How to prepare for an online bar exam - JD Advising
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How to prepare for an online bar exam

 How to prepare for an online bar exam

Some states, including potentially California, are planning to administer an online bar exam. This is due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that is affecting all law students. Thus, if you are planning to take an online bar exam, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing. We are unsure at this time exactly how the online bar exam will work, since an online bar exam has never been administered before, but this post will give you some general tips on how to prepare until more information is released!

If you are unsure whether your state bar exam has been moved to the fall, check out this post for the latest updates!

Update 5/11/20: Nevada proposed an online bar exam using ILG Exam360.

 How to prepare for an online bar exam

A completely remote, online bar exam is a new concept for bar exam takers. California is one state that plans to administer an online bar exam. California will test this new system on the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (sometimes called the baby bar exam). The State Bar of California will then learn from any mistakes or make any necessary improvements before the September bar exam. Massachusetts has also stated that if it is unsafe to administer an in-person exam, it will administer an online bar exam.

Just because this is a new system for students does not mean it has to be any different from an in-person exam! These tips below will help you excel on your online bar exam!

1. Don’t cheat or do anything that could create the illusion of cheating

This is the most important tip of this post. Just because the exam is online does not mean it is a free pass to cheat. Anyone who has taken the bar exam knows that it is taken very seriously and all examinees are closely monitored. So, we do not suspect that state bars will treat an online bar exam any differently.

If you do cheat and are caught, the penalties will likely be severe. Penalties will depend on each state. According to the California rules, “Conduct that violates the security or administration of an examination may be reported to the State Bar as a Chapter 6 Notice or, in extreme cases, may require dismissal from the examination test center.” So, this means you could get a zero on a portion of the bar exam for a rule violation. Thus, the risk is much greater than the reward.

The California Supreme Court wrote in its opinion that the “State Bar shall make every effort possible to administer that examination online with remote and/or electronic proctoring.” Thus, just because the exam is online does NOT mean they will let things slide.

We are unsure at this time what the “remote and/or electronic proctoring” will look like, but here are some ideas:

  • Examinees have to be on a live video call at all times. This would be a form of monitoring.
  • Examinees may have to have a second device set up behind them to monitor the screen. Something like this would prevent the use of notes because all areas outside of your computer screen would be monitored.
  • The software used to take the exam likely will monitor and record your screen at all times so that if you look at other things on your computer, you will be flagged.

Again, these are just ideas. At this time we are unsure how the electronic proctoring will play out in California and other states. And, it is possible states will not reveal the methods or requirements too far ahead of time, to avoid examinees figuring out ways to cheat.

Read over any rules given beforehand to make sure you do not make any careless mistakes. The last thing you want is to get flagged for an accident!

The overall tip is don’t even think about cheating.

2. Figure out the best location to take the exam

Assuming you are allowed to pick where you take the online bar exam, it is important to choose the best location possible.

In our opinion, the best spot to take an online bar exam is a room or office at home. A nonpublic place minimizes the chances of someone else bothering you during the online bar exam. If you do figure out a perfect place, make sure there will not be any distractions, such as a dog, neighbor, child, lawnmower, etc. on the day of your exam. Consider speaking to your neighbors before about what is going on, and hanging a sign on the outside door so there are no distractions. Consider asking a friend or family member to wait outside and man any distractions while you take the exam!

If stay-at-home orders are lifted, then you can consider renting a private room at a library or other quiet location. However, this should not be your first choice. We recommend against any public places where a possible distraction could creep up. Even if you always study in one area of the library and it is quiet, there is always a risk that someone will talk on the phone while you are taking the test. But, this should be considered if you do not have a good place to take the exam at home, or there is no way to minimize distractions (for example, if you live in a large apartment complex).

Take some time to figure out the best location to take the online bar exam, considering all distractions you may face and how to minimize them! 

Also, here are some tips on where to study for the bar exam if you are under a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus.

3. Make sure you have good Wi-Fi

We cannot stress this tip enough! Having good Wi-Fi to take an online bar exam is a must. Assuming you are taking your online bar exam at home alone, that means there is no proctor to fix any Wi-Fi issues or note that these issues were not your fault.

If you know right now that you have bad Wi-Fi, fix it! This might mean that you have to buy the upgraded Wi-Fi for the exam. Speak with your internet provider and ask if it’s an option to get upgraded internet for one month, if you cannot afford it long-term. Another option is to hook your computer directly to the internet box. Check out this post with a lot more ideas on how to increase your internet speed! Or, there are plenty more posts online with ideas, so run a Google search for this!

No matter how you plan to get the best Wi-Fi for your online bar exam, plan for this NOW and test everything out WELL BEFORE the exam. This is not something you want to worry about close to the bar exam! Even if this takes you a couple of hours, it is well worth not having any issues during the exam!

4. Make sure you are comfortable with the exam software/proctoring system

At this time, it is unknown what exam software California and possibly other states plan to use for an online bar exam. However, we guess it will be the same or similar to the exam software already used by state bars to administer the essay portion. Or, it could be the same or similar to software used for law school exams, but that seems less likely. And, we guess it will have a lot of restrictions on your computer.

If you are taking the California Bar Exam, as mentioned above, the baby bar exam will be the test case for the fall bar. So, if you are planning to take the fall bar exam, check out what system is used for the baby bar exam to get an idea of what software may be employed for the fall.

When you receive the software/system for the online bar exam, take some time to test it out and get comfortable with it. Note any questions or errors you see and bring those up early. Take the time to get familiar with this software so you are not surprised while taking the online bar exam!

5. Make sure your computer is up-to-date!

Along the same lines as the previous two points, make sure the computer you plan to use for the exam is updated. As with all computer exams, you want to feel confident that your computer will not crash during the test! Even though a computer crash is out of your control, you do not get back the time missed on the exam.

Assuming you can take the online bar exam at home, this gives the option of a laptop OR a desktop. This will be new and possibly advantageous for some students. For example, you could use a large monitor and have a larger keyboard to take the online bar exam. If you are interested in getting a monitor to project your laptop (if permitted by the rules), plan for that now. Get comfortable with a new computer system if you plan to get one for the online bar exam.

6. Treat it just like an in-person exam!

Just because you are taking the bar exam online does not mean it should be treated any differently! Here are a few things to keep in mind that you may let slip with an online bar exam:

  • Wear comfortable clothes. Do not wear anything that you would not wear to an in-person bar exam.
  • Closely follow all instructions. Do not leave any prohibited items from the rules in your test-taking area. As mentioned above, read all rules given beforehand and follow them! If you have to take an hour to read them, it will be worth it. To have all your hard work taken away for an inadvertent rule violation would be devastating. For example, here are the California Bar Exam rules currently listed online.
  • Get up early to give yourself extra time! Just like you would show up to an in-person exam early, do the same here. Do not start up your computer five minutes before it starts.

If you are looking to start studying right now, then check out this post about how to start studying for the bar exam during the coronavirus pandemic!

Final thoughts

There still are a lot of questions about how the online bar exam will run. Thus, we will update this post as new information comes out, or write entire new posts with big updates.

Are you still considering WHERE to take the bar exam in 2020? Check out this post to help you make this decision!  And, whether you are planning to take the bar exam in July or the fall, check out this post for sample study schedules!

Also, if you are looking to start studying early, JD Advising’s On Demand Course is open! Check out a preview of the On Demand Course here to see if it’s right for you!

Check out this post on how the coronavirus might impact the legal job market.

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