The Smart Guide to the Remote Bar Exam
(Including 10 Tips & Strategies)
(Last updated September 28, 2020)
(updates for the Feb. 2021 exam coming soon…)
In these uncertain times, it has become necessary for many jurisdictions to switch to a remotely administered bar exam. If you’re reading this, you likely have been told that your jurisdiction has moved to a remote bar exam format.
While this is not ideal for many (since a remote online exam is uncharted territory and it adds a new set of challenges), it’s still important to add remote bar prep strategies to your arsenal of study tools.
That’s the purpose of this guide… to give you those strategies and tips to successfully navigate a remote bar exam.
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Remote Exam Dates & Jurisdictions
|Remote Bar Exam Dates||State / Jurisdiction|
|July 28, 2020||Michigan|
|August 4, 2020||Indiana|
|August 11-12, 2020||Nevada|
|Two dates: August 24, 2020 and October 10, 2020||Louisiana|
|October 5-6, 2020|
Arizona*, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho*, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon*, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas*, Vermont, Virgin Islands
*Oct. 5-6 remote exam offered as an option in addition to the in-person July and/or Fall exam.
|October 13, 2020||Florida|
It’s important to note that many jurisdictions have also changed the format of the exam (many going to a half-exam). At the end of this guide, we have compiled additional resources where you can find more information about your jurisdiction’s bar exam format, remote exam software, and security rules.
Let’s Talk Software
- ExamSoft, and
- ILG Technologies.1
The first thing you should do is find out which vendor your jurisdiction is using, because our very first tip is knowing what’s possible and allowed with your remote testing software.
Most jurisdictions are currently using ExamSoft. If you’re unsure of your exam software, we suggest contacting your bar exam jurisdiction or using the additional resource links at the end of this guide.
Tips & Strategies for the Remote Bar Exam
Most jurisdictions2 have posted that the following actions are allowed or not allowed when using the software provided for the exam:
Examinees will be able to:
- Cut and paste or drag and drop text within their response.
- View the question and their response at the same time. For the MPT, examinees will be able to open the MPT library attachments and view both the attachment and the exam response on the screen.
- Highlight within the questions.
- Use virtual scratch paper to outline their responses.
Examinees will not be able to:
- Cut and paste or drag and drop text from the question to their response.
- Use more than one monitor.
- Underline or cross out within the questions or the MPT materials.
- Use scratch paper, notes, or any other physical reference materials. Examinees determined to have used paper scratch or note paper at any time during the exam will be investigated for cheating, resulting in a potential negative impact on character and fitness for admission.
You will notice that taking the exam remotely removes your ability to use physical scratch paper (also called scrap paper). If you have practiced taking notes, outlining, or marking up questions with a physical pen and paper, then you may find this to be a major adjustment.
That’s why the next thing we suggest you do is test the software to get used to the new method of reading the questions on the computer with virtual scratch paper (more on this below).
Remember, what’s allowed in your jurisdiction may vary based on both the:
- software vendor used, and
- specific security rules for your jurisdiction.
For example, a few jurisdictions do allow physical paper to be used on the Performance Test section of the exam (e.g. California, Pennsylvania).3 As such, it’s important to read and follow the specific rules for your jurisdiction.
Once you determine your jurisdiction’s software vendor, you will have an opportunity to test the software by taking a “mock exam”. In fact, most states require you to take a mock exam precisely to force you to practice using the software.
If allowed by your state, you should also utilize the software for additional practice (e.g. essays, PT’s, and multiple choice). For example, at least one State has loaded past essays and PT’s into the software so you can practice taking old exams (e.g. California).4 Even if your jurisdiction has not done this, then try to use the software as much as possible taking past questions… even if it’s just writing your answer in the software with the question printed out next to you.
For written sections of the exam, you’ll need to get comfortable both reading the exam question(s) on your computer and drafting your answer on the same screen. For multiple choice, you’ll need to learn to use the software so you can efficiently work through a question and choose the best answer.
