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‘Devastating’ Anxiety as Remote Bar Exam Tech Crashes Again

July 30, 2021, 9:32 AM

Technical glitches marred July remote bar exams for the third time in a row, leading to a spike in anxiety for test takers already concerned about passing.

Pre-exam optimism among state bar groups and the National Conference of Bar Examiners that the third time would be the charm for ExamSoft’s software turns out to have been misplaced.

“Unfortunately, some applicants did experience technical difficulties and needed to restart their computer to resume testing,” said ExamSoft spokeswoman Nici Sandberg in a written statement. “While we’re still investigating, these seem to be related to memory issues on some devices.”

The newest reports echo those from exams last February and October, also held remotely in response to the pandemic. Test takers then reported rejected file attachments, the deletion of online essay notes and even being kicked off the test completely because of facial recognition technology that didn’t work properly.

This time around, test takers reported being shut out of the exam, having their computers suddenly crash, and facing blank screens, among other issues.

A number of them voiced complaints on Twitter and other social media sites beginning on July 26, when Pennsylvania’s three-day bar exam began, and during the following two days when 27 other mostly larger states, plus the District of Columbia, held their two-day remote exams.

California-based test taker Sevana Tavoosian tweeted Wednesday that 30 minutes into her third exam essay, her screen froze, and then her computer crashed.

“I messed up my whole exam,” Tavoosian tweeted. “Anxiety level was devastating.”

Harvard Law School J.D. candidate Beth Feldstein, in the middle of her Washington, D.C. bar exam on Tuesday, tweeted to ExamSoft about its software program Examplify in a bid for help.

“Hi, @examsoft, hate to do this, but I’m taking the bar exam and Examplify crashed in the middle of the (multistate essay examination),” she tweeted. “I’ve been unable to resume the exam waiting for an hour and a half to talk to a representative. Should I submit it so I can start the second set of MEE questions on time?”

The company replied to Feldstein five minutes later, saying, “Please go on to your next session, but please DM for more information.”

Feldstein later tweeted her thanks to the D.C. Bar for their help in re-downloading and completing that portion of the exam.

California ‘Distraught’

No representative of any group involved with the exams’ administration—including ExamSoft, the NCBE, or the state bars in New York or California—said they knew the actual number of affected test takers.

“We are distraught over the difficulties,” said Donna Hershkowitz, chief of programs for the State Bar of California, in a Thursday statement to Bloomberg Law. “We are evaluating a range of solutions and remedies for this and will be communicating directly with those affected.”

ExamSoft is working with jurisdictions to accommodate those who experienced “verified issues” to make sure all applicants are able to complete every session, Sandberg said.

An NCBE spokeswoman said that ExamSoft notified her group that some remote bar examinees experienced technical problems, causing them to have to restart their computers mid-exam.

“Jurisdictions have been reaching out to arrange solutions,” the spokeswoman, Valerie Hickman, said. “NCBE shares examinees’ frustration with this situation and supports the jurisdictions in seeking to ensure a fair and equitable resolution.”

Future exams likely will again be held in-person, according to the NCBE, unless individual states say they need to hold them remotely because of Covid-19.

Twenty-two states held their most recent tests in-person, despite the risks of inadvertently spreading or contracting Covid-19, including the more highly transmissible delta variant.

A group called Association of Academic Support Educators in a statement urged state supreme courts to tell July bar exam takers that they acknowledge the “unacceptable problems” associated with the tests. The group also asked the courts to assure test takers that software problems will not result in invalidation of their exam attempts or scores.

“Such an act is in keeping with the high standards of the legal profession,” said Marsha Griggs, a professor at Washburn University School of Law in Kansas, on behalf of AASE.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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