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California Bar Exam Flaws Hurt 2% of Test Takers, State Finds

Sept. 28, 2021, 2:55 PM

About 2% of California bar exam takers lost time or content from online technical glitches in July, according to the state’s overseer of the tests.

While about 31% of test takers experienced flaws with software memory utilization, the “vast majority” worked through the temporary difficulties, according to the State Bar of California.

“Although the data show that only a small percentage of applicants lost time or answer content, we are troubled by the extent of the problems identified,” Donna Hershkowitz, the state bar’s chief of programs, said in a statement. “We recognize that any unwelcome technological disruption is cause for concern.”

Tech issues marred the late-July remote exams in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Test takers’ computers crashed or their screens suddenly went blank, forcing them to restart their computers. Another 22 states administered in-person tests.

The flaws were a repeat of troubles in the October 2020 tests, which were the first to use remote-proctored tests on a wide basis. Exam takers then said software deleted online notes for essay questions, or kicked them out of the test because facial recognition technology didn’t work with their webcams.

ExamSoft, which provided software for the online tests, last month faulted the process for coordinating and controlling computer memory and said it was “deeply sorry” for the errors. About 1% of all test takers in July required assistance beyond restarting their computers, the company said.

The California bar found that only 158 test takers suffered the most dire consequences and were forced to request retests. A total of 7,742 people in the state took the July 27-28 exam remotely.

The issues spurred some test takers and their law professor allies to conclude that the exams could not result in fair outcomes. They said the exams should be replaced with solutions such as diploma privilege, which in some states has allowed law school graduates to be certified as attorneys without taking a test.

A California commission is studying issues related to bar exams, including whether the tests are the best tool to determine minimum competence for the practice of law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at;
John Hughes in Washington at