- For Essays and Performance Tests (MPT’s or PT’s), you’ll be scrolling through the question (instead of flipping the page), using the allowed mark-up features for the software (e.g. highlighting), plus outlining and drafting your answer solely on your computer. This can be quite an adjustment from working on paper, so dedicating time to using the software is a necessity.
- For MBE Questions, get used to working through multiple-choice questions using the software (reading the question, using the “strike-through” or “flag” features, and selecting the best answer). Using programs like AdaptiBar or the NCBE’s BarNow for MBE practice questions can greatly help with this. They key is to get used to taking MBE questions on the computer, thereby simulating exam conditions. Similarly, don’t use a tablet or phone to practice, since you’ll be taking the exam on a computer (most jurisdictions even require laptops).
The idea here is to make the software so familiar and comfortable that you will only be focused on answering the questions on exam day… and not trying to figure out the exam software.
3. Decide on how you’ll work with Digital Scratch Paper (or Not!) … and Know its limitations.
For the written sections of the Remote Bar Exam, most jurisdictions DO NOT allow physical scratch paper, notes, paper, or even underlining on the exam questions.5 To compensate for the lack of physical paper, virtual or digital “scratch paper” is contained within the exam software. Because of that, you’ll need to adjust your exam strategy to only using the computer.
First, you will need to decide whether or not to actually use the digital scratch paper in the software.
We suggest NOT using the digital scratch paper, and instead recommend outlining (or taking notes) directly in the “Answer screen”. This way you’ll be able to use the “split screen” functionality of the software, which enables you to view both the question and answer screens at the same time. Then, you can draft your answer over those outline/notes essentially incorporating those items into your fully formatted and drafted answer (just remember to not leave stray notes or an outline in your final answer).
It’s always best to test any approach you’ll be using on the exam, so you should practice a few essays using both our method above AND using the virtual/digital scratch paper. That way you’ll be able to determine what works best for you.
Remember, a few jurisdictions do allow physical scratch paper to be used on the Performance Test section (e.g. California, Pennsylvania),6 so be sure to check your jurisdiction’s requirements.
Additionally, there may be limitations on the virtual scratch paper for your exam. Although many jurisdictions have not released such info, we did find information on this for California which is using ExamSoft. Please see below for the specifics:
“Digital scratch paper will be available during all parts of the bar exam (including the MBE) and will be limited to approximately 70,000 characters, which is more than the 16 pages of physical scratch paper allowed at our in-person exams.
The Notes section (digital scratch paper) can be closed at any time by clicking on ‘Tool Kit’ or ‘Close Tool Kit’. It can be reopened by clicking on ‘Tool Kit’ again. Once closed, the entire window where the applicant can type and where the question text is displayed will be extended. Applicants can also hide the question text by clicking the down arrow next to question. This will enlarge the typing space as well.”7
In our opinion, the “Tool Kit” function seems cumbersome to use, so this may be another reason to abandon using the digital scratch paper in favor of using the “Answer screen” to outline or take notes.
In fact, New York has even commented on outlining directly in the Answer screen: “It is also permissible for applicants to type their outlines into the answer response fields and then cut, paste and delete unwanted text as desired.8
Since you’ll be taking the exam remotely, you should plan and create your ideal “exam space.” Taking the exam at home (or a workspace) comes with many advantages, but there may be challenges as well (e.g. will there be other people or pets around, or is there a noisy train that passes by your apartment?). These are all things you will need to plan for in advance.
Here are some recommendations for planning your ideal testing space:
- Make sure the room has the necessary internet connection.
- Have the adequate computer and technological requirements for using the remote exam software.
- Make sure that the webcam faces a background free of clutter (because you will be recorded via your webcam).
- If possible, try to have other people leave the house, apartment, or nearby space while you’re taking the exam.
- Make sure the room has adequate lighting. Also, figure out if sunlight blocking shades or curtains may be needed (you don’t want the sun to create a glare on your computer screen while taking the exam).
- Choose a comfortable chair and desk/table to take the exam.
