The State Bar of California announced during the weekend that due to the large number of technical issues that led to a massive number of test takers not passing, a large number of scores will be adjusted or be test takers will be allowed to take it again for free.
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Prior to the pandemic, the average pass rate of the test hovered between 50% to 60% of all people taking the test. The last pre-COVID test in October 2019 came in with a 50% pass rate. However, after COVID-19 hit in early 2020, the bar exam was delayed and eventually switched over to an all-online format instead of the usual in-person test. With so many now able to take it under their own conditions at home, the October 2020 bar exam had a pass rate of 60.7%, marking the highest rate recorded since July 2008.
However, with the testing pool back to normal and some software adjustments, the July 2021 results released during the weekend found that the pass rater fell back to 53%.
“We heartily congratulate the 3,995 applicants who passed the General Bar Exam and the 180 candidates who passed the Attorneys’ Exam, particularly after facing and overcoming the challenges of preparing for and taking the exam amid the extraordinary impacts of the pandemic,” noted State Bar Executive Director Leah Wilson in a statement.
But, as the State Bar noted on Sunday, that score was lower due to problems with the remote testing software. ExamSoft, which hosted the remote bar exam, had software issues that made some users screens go black due to high-memory problems. 2,429 users in total, 31% of the entire July 2021 bar testing pool, reported technical issues, with 158 test takers, or around 2% of the pool, losing time or content on their test.
As a result, the California Bar Association made a rare move to alter the scores of the 2,429 users with testing issues, with over 1,300 allowed to retake the test with no consequences.
“The Board felt strongly that we needed to do everything possible to ensure fairness for this group of examinees,” said Ruben Duran, Chair of the Board of Trustees, in a statement on Sunday. “While a psychometrically sound scoring adjustment was made, it was clear that there’s no way to fully quantify what impacts these issues had on examinees. We decided that offering a credit or refund to those who were affected and were unsuccessful on this exam was the right thing to do.”
Bar exam to return to in-person testing in February 2022
The unusualness of the bar examinations since the pandemic have led many to question just how stable the bar test in California has been since the pandemic.
“The bar exam is one of the major hurdles to practicing law in every state,” lawyer Clair Davis told the Globe on Monday. “At first they had that unusual at-home test spike, now we have computer issues that hurt thousands of people.
“And this is a real issue. The law is sacred, and every state needs lawyers who can uphold that to the ideal. But when things like this happen, even during such an unusual time like a pandemic, it doesn’t actually inspire confidence. Remember, a lot of the current lawmakers locally, statewide, and nationally, are lawyers and have had to take this test in the past. So, in a sense, it’s something of a hurdle for the majority of politicians too. And California has been stumbling a bit on it lately.”
As a bar exam costs around $700 each, the over 1,300 who can retake the test with no charge will cost the bar association around $1.7 million. In-person testing is expected to return wide-scale for the February 2022 exam.