Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Remote Bar Exams Plagued by Glitches

When bar examiners across the nation began pivoting to remote testing because of COVID, some hiccups were expected.

But nobody was prepared for the avalanche of glitches that plagued the online administration of the July 2021 bar exam.

At the center of the swirl of controversy is software provider ExamSoft, which is either the main culprit or a scapegoat, depending on whose opinion you ask.

“Predictable shock are the only words to describe my reaction to last week’s debacle with ExamSoft,’” said a law professor at Washburn University School of Law, who also serves as an advocacy chair of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE), in this ABA Journal article. “ExamSoft has been connected with horrendous technical failures during bar exams, generating hashtags like #barmageddon and #barpocalypse. Why examiners decided to continue utilizing software that had failed them multiple times is beyond me.”

A spokesperson for the State Bar of California said in the same ABA Journal story that she was “distraught” over the technical difficulties test-takers encountered in her state, and that she was unable to quantify how many examinees were affected because they were still compiling the data.

Meanwhile, ExamSoft “told the ABA Journal in an email the agency is still investigating the remote exam problems, which ‘seem to be related to memory issues on some devices.’”

A raft of technical mishaps also occurred in the remote administration of the October 2020 bar exam.


North Carolina was one of 30 jurisdictions that administered the July 2021 exam remotely, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. A total of 25 jurisdictions administrated in-person tests.

The NCBE says it has heard of no tech issues at in-person testing sites.

Read the ABA Journal article here.

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Test Takers Complain of Technical Problems with July 2021 Exam

Here are some of the problems reported by July 2021 test-takers by the ABA Journal:

  • An applicant for the New York bar exam said his Lenovo ThinkPad screen went blank shortly before he finished the Multistate Performance Test. He was able to get back on in 30 minutes without losing any work after calling ExamSoft support. His second day of the test went smoothly.
  • A Florida taker “says he was on the phone with ExamSoft support for three hours after the software crashed while he was taking his picture for the program’s facial authentication technology,” according to the ABA Journal. “Ultimately, [he] borrowed a computer and finished the exam after getting started more than three hours after the test commenced at 8:30 a.m. He was worried about having enough time to finish, but says someone at the Florida Board of Bar Examiners told him the timer didn’t start until a test was opened.”
  • A California taker says her software froze on the first day of the exam as she was answering the third essay question. She rebooted her computer to no avail, then called ExamSoft support. Eventually her screen unfroze.

The Association of Academic Support Educators has asked state supreme courts to acknowledge ExamSoft issues and offer assurances that software problems would not result in score invalidations. Here is an online statement from the AASE:

In light of the technical issues with the use of ExamSoft in the administration of online and in-person bar exams this week, we ask Supreme Courts nationwide to issue an announcement to July 2021 bar takers acknowledging the unacceptable problems and offering assurances that software problems will not result in invalidation of their exam attempts or scores, and that accommodations will be made for examinees who were not afforded the full scheduled amount of testing time.  Such an act is in keeping with the high standards of the legal profession and in the best interests of those seeking entry, who by no fault of their own encountered difficulties completing or submitting their exam.

Sources: ABA Journal and AASE


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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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