- Take a mock or practice exam at the same time of the day as the real exam, so you can spot possible issues (e.g. loud noises or other distractions).
- Most importantly, remove ALL prohibited items from the room on the day of the exam (e.g. cell phone, study materials, etc.). Ideally, you should have everything removed the night before, so you’re not worrying about it on exam day.
Keep in mind that once you start the test, you will not be able to adjust anything until after that exam session… that’s why it’s so important to plan your space in advance.
When outlining your exam answer on the computer, you should keep it short and to the point (just like when using paper). Remember, the outline is meant to be only a checklist of what you’ll write in a full answer.
A good way to keep yourself in check is to limit yourself to 1 line of text per bullet point. Of course, you can write a little more if needed, but generally following this rule of thumb will keep you on track and make sure you don’t waste too much time outlining your answer.
This helps you preserve that much needed time for writing the full answer, and also gives you less to edit if you’re using the “Answer screen” to outline.
According to information released by some states, you can strike through answers you believe to be incorrect, as well as “flag” questions that you wish to return to later.
For example, in New York (an ExamSoft jurisdiction):
“On the MBE questions, applicants WILL be able to:
- Highlight within the text of each question.
- Strike out unwanted answers or answers you believe to be incorrect as you read the multiple choice questions. Applicants must still select an answer (and not just strike through purported incorrect answers) in order to receive credit for a correct answer.
- Navigate forward and backward between questions, as well as skip and/or return to unanswered questions during each session.
- Flag multiple-choice questions that you would like to return to during that session.
- Use the Notes (i.e., virtual scrap paper) for each question.”9
California, which is also using ExamSoft, has similar software functionality when taking the multiple-choice MBE section.10
No matter what jurisdiction you’re taking the exam in, you MUST still remember to select a correct answer, and not just strike through incorrect ones.
Since the answer may affect your exam strategy, try to determine if and to what extent you can go back and forth between questions.
Not many jurisdictions have commented specifically on this yet. In New York (using ExamSoft), it appears that you will be able to return to questions only within that session.11
However, in California it varies per each section of the exam (since the exam is broken up into many more sessions):
“During the exam, may I go back and edit answers from prior questions?
- Essay and Performance Test (PT)−No. To ensure the integrity of the exam, applicants will be given access to the questions one at a time. After each one-hour essay is taken, you will no longer have access to that essay. The same is true for the PT. You will not be able to go back to prior questions and edit your answers.
- Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)−Yes. The exam is administered over two 90-minute sessions each comprised of 50 multiple-choice questions. You have the ability to flag multiple-choice questions that you would like to return to during that session. Once the session is over, you will not be allowed to return to those 50-questions.”12
Remember, what’s allowed in your jurisdiction may vary, so be sure to check the specifics for your exam.
You also may not be able to choose the order of the questions.13 So be prepared to work one question at a time, as each is presented.
First, and most importantly, you MUST check what is allowed and is not allowed for your jurisdiction’s remote exam. Violation of such rules may be considered cheating and even result in a negative impact on your character and fitness for admission. We cannot stress enough that you MUST NOT violate the security or exam software rules for your exam.
For example, that might include using only a laptop computer, not using multiple computer monitors, no books in the immediate proximity, no food or beverage, etc. As these requirements may differ slightly between jurisdictions, following the requirements of your jurisdiction is vitally important.
Additionally, try not to get flagged for review. Try to minimize any odd sounds or interruptions during the exam, as they could lead to being flagged for further review for any violation of the security rules.14
We know the bar exam is stressful, and software glitches or issues can cause you to freak-out. But, remember staying calm is the best course of action. If there is an issue, it’s likely that the examiners will come to a reasonable solution to remedy the situation.
This recently occurred this Summer when a few jurisdictions administered a remote exam for the first time. One software vendor was hit with a hacking attack which caused the software not to function initially, and examinees in two other jurisdictions experienced delays when typing during practice tests.15
We’re not telling you this to scare you. Instead, we feel it’s better to anticipate these possible issues, so you’ll be better able to stay calm and then focus back to the exam whenever it gets started again.
