Huge California Bar Exam Updates For October 2020 - JD Advising
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California Bar Exam Updates

Huge California Bar Exam Updates For October 2020

Huge California Bar Exam Updates For October 2020: On July 16, 2020, the California Supreme Court provided long-awaited news about the fate of the California bar exam. Not only did the announcement reveal the cancelation of the September bar exam, but it also postponed the exam to October 5-6, 2020, extended the registration period for the exam, permanently reduced the passing score from 1440 to 1390, and authorized a provisional licensure program. Each of these key points will be discussed in greater detail below. Keep reading for our analysis of these California Bar Exam updates.

UPDATE: California passed an order on January 28, 2021 that allows examinees who narrowly passed the California Bar Exam between July 2015 and February 2020 to be admitted to the state bar after completing 300 hours of supervised legal work (no second bar exam is required).

Huge California Bar Exam Updates For October 2020

Takeaways From The Announcement By The California Supreme Court

Disclaimer: All examinees must read the entirety of the announcement carefully. Please do NOT only rely on the provisions that JD Advising has highlighted.

1. The California bar exam will be administered remotely and online on October 5-6, 2020.

On July 16, 2020, the California Supreme Court announced that the September 9-10, 2020 bar exam has been canceled. Instead, the exam will now be administered remotely and online on October 5-6, 2020 in light of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The California Supreme Court explained that “based on that work and current information, the court has determined that an online exam can be administered and delivered without the need for an examinee to have a high-speed or constant internet connection.” [Emphasis added.] The announcement also directs the “State Bar [to] clearly explain the necessary system requirements and other details concerning the circumstances of an online exam in a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ guide.”

Note: The California Supreme Court also “strongly encourages law schools to assist those graduates who lack internet access at home, or who have home environments not amenable to two days of uninterrupted examination, by employing the same and similar measures, including the use of school facilities and equipment, that schools have utilized to allow students to complete the Spring 2020 semester.” Thus, we recommend contacting the State Bar of California sooner than later if you have questions about accommodations for an in-person testing environment.

2. Registration for the October bar exam has been extended.

In addition, the announcement noted that registration for the California bar exam will be extended through July 24, 2020.

Note: If you have not yet registered for the California bar exam because you were unsure of when and how the exam would be administered, you are not alone! However, it is not too late to register for the exam. We recommend registering for the exam this week so that you are not waiting until the last minute to do so.

3. The passing score has been reduced permanently by 50 points to 1390!

A reduction in the passing score has long been a source of debate. The announcement revealed that the passing score on the California bar exam will be permanently reduced from 1440 to 1390, effective as of the October 2020 bar exam, and it will apply to future bar exams, regardless of whether those exams are administered in-person or online. However, do not assume that because the passing score has been reduced that the exam will be significantly easier! The scope of information that is tested on the exam has not changed at all and there are additional challenges that need to be taken into account with an online exam (discussed below).

Note: The California bar exam has 2000 possible points. You now need 1390 points to pass the California bar exam. This equates to an approximate scaled score of 139 on the MBE (instead of the previous score of 144). However, you do not need to score a 139 on the MBE in order to pass the exam. You can make up for a lower MBE score with a higher score on the written portion.

4. Eligible 2020 law school graduates may participate in a provisional licensure program.

Lastly, the California Supreme Court authorized the State Bar of California to create a provisional licensure program under the supervision of a licensed attorney to all 2020 graduates of law schools based in California. This  licensure program is open to all 2020 graduates of law schools based in California as well as 2020 graduates of law schools outside California who are permitted to sit for the California bar exam under Business and Professions Code sections 6060 and 6061. Please review these code sections to see whether you may be eligible. The provisional licensure program is set to expire no later than June 1, 2022. Thus, participants in this program must still sit for and pass the California bar exam in order to become fully licensed. The State Bar will develop this program and set forth the specific areas of law in which a participant may practice.

Note: Even if you meet the requirements for the provisional licensure program, you are not required to participate. We recommend that if you have begun your bar review program and you feel comfortable with studying for the next few months, it would be better to continue reviewing so that you can build upon the progress that you have already made.

What is the format of the exam?

Unfortunately, there are still many questions that remain regarding the format of the October  2020 bar exam. As of July 2017, the first day of the California bar exam consisted of 5 one-hour-long essays and one 90-minute performance test (PT).  The second day was comprised of 200 Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) multiple-choice questions.

While the October 2020 exam will be two days long, it is unclear how many essays applicants will be required to write and whether a performance test will be included.

With respect to the multiple-choice questions, it is likely that this section will only include 100 MBE questions (and most likely, experimental questions will be omitted). The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) writes the MBE questions and on June  1, 2020, the  NCBE  announced that it would provide  “abbreviated test materials” for an October bar exam.

According to the NCBE, this exam will be shorter than the traditional bar exam. Further, any score would not be eligible to be transferred as a UBE or MBE score to other jurisdictions or released to candidates via NCBE score services. Scores will not be equated or scaled as a traditional standard full-length pen-and-paper bar exam would be.

Many other jurisdictions have chosen to postpone the bar exam until October and have indicated that only 100 MBE questions will be included, instead of the usual 200  multiple-choice questions.

Note: Until further information is released, we recommend that examinees prepare for five one-hour-long essays, one 90-minute performance test, and 100 MBE questions.

                                                How will each section of the exam be weighted?

As of July 2017, each portion of the bar exam – the written portion and the multiple-choice portion – is worth 50% of the total score. However, the State Bar may choose to alter the weighting because fewer MBE questions will appear on the exam.

Note: Until further information is released, assume that the written portion and multiple-choice portion will each be worth 50% of the overall score.

What are some important steps to take?

Here are some important things to be aware of in light of the announcement as well as some important tips:

Please make sure you have functioning wi-fi and a functioning laptop. 

The exam will be remote, online, and you may be required to even use video software (i.e. turn on your laptop camera) as a way to deter cheating. Make sure your laptop and wi-fi are functioning or that you have access to a functioning laptop and wi-fi.

Note: It is unclear as to whether a desktop will be permitted or whether dual monitors will be permitted until further information is released by the State Bar.

Please write a lot of essays and MPTs on your computer and do not use physical scratch paper!

The best way to prepare for the written portion of the exam is to complete past essays and PTs. Since the essays and PT will likely be distributed online (i.e., downloaded on your computer) it is best to type these essays as you are looking at the question on your computer screen rather than printing the questions and taking notes on paper.

Because June 2020 First-Year Law Students’ Exam (administered remotely and online) serves as an example of how the California bar exam may be deployed, it is important to note that physical scratch paper was not permitted on that exam. Instead, “digital” scratch paper was used (i.e., a text box on the screen where applicants were permitted to type notes). As you practice an essay, you could, for example, open a blank Word document and take notes and make your outline.

Do not assume that you will be able to copy and paste portions of the fact pattern into your answer! Type out any information you want to incorporate from the fact pattern (otherwise, you might encounter serious timing issues on the exam day!).

This will likely mimic the format of the bar exam so it is better to get used to it as soon as possible.

Please take several timed practice exams.

You may want to take several practice tests while you are studying for the exam to increase your performance and efficiency. To increase your test-taking stamina you can take smaller tests that consist of a portion of what an actual test would be. For example, in one week, you can take a test of 25 multiple-choice questions.  During another week, you can take a test consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions.  Later, you can take a test composed of one or two timed essays, a set of 50-multiple choice questions, and one performance test. This way, you can gradually work up to what is required for a full-length exam.

We hope this post on California Bar Exam updates helps!

One Comment

    Vergion Jesse Smith

    OMG…this was so helpful. Thank you for this post.

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