Paul L. Caron

Friday, January 29, 2021

NCBE Approves Complete Overhaul Of The Bar Exam

Following up on my previous post, NCBE Testing Task Force, Overview of Preliminary Recommendations for the Next Generation of the Bar Examination:  NCBE, Board of Trustees Votes to Approve Testing Task Force Recommendations:

NCBEThe Board of Trustees of the National Conference of Bar Examiners voted today to approve the NCBE Testing Task Force’s recommendations for the next generation of the bar exam. The recommendations, which were announced at the beginning of January, are the culmination of a three-year study by the Task Force to ensure that the bar exam continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for competent entry-level legal practice in a changing profession. Answers to many frequently asked questions about the recommendations are available on the Task Force’s website; a final, comprehensive report will be published this spring.

The Board’s approval paves the way for work to begin on the implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations. Major steps of the implementation will include

  • developing content specifications identifying scope of coverage;
  • drafting new types of questions for integrated testing of knowledge and skills;
  • ensuring accessibility for candidates with disabilities;
  • field-testing new item formats and new exam content;
  • conducting analyses and review to ensure fairness for diverse populations of candidates;
  • evaluating options for in-person computer delivery of the exam;
  • establishing scoring processes and psychometric methods for equating/scaling scores;
  • developing test administration policies and procedures;
  • assisting jurisdictions to prepare and supporting them in activities such as setting passing score requirements and amending rules to align with changes to the exam; and
  • providing study materials and sample test questions to help candidates prepare.

The process is expected to take four to five years to complete. Implementation will be conducted in a systematic, transparent, and collaborative manner, informed by input from and participation by stakeholders, and guided by best practices and the professional standards for high-stakes testing. A dedicated website will be created to keep stakeholders informed and involved as the process unfolds.

From Amit Schlesinger (Executive Director of Legal Programs, Kaplan):

These are the biggest changes to the bar exam since 1972, when the Multistate Bar Examination was introduced, so it’s not such a coincidence that these sweeping changes include its potential elimination. In most states, your MBE score is worth 50 percent of your score, so in a few years when the new exam launches, it will look and feel substantially different than the one we have today. The shift to an online modality probably has many students thinking, “What took them so long?” Most major licensing exams and admissions exams, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, the NCLEX-RN exam, and most steps of the USMLE medical licensing exam, are already taken on a computer. We also know that this is a direction that the National Conference of Bar Examiners had been moving in since before the pandemic. While this probably sped the transformation along, the die was already cast in some respects in 2019 when they launched the computer-based Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.

It’s important to note that these changes are still several years away from being implemented, so this won’t affect any current law school students or even students who are entering law school this fall.

Overall, we are supportive of the NCBE’s changes to the exam, which aim to better prepare graduated students as they venture into the legal profession. It seems that the new exam will test law school graduates on the skills needed to be successful practicing attorneys, based on potential scenarios they’ll face in the workplace. That means making the exam a lot less theoretical and a lot more practical than it is now.

These changes may also have a profound effect on legal education, particularly for those law schools that teach to the current test. Curricula changes might be on the way because of this, although that is largely regulated by the American Bar Association. We will know a lot more in a few years. Right now, all we have are broad strokes and a vision.

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