We live in uncertain times, so it’s best to anticipate the uncertainty so you’ll be better able to adapt should some unfortunate issue happen.
10. Adapt Your Practice & Preparation to a Computer Only Exam
The bar exam strategies in our other Smart Guides are still applicable when taking a remote bar exam… BUT you’ll need to adapt your practice and test-taking slightly.
Most importantly, you’ll need to learn to work entirely on the computer (there’s no paper allowed in most jurisdictions) and learn to use the exam software.
Below is a summary of the studying, practice, and test-taking strategies in our other Smart Guides that you’ll need to adapt to working solely on the computer. The goal with all of these items is to get yourself comfortable with the new setup and expectations that go along with a remote exam.
MBE Smart Guide Strategies:
- Chapter 6, Step # 3 (“MBE TIP – Practice like it’s the ACTUAL exam”):
- Practice taking MBE Questions only on the computer… DO NOT use paper, a pencil, and answer sheet as previously suggested. The goal is to simulate the actual exam experience as much as possible. Using programs like AdaptiBar or the NCBE’s BarNow are great choices for MBE practice on the computer. Additionally, you should ideally practice on the same computer you plan to take the exam with. Similarly, don’t use a tablet or phone to practice, since you’ll be taking the real exam on a computer.
- Chapter 6, Step # 4 (“MBE TIP – Don’t Just Review only the Questions You Got Wrong”):
- During your MBE practice, try to flag or note the questions you’re unsure about so you can review them later. See if that function is available in your MBE Practice software… or just note the question number(s) down on a separate piece of paper. That way you won’t skip over reviewing questions you got right, but didn’t fully understand why.
- Chapter 8, Tip # 4 (“Have a System for Bubbling-In the Answer Sheet”):
- For the remote exam, having a “bubbling-in” system is not important. However, you should still have a pre-determined way of working through an MBE question. Specifically, you should think about whether you will be using (1) the “strike through” feature to strike out unwanted answers you believe to be incorrect; (2) using the “flag” feature for multiple choice questions you would like to return to later in that session; and (3) using the “notes” or “virtual scratch paper” feature.
- First, whether to use to the “strike through” feature is up to your personal preference. Just make sure you still select the best answer (and not just strike through purported incorrect answers) … otherwise you will not receive credit for the question.
- Second, flagging questions to come back to later on can be a good strategy, especially if you have some extra time at the end of the session. However, we suggest using this feature for only a limited number of questions; you don’t want to flag a lot of questions, as you likely will not have time to go back to them. Additionally, we also suggest selecting an answer before moving onto another question (even if you flagged it to come back to later). That way you’ll have an answer selected just in case you don’t have time later on in the exam. Don’t leave potential points on the table… make sure every question has an answer choice selected! If you have time later on to review it, you can always change the answer then if needed.
- Third, we suggest NOT using the “notes” or “virtual scratch paper” feature for the MBE. This is a waste of your valuable time for the MBE section.
MEE Smart Guide Strategies:
- Chapter 3, MEE Step-by-Step Approach – How to Read, Organize, and Draft Your Answer (“Step # 2: Read the Fact Pattern, and Mark It Up”):
- Unfortunately for the remote exam, you’ll be limited to the mark-up features in the software. This will likely be highlighting only, but be sure to check the specifics for your exam jurisdiction. For “marking-up” the question, we suggest: (a) using those software features; AND/OR (b) by making very short notes in either the “Answer screen” or the “virtual scratch paper”.
- Chapter 3, MEE Step-by-Step Approach – How to Read, Organize, and Draft Your Answer (“Step # 4: Organize Your Answer & Make a SHORT Outline of the Issues/Topics”):
- Make sure to practice outlining only on the computer, and keep your outline short! See, Remote Exam Tip # 5 above for more detail.
- Chapter 5, Step 4 (“Practice & Application – Issue Spotting and Writing Essays”):
- Practice like it’s the real exam! That means only using a computer for BOTH (1) reading the essay question, and (2) drafting your answer. If your remote exam software access is limited to only the mock exam(s), then we suggest using the method below.
- To simulate actual exam conditions, we suggest working on your computer using a “split screen”… with one side of your screen showing the Question and the other side of your screen being your word processing software for drafting the Answer (e.g. Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.). Once you take the mock exam for your State/Jurisdiction, you should tweak your screen practice layout to more closely mimic the exam software.
MPT Smart Guide Strategies:
- Chapter 5, MPT Step-by-Step Approach – How to Review the File & Library, Outline the Assignment, and Draft Your Answer, (Steps # 1, 3, & 4):
- Unfortunately for the remote exam, you will be limited to the mark up features in the software. For “marking-up” the File & Library, we suggest: (a) using those software features; AND/OR (b) by making very short notes in either the “Answer screen” or the “virtual scratch paper”.
- Chapter 5, MPT Step-by-Step Approach – How to Review the File & Library, Outline the Assignment, and Draft Your Answer, (Steps # 3, 4, & 6):
- Make sure to practice drafting any outline only on the computer, and keep your outline short! On the remote exam, you can make very short notes in either the “Answer screen” or the “virtual scratch paper” (see Remote Exam Tip # 5 above for more detail).
- Chapter 6, Step # 3 (“Practice, Practice, Practice! – Review & Writing MPT’s”):
- For both “MPT Writing Practice” and “MPT Outlining Practice”, you must practice like it’s the real exam! That means only using a computer for BOTH (1) reading the MPT Question (the File & Library), and (2) drafting or outlining your answer. If your remote exam software access is limited to only the mock exam(s), then we suggest using the method below.
- To simulate actual exam conditions, we suggest working on your computer using a “split screen”… with one side of your screen showing the MPT Question Materials and the other side of your screen being your word processing software for drafting the Answer (e.g. Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.). Once you take the mock exam for your State/Jurisdiction, you should tweak your screen practice layout to more closely mimic the exam software.
- Chapter 7, Tip # 6 (“Note important items in the File & Library… making them easy to find when drafting”):
- For “marking-up” the File & Library, you’ll have to work only on the computer and with the mark-up tools in your jurisdiction’s exam software. As such, we suggest: (a) using those software features; AND/OR (b) by making very short notes in either the “Answer screen” or the “virtual scratch paper”.
Additional Resources by State / Jurisdiction:
If you’re interested in more remote bar exam details for your jurisdiction (including exam format, software, and security rules), please see the following links:
|State / Jurisdiction||Additional Resources / Links|
|District of Columbia|
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2 See e.g., New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland.
3See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE, at Q. 2. See also, Pennsylvania October 2020 Bar Exam Frequently Asked Questions: “Q. What are the computer requirements for the remote exam? A. … Physical scratch paper will be permitted ONLY for the Performance Test.”
4 See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE, at Q. 5.
5 For example, in New York: “Applicants WILL NOT be able to: … – Underline, circle, or cross out text within the MEE and MBE questions or the MPT materials. … – Use physical scratch paper, notes, or any other physical reference materials.” (See, New York FAQS for the October 2020 Remote Exam (PDF), at Q. 11). Similarly, in New Jersey: “Applicants are not permitted to have access to paper or writing utensils to make any notes. For the MPT/MEE, the New Jersey Board of Bar Examiners’ vendor will provide a text box to track any notes applicants may want to write while reading the question.” (See, https://www.njbarexams.org/faq).
6 See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE, at Q. 2. See also, Pennsylvania October 2020 Bar Exam Frequently Asked Questions: “Q. What are the computer requirements for the remote exam? A. … Physical scratch paper will be permitted ONLY for the Performance Test.”
7 See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE, at Q. 1.
8 See, New York FAQS for the October 2020 Remote Exam (PDF), at Q. 15 (emphasis added).
9 See, New York FAQS for the October 2020 Remote Exam (PDF), at