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N.Y. Bar Exam Takers Report ‘Negative’ Online Experience (1)

Oct. 16, 2020, 3:07 PM; Updated: Oct. 16, 2020, 8:05 PM

More than 40% of law school graduates who took the recent online bar exam in New York said they encountered tech problems during the test, according to a new survey from a pair of state lawmakers who want to let lawyers in training ditch the exam.

The test takers said the tech trouble stemmed from internet issues, test software problems or both. Three in four of the nearly 500 people surveyed also found the experience to be “negative,” including 37% who called it"extremely negative.”

The “snapshot” survey released Friday was sponsored by New York Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, both Democrats who have cosponsored legislation promoting diploma privilege. The alternative arrangement would allow law grads to become licensed attorneys without taking the bar while the pandemic is in effect.

The survey comes as most states’ next bar exams are scheduled to take place in late February—and also as several states have recently decided to pursue alternatives to the traditional bar exam, like diploma privilege or provisional licensing.

Hoylman said in an interview that he hopes the survey results will help persuade New York bar exam administrators—and/or legislators weighing his and Simon’s bills on the topic—to institute a form diploma privilege ahead of the next exam.

“I was taken aback by the high number of negative experiences,” Hoylman said, though that surprise was tempered by the experiences of several other states like Michigan and Indiana, he said, which earlier this year reported their own technical exam-related problems. “We knew what the other states had gone through,” he said.

About 18 states plus the District of Columbia administered their bar exams online for the first time earlier this month, in response to the coronavirus public health crisis. That followed the exams given this summer, in which almost half of the states offered in-person tests, despite the health risks.

When asked how concerned online test takers were about the possibility of others cheating on the online test “by exploiting vulnerabilities in the ExamSoft software,” 45% responded “very concerned.”

Some test takers briefly elaborated about their concerns when responding. “The software crashed 8 times, my answer quality reflects those difficulties,” wrote one.

After the online tests this month, Judith Gundersen, the CEO and president of the group that created of the online test, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, issued a statement saying that, “Overall, the remote exam was a success.”

“We are sympathetic to anyone who might have experienced an issue during the exam and certainly, issues can arise in any environment, even for an in-person exam,” Gundersen said in response to the survey’s findings.

Referring to the test’s software provider, ExamSoft, she added that “looking at the big picture and hearing from ExamSoft, it appears that over 98% of applicants had no issues, and we are proud of that.”

Gundersen added that the NCBE had not seen the Hoylman/Simon survey questions or data, so the organization could not comment on the accuracy of the results.

The New York Board of Law Examiners didn’t immediately respond to questions.

(This story version includes additional comment from the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.)

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; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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