The California Bar Exam Is Changing, But for the Better? Bob Donley Explains

The State of California is about to make a significant test in the bar examination, the hurdle to be overcome in order to be admitted to practice law in the state. The change—the first one in 25 years—will reduce the exam from three days to two days. The exam will still include five one-hour essay questions and a ninety-minute performance test that will take one day. The other day will be devoted to the Multistate Bar Examination, 200 multiple choice questions.

The MBE, says Donley is “the rub.” There is a continuing debate over the effectiveness of standardized testing in America. Standardized tests have been used in the U.S. since the 1800s. But people started paying attention to these tests in 2002 when President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. On the plus side, studies show that standardized tests can have a positive effect on many of the students who take such tests. On the other hand, math scores in the U.S. have actually declined since the No Child Left Behind testing began, down from 18th in the world to 31st.

China is the world leader in scoring on such tests. China also has a long history of standardized testing. However, China barely finished ahead of Finland, previously the top-rated country for many years, and Finland has never used such exams. Proponents say that standardized tests are more reliable and objective, scored as they are by machines, not people. Opponents answer that tests like this cannot measure a person’s innovative qualities, such as creativity and critical thinking. Those latter qualities are what lawyers should have.

The changes in the California bar examination will save the state money. Critics are concerned about the possible loss of quality in legal representation in America’s largest state. Barring a change of mind, the new test will start in July, 2017.

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