The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) testing task force on Monday released an overview of preliminary recommendations for changes “for the next generation of the bar examination.”
The recommendations are the result of a three-year, “comprehensive, empirical study to ensure that the bar examination continues to assess the minimum competencies required of newly licensed lawyers in an evolving legal profession, and to determine how those competencies should be assessed.” The three-phase process included statements from more than 400 stakeholders about their views on the bar exam, a survey of nearly 15,000 practicing attorneys, and subcommittees comprising bar admissions representatives, legal educators and practitioners to analyze the survey data.
The task force reached three primary conclusions: (1) bar exams must test both legal knowledge and practical skills; (2) they should be offered as a single, digital “summative event”; and (3) exam scores should represent a single, combined score. The preliminary recommendations focus on six main areas—content, structure/format, frequency, delivery mode, scoring and timing—and provide details for each section.
Notably, the task force recommended a “fundamental shift” from the current Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and Multistate Performace Test (MPT). It recommends an “integrated examination” approach, one comprising both stand-alone questions and “item sets,” defined as “a collection of test questions based on a single scenario or stimulus such that the questions pertaining to that scenario are developed and presented as a unit.” The task force also recommended a new list of foundational skills for testing on the exam, including some skills that “might be thought of as performance skills, such as client interviewing and negotiation.” Finally, the task force recommended that the new exam should be a computer-based test, administered either on candidates’ own laptops at managed testing sites or at computer testing centers.
Looking forward, the NCBE board of trustees is scheduled to vote on finalized recommendations in late January. The task force estimates that any approved, final changes to the new exam would take four to five years to implement. The task force anticipates that the exam will continue to be offered twice a year.