintained.”
Several components of the exam will remain unchanged. It will be administered over two days at a specific testing location, will remain closed–book, and will produce a single score to determine if the candidate passed. Moreover, the integrated bar exam will produce portable scores for jurisdictions that agree to accept the scores.
The Task Force expects to publish a final, comprehensive report this spring.
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