The fourth installment in the Bar Exam Research Query Blog Series discusses research questions pertaining to the logistical or non-substantive aspects of the bar exam and their impact on pass rates. About 45,000 people will take the bar exam later this month. They will take the exam in a particular setting; they will be subject to restrictions on the items they may bring into the testing room; in some states, they will even be required to dress in certain attire. While the substance and structure of the bar exam are often discussed, the impact of the logistical element of the experience seems to be immensely understudied.
Attendees at the Bar Exam Research Forum that AccessLex hosted back in April posed many questions pertaining to the impact of the logistics of taking the bar exam. Below are descriptions of some of the areas of most interest:
Bar exams often take place in large, impersonal convention centers. Some states have multiple test centers; others hold their exam in a single massive location. For example, more than 3,000 examinees settle into the cavernous Tampa Convention Center each July to take the Florida bar exam. Our executive director, Aaron N. Taylor, still harbors rather harrowing memories of this experience… in spite of the fact that it was almost 20 years ago.
Some examinees report that their test centers were physically uncomfortable, either excessively hot or cold. Others report hearing distracting noises from inside and outside the room. Still others find it hard to hear proctors reading instructions or to see clocks positioned far away (examinees are usually prohibited from bringing watches and other timers into the room).
Does the physical setting of the exam affect performance? Would examinees pass in higher numbers if they could take the exam in other settings, such as at their law school or at smaller locations, possibly nearer to home (similar to how the SAT and LSAT are administered)?
There are strict and sometimes confusing rules about what examinees may and may not bring into the exam sites. Virginia requires all examinees be in “court-appropriate attire.” In some locations, the rules differ on the first and second days of the exam. Most jurisdictions prohibit wearing digital watches, and some have banned all timepieces. Penalties for violating these rules can be severe. How clearly are exam day rules communicated? How many examinees each year are disqualified or sanctioned in some way for violations of exam day rules? Given that certain examinees have reported obstructed views of wall clocks, does access to timing devices affect passage or contribute to anxiety that in turn affects passage?
Written portions of bar exams must typically be handwritten or, most commonly, completed using pre-approved software on an inspected and approved laptop. Technology, including the required software, works most of the time, but sometimes there are snafus. It is believed that in 2014 these snafus “stressed and panicked” some examinees, possibly contributing to lower pass rates during that administration. 1What is the effect of technology issues on bar passage, particularly when issues or problems arise? How many examinees experience technology issues that may impact their performance? Are rules regarding the use of technology clearly understood by all examinees? Does handwriting the exam impact pass rates?
If you are taking the bar exam this month, or working with students taking the bar exam this month, what are your concerns regarding logistics? Please post your thoughts in the Comments section of this blog, or send offline comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.