The Bar Exam
The Drama of the Online Bar Exam, the NCBE, and 2020 Bar Examinees
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
The remote Bar Exam was a complete and utter train wreck. What's worse, we could all see it coming and there was nothing we could do but watch.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCBE along with several, if not all state bars chose to administer the bar exam online.
The bar exam took place on October 5th and 6th, and without surprise, it went horribly for many examinees. Horror stories of technical issues with the exam software provider (Examplify), examinees having to vomit into a trash bin during the examination, and poorly written UBE questions by the NCBE, racist face-recognition software, and widespread cheating abound.
The decision to move onto a remote bar exam was not without drama itself. Officials told everyone they planned to hold in-person tests anyways. This later turned into 2-month delays, and eventually into capitulation to an online format just 2 months before the delayed exam date.
This meant examinees had to adjust their studying schedules to account for an additional 2 months, wait on their job offers, and forego income.
For some, this was not a big deal, for others not so fortunate, this was devastating. What resulted was a quickly pasted-together attempt at a remote bar examination run by Examplify, a notoriously deficient exam-software provider.
In Michigan, for example, Examplify blamed the technical issues of the exam on a “DDOS” attack, rather than accept their own failure. Many do not understand what a DDOS attack is, and Examplify clearly does not, because a DDOS attack is merely a highly voluminous amount of requests to a server that overloads the server. Analogize it to a 1920’s-style mad dash to a bank, the bank is unable to accommodate all the requests to withdraw the money at once. Instead of spending money to beef up their server capacity, Examplify found it easier to simply pocket the expenses and blame it on “hackers”. Those weren’t hackers.
Those were just the 10,000 bar examinees trying to take the most important exam of their lives. For others, the facial-recognition software failed to detect persons with darker faces. Several persons of color, taking the bar examination after struggling just as hard (if not harder) than their lighter-skinned counterparts, were told by unqualified Examplify customer service representatives to “sit directly in front of a lighting source” or risk failing the bar.
Even where examinees were able to take the exam, the draconian rules of no bathroom breaks, no “eye-gazes”, and inability for examinees to even scratch their faces or mumble to themselves meant that some examinees even had to urinate into a bucket rather than risk disqualification.
Above the Law reported a recent graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, Johnny Carver, had to vomit into a trash can due to the stress of the exam brought on by poorly written questions.
This leads us to the NCBE. The exam questions were reportedly written so poorly that one even wonders whether the NCBE chose such terrible questions on purpose so as to generate more return test-takers (and their fees) for the February test.
To add insult to injury, the NCBE as well as several state bar boards even threatened to use the character and fitness portion of the exam to punish applicants criticizing the exam (most were just advocating for diploma privilege), despite having taken their positions as a result of diploma privilege themselves.
Why pay a roughly $1,000 fee for a “non-profit” corporation with over $100 million in assets to administer a test if they aren’t even going to write quality questions?
Why pay the director, Judith A. Gundersen, over $300,000 salary (a diploma privilege beneficiary herself and the epitome of the 'Karen' stereotype) to direct the NCBE to behave like this?
The NCBE would apparently rather pay people to monitor popular website Reddit to assure that no discussion about their intellectual property took place than to spend any money on the test itself.
This mafia-like behavior is unacceptable, and it really calls into question the necessity of Gundersen and the NCBE at all. Then there’s the possibility of cheating. Concerns over macro-software to autotype rule statements and essay responses, microprint transparent films over computer screens with notes, and micro-earpieces and screen-mirroring were immediately shot down with a blanket statement that basically amounted to “we don’t think that’ll happen.”
Instead of updating the software by expending additional security measures, Examplify chose to save money instead and follow the NCBE and state bars’ attitudes to simply brush it aside and pocket the expense. It’s sick. It’s despicable. It’s all about money.
But maybe that’s what the bar exam is teaching new lawyers about the practice of law.
As a new lawyer myself, the NCBE, state bar boards, and Examplify have all internalized this message in me. It makes me sick. I'll go puke in a trash bin now.
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