Preparing for the In-Person Bar Exam in Illinois and Nationally

In less than two weeks, the February Illinois bar exam will be administered in person. This follows a June announcement from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) that said only in-person exam materials will be available for the February exam.

Nancy Vincent, Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar (IBAB) Director of Administration said that health guidelines are in place to prepare for the exam.

“Among other things we do have a mask mandate in place for everyone and an option of proof of full vaccination or a requirement that they produce proof of a negative Covid test with certain parameters. We have instituted distancing with seating, expanded capacity, and adjusted certain protocols in order to discourage crowds,” Vincent said.

While remote testing has been available since October 2020, almost every state that administers the bar exam has complied with in-person testing. Nevada and Louisiana are the only states that will not test fully in person for the February date. A make-up test will be available in March for any jurisdictions where in-person testing is not possible on February 22 and 23.

map of state taking the bar exam in person in February 2022
Photo courtesy of NCBE

Why administer the bar exam in person?

Remote exams have allowed states to continue testing safely during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, NCBE and other examination interest groups have continued to push for in-person exams.

Vincent said of IBAB, “The Board believes in person is a better method of exam administration and believes it can be done safely with precautions in place.”

Additionally, examinees reported continuous technical difficulties with the exam platform, ExamSoft, during each iteration of the remote test since 2020. Many reported blank screens, other glitches, and long wait times with ExamSoft customer support that may have affected their performance on the test.

Challenges to the bar exam

Both remote and in-person testing have received criticism from examinees, as seen in the Twitter hashtag, #barpocalypse. According to some social media users, health concerns for those with preexisting medical conditions may prevent in-person testing, while AI and eye-tracking anti-cheating measures in the remote test may prevent a pregnant woman from taking necessary bathroom breaks during the exam.

Some states have offered alternatives to the bar exam in the interim. The pandemic has renewed interest in for many, and five jurisdictions implemented temporary diploma privilege beginning in 2020. These allowances will end with the February 2022 exam.

Other states, such as Illinois, allowed for expanded student practice, where law school graduates could practice law under the supervision of licensed attorneys.

The future of the bar exam

The announcement of the in-person bar exam coincided with several other key news items about remote testing options. The College Board recently announced that the SAT will be delivered remotely by 2024, while NCBE has begun the development of the remote “Next Gen Bar Exam” to debut as early as 2026.

Until then, the NCBE and IBAB expect in-person exams to continue. If you are taking the February bar exam, make sure to stay informed of all testing guidelines.

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