Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

NCBE: The Next Generation Of The Bar Exam

Karen Sloan (, Bar Exam Overhaul Plans Go Public. So Long, MBE:

The bar exam as we know it looks to be on the way out.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners on Monday unveiled preliminary recommendations for a revamped test that would replace the existing three components—the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test—with a more integrated approach that emphasizes legal skills over an expansive knowledge of the law.

National Conference of Bar Examiners Testing Task Force, Overview of Preliminary Recommendations for the Next Generation of the Bar Examination:

NCBE 1Best practices for high-stakes licensure examinations include periodic review of exam content and design. Consistent with that standard, the Testing Task Force undertook a three-year, comprehensive, empirical study to ensure that the bar examination continues to assess the minimum competencies required of newly licensed lawyers in an evolving legal profession, and to determine how those competencies should be assessed. This overview sets out the Task Force’s preliminary recommendations for the next generation of the bar examination; the overview is brief by design and intended to help facilitate discussion with stakeholders at webinars scheduled in early January. After the webinars, the Task Force will finalize the recommendations for submission to NCBE’s Board of Trustees. Upon approval by the Board, we will issue a final report detailing the decisions reached and providing a general timeframe and process for implementation. A tremendous amount of work will be required to implement the recommendations and transition to administration of the new examination. At the end of this overview, we list some of the steps involved in implementation, a process that is anticipated to take up to four to five years.

This study has been approached systematically, transparently, and collaboratively—unconstrained by the current bar exam’s content and design—with qualitative and quantitative research conducted by external expert consultants in three phases. ... Based on this extensive research, the Task Force has arrived at high-level decisions about the content and the design for the next generation of the bar examination. Those decisions are founded on the principle that the purpose of the bar exam is

to protect the public by helping to ensure that those who are newly licensed possess the minimum knowledge and skills to perform activities typically required of an entry-level lawyer.

Our decisions were guided by the prevailing views expressed by stakeholders during Phases 1 and 3: that the bar exam should test fewer subjects and should test less broadly and deeply within the subjects covered, that greater emphasis should be placed on assessment of lawyering skills to better reflect real-world practice and the types of activities newly licensed lawyers perform, that the exam should remain affordable, that fairness and accessibility for all candidates must continue to be ensured, and that the portability of Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) scores should be maintained. In those instances where there weren’t prevailing stakeholder views, our decisions were based on what will best ensure that the exam’s content and design achieve the purpose described above and meet the standards required of high-stakes licensure exams by the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA, APA, NCME, 2014). Finally, our decisions reflect the fact that newly licensed lawyers receive a general license to practice law, suggesting that the licensure exam should assess knowledge and skills that are of foundational importance and are common to numerous practice areas.

As explained in more detail below, these preliminary recommendations specify the use of an integrated examination that measures both knowledge and skills through a mix of item formats. The exam will be offered two times per year as a summative event and delivered by computer. Compensatory scoring will be used to produce a single combined score for making admission decisions.

Snapshot of Next Generation of the Bar Examination


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