California bar offers free tests, adjusts scores after bar exam glitches

REUTERS/Kevin Light
  • Nearly a third of those who took July test faced tech problems
  • The overall pass rate fell nearly 8 percentage points

(Reuters) - The State Bar of California has taken the unusual step of adjusting the scores of 2,429 test takers who encountered tech problems during the online July 2021 bar exam. And it’s giving nearly 1,300 of them who failed another try at no extra cost.

Bar officials said Friday that examinees who faced computer crashes or time delays and didn’t pass can get their test fees refunded or register free for the upcoming February or July exams. That works out to more than $1.7 million in testing fees, as the exam costs upwards of $700 apiece to take.

For test sections where examinees had tech problems, the bar adjusted scores based on item difficulty and examinees' performance on comparable portions of the test.

An earlier state bar investigation found that 31% of the 7,742 people who sat for the remote July exam in California experienced tech problems, and 2%, or 153 people, lost time or answers as a result. Nationwide, some online bar examinees had their screens go black or blue during the test, requiring them to restart their computers. Software provider ExamSoft attributed the issue to the exam’s video monitoring feature using more computer memory than anticipated.

“The Board felt strongly that we needed to do everything possible to ensure fairness for this group of examinees,” said Ruben Duran, chairman of the state bar’s board of trustees, in a Friday statement.

The overall pass rate on California's July exam was 53%. That's nearly eight percentage points lower than the October 2020 exam, but three percentage points higher than the July 2019 test. However, the July 2019 test was given in person, while October 2020 was a shortened online test and July 2021 was online and full length. The first-time pass rate for the most recent test was 71%, compared to 73% in October 2020.

California is returning to in-person testing for the February 2022 exam.

California is the last large jurisdiction to report bar exam results, joining many others with pass rate declines. New York’s pass rate fell to 63% after hitting 84% in October 2020. Florida fared better, with its first-time pass rate ticking down just 0.1 percentage point to 71.6% this July.

Read more:

Calif. bar exam probe details tech failures, computer crashes

'I sort of panicked.' Tech problems hit remote bar exam

After N.Y. bar exam results disappoint, focus turns to California

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at