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Solving the Problem of Bar Exam Travel

My phone rang at 7:50am this past Sunday. Who in their right mind would call me that early in the morning, and on a Sunday? I looked at the Caller ID on my phone and saw that it was my friend, Erin. We’d tweeted at each other earlier that morning so she knew I was up.

Erin was in a panic. She was at the airport to fly from Phoenix to Portland to take the Oregon Bar Exam this week.  She was supposed to change planes in Denver and her flight was delayed due to the storm in Colorado. She was petrified about getting trapped in Denver and was calling for advice. I calmed her down and she ended up changing her plans to a direct flight.

Virginia Bar Exam by Philip Larson from Flickr

Virginia Bar Exam by Philip Larson from Flickr

Erin’s situation got me thinking – why do you have to go to a state to take their bar exam? I think there should be a national bar exam, but until we get that, it makes more sense to take the bar exam wherever you live. Everyone takes the bar exam on the same days so why not set the system up so you can take any bar exam at any testing location, but throw in an extra fee for people taking other state bar exams? The main fee would go to the state whose bar exam you’re taking and the extra fee would make it worth other state’s while to let you test in their location. If the fee is cheaper than an airplane ticket, everyone wins!

The way the system is now, some states have a 2-day exam and some states have 3. I’d change the system so everyone has a 2-day test and make sure the testing time blocks are all the same (3 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon). I’d put the out-of-state test takers a separate room or section to make it easier to give those individuals their test questions. The instructions are the same – answer the questions in the time allotted – so that’s not a problem.

I don’t think this idea has a potential problem with cheating more than the current system. Only a moron on the east coast would try to communicate with a west coast test-taker and tell them what’s on the test. When I took the bar exam, we had to be at the test location at 6:45am to start the test at 9am. There would be little if any time for someone in a different time zone to tell another test taker what’s on the test. Plus it’s nearly impossible to get a message to anyone during the test. We were only allowed to bring a clear Ziplock bag into the testing room. It could only hold our keys, wallets, and medication pills (no bottles). You couldn’t bring in anything else – no cell phones, no water, no paper, no pencils, no Kleenex, no feminine hygiene products – nothing! There’s nothing to cheat with, and even if you snuck something in, there were proctors everywhere and they’d notice if you did anything suspicious.

It just makes sense to treat the bar exam like the LSAT or the MPRE – you sign up to take the test at the testing center closest to you. You’ll have to pay a little extra to take another state’s test in your home state, but that’s a better plan than having to risk not being able to take the test at all because you’re trapped in an airport after spending thousands on bar prep, a plane ticket, and a hotel.

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2 Comments

  1. Sarina F. says:

    Physical Therapy licensure used to be different state by state, but it has been a national exam for at least 15 years. It has made everyone standardized and I think it is better for professions in general. This was clients know that each of you are of the same quality when you pass. We also have a second exam regarding your state rules so it is all covers on the two board exams. It seemed impossible to cheat on the computer with photo, video and fingerprint ID before you entered the testing room and got one of 5 Test versions at random.. I know it is possible fight for this.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Sarina! I’d love to see the legal profession shift to this model where there’s a national exam and maybe a state specific exam, but even then I think the logistics could be handled to make sure each person has the right test.