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Caught up in the COVID chaos, this state remodeled the bar exam

the Indiana State Capitol Building in Indianapolis
The Indiana State Capitol Building in Indianapolis. (iStock photo)

I blogged about Indiana’s bar exam in January.  At the time, Indiana’s Supreme Court had been presented with a recommendation to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam, described here.

Indiana has not yet acted on the UBE recommendation. But it has come up with a COVID workaround exam that might be even more popular with law school graduates: an at-home, one-day, open-book bar exam with quick results.

In response to repeated technical complications, Indiana ditched online exam software and went with email instead. No software glitches, no intrusive remote proctoring, and no multiple-choice questions.

Applicants were emailed the questions and were allowed to refer to their notes, books, and class materials during the test (but could not receive help from others). The exam consisted of 12 short-answer questions in a three-hour morning session and six essay questions in a four-hour afternoon session.

Despite more than 500 takers and no machine-scored multiple choice, results were released in five weeks. And they were good results; the overall pass rate was about 10 points higher than the previous four July exams.

Of the Indiana bar-exam format, Above the Law said: “In this entire mess, the only bar exam—putting aside diploma privilege—to get it right was the Indiana model.”

As many bar-exam critics have pointed out, law practice is not multiple choice, and lawyers do not routinely advise clients without consulting source materials. And, hey, shouldn’t a daylong exam—plus the MPRE—be sufficient to test basic competency?

Imagine that: a realistic exam that treats applicants like grownups and sends them on their way with a minimum of fuss and delay.

Well done, Indiana.

Norman Otto Stockmeyer Norman Otto Stockmeyer is a distinguished professor emeritus at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. Although retired from classroom teaching, he retains an active interest in helping law students succeed.