State Bar Concludes Investigation on July 2021 Bar Exam Technological Issues

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By James Lanham

On September 27, 2021, the State Bar published a news release announcing the conclusion of its investigation into technological issues experienced by remote Bar Exam takers in July of 2021. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Bar began administering exams remotely on October 5–6, 2020. [see 26:1 CRLR 123]. Some examinees reported technological issues with the October 2020 exam, but the State Bar labeled the unprecedented remote exam as a success according to news sources. On July 27–28, 2021, 7,931 California Bar applicants took the Bar Exam, with 7,742 of those applicants taking the exam online using ExamSoft software.

As reported by examinees, issues with the July exam included frozen screens, software crashes, and otherwise lost time or content while taking the exam. According to the State Bar news release, a common problem among these applicants was the experience of a “black screen” or “blue screen,” and applicants had to restart their laptops or computers to resume the exam. 1% of bar applicants nationwide required technical support to complete their exams, however, the vast majority of affected applicants nationwide did not experience lost time or content as a result of this technological issue.

As part of its investigation, the State Bar evaluated ExamSoft data regarding the number of applicants impacted, the type of impact, and logs of calls to ExamSoft, in addition to logs of calls to the Office of Admissions during and after the exam. The investigation found that nearly 31% of California test takers experienced one or more technical issues related to the software memory utilization and approximately 2%, or 158 examinees, had meaningful impacts of lost time or content. The State Bar accepted requests from those 158 examinees to retake the portion of the exam they were working on when the technological issues arose.

While only a small percentage of examinees experienced meaningful adverse effects from the technological issues, Donna Hershkowitz, State Bar Chief of Programs, nevertheless acknowledged that “any unwelcome technological disruption is cause for concern.” Currently, the State Bar is investigating in conjunction with its psychometrician if grading adjustments or administrative solutions are necessary for examinees who lost time or content. It plans to hold the February 2022 California Bar Exam in person unless prevented by public health requirements or law.

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