Was the “excruciating” bar exam harder online than in person? Depends on the state

There’s at least one thing you can be thankful for in 2020: You didn’t have to take the bar exam. 

  • Many states adjusted: At least 23 jurisdictions offered online bar exams, according to Justia.

  • That didn’t mean the process was easy: Florida, for instance, announced in May it would have two locations for in-person exams on July 28 and 29. On July 1, Florida cancelled the exam and moved it to an online format for August 18 -- after test-takers had made plans for travel. Days before the August online exam, Florida cancelled it because of software complications and moved it to October.  

  • Something similar happened in Indiana: The state had software problems, too, and had to give the test open notes via email. 

Scores were all over the place 

Passage rates have trickled in the last couple months. The tortured law students of Florida passed at a rate of 72%, about two percentage points lower than those who took the test in summer 2019. Texas’ online bar exam in October had a 60% passage rate, far lower than the 77% in-person rate from September. 

  • The story was different in Indiana and Michigan, where the passage rate was up 8 percentage points.  

The Verdict

Megan Kilmer, who planned to take the California bar exam, described her experience to CNBC as “literal hell” and a “hazing ritual.” Will that ritual end? As we’ve discussed before, it could happen.