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Cal Bar Exam changes for July 2017 - you can care now

Hello everyone!

I last wrote that Cal Bar was going to change the exam in July 2017 and that applicants should not care about it.  At the time, that advice was correct since inexplicably the Bar voted to make the change on the day before the July 2015 Cal Bar Exam.

Now that the exam has come and went, we can consider the impact of the changes to the exam.  So... what's changing?

Currently, the Cal Bar has the following components:

Tuesday:  3 1-hour essays in the morning, and one 3-hour PT in the afternoon

Wednesday:  100 MBEs in the morning, and 100 MBEs in the afternoon

Thursday:  3 1-hour essays in the morning, and one 3-hour PT in the afternoon

The Attorneys' Exam is held on Tuesday/Thursday, and no MBEs on Wednesday.

In July 2017, the exam will change to the following components:

Tuesday:  3 1-hour essays in the morning, 2 1-hour essays in the afternoon, and ONE 90-minute PT

Wednesday:  100 MBEs in the morning, and 100 MBEs in the afternoon

The Attorneys' Exam will be held on Tuesday only (yup, a one-day exam!)

So... what's the devil in the details?

The MBEs will be more important, and repeaters who have a lot of points to gain will find it harder to do so.  One of the best aspects of the PTs is that one PT is worth TWO essays.  So one little issue on the PTs can be worth as much as 25 scaled points, while one issue on the essays is typically worth 12.5 scaled points.  So if you needed to gain a lot of points on the exam, PTs are lovely exercises since one PT is worth two essays and two PTs are worth four essays!

I don't think there's much difference on the essays, from a practical matter.  5 essays instead of 6?  The format is the same, so I don't see it as being a meaningful change.  5 essays v. 6?  No big deal.

The real question on the grading is this:

that during the grading process of the modified examination the written and MBE portions of the examination be weighted equally;

So... this means that the MBEs used to be worth 36%.  Now it will be worth 50%.  The essays used to be worth 40% and the PTs used to be worth 24%.  So that 66% will be reduced to 50%.  Does that mean essays are worth 40% and the PT worth 10%?  35% and 15%?   30% and 20%?  The Bar hasn't clarified the issue yet, and as you might imagine, you WANT and NEED to know that information.

And whither the PTs?  Is the 90-minute PT going to be a scaled-down but horribly difficult CA-based PT, or the vastly easier 90-minute Multistate PT?  For now, at least, the Bar appears to take the scaled-down CA-type PT.  Consider:

There will be some costs associated with changing the format of the examination, including such things as software programming and the editing that would be required to convert the currently banked 3-hour Performance Tests into 90-minute Performance Tests. This could be accomplished using qualified contractors (members from the current Performance Test Drafting Team and Examination Development and Grading Team).

Bottom line... does a 2-day Cal Bar Exam mean that it's easier than a 3-day exam?

NO.  Emphatically no. 

As the Bar stated:

Contrary to some assertions, the proposed modifications to the California Bar Examination will not make it an easier test to pass, as the minimum passing score (a scaled score of 1440) remains the same. It will continue to test minimum competence in the law. The modified format makes it a more efficient testing tool to do so.

Now I don't necessarily buy the arguments for an efficient testing tool, or that it's an equal measurement.  I do know that 1440 points = 1440 points = 1440 points.  The score that's necessary to gain is the same.

What's easier about the 2-day exam?  Well, 2 days is less than 3.  The Bar will be less of a coping and endurance exercise.  No doubt about it.  12 hours of testing ain't 18.  And let's face it, anybody who has ever struggled with Essay 5 or Essay 6 on Thursday of a Cal Bar Exam knows that coping and endurance is currently part of the Bar Exam.

What's harder?  For students who are not strong standardized test-takers, especially related to the MBE, you can argue that the exam is going to be much harder on a practical level.  For students who don't have the standardized test-taking gift, their weakest area is not worth MORE on the exam, and the easiest way to generate a lot of points (i.e., a PT with nothing to memorize or forget) just got harder, since there's only one PT instead of two, and those points are harder to generate from a percentage perspective.

At the end of the day, students are going to need more help than ever on the MBE, since it's going to be worth 50%, not 36%.  One-on-one multiple choice tutoring will be at a premium, and there are precious few (read:  one) that provides such a service.  I am honored to provide 1-on-1 MBE tutoring, and my Primers and Flowcharts will continue to lead the industry in demystifying the MBE.

SOURCE for the Cal Bar's quoted comments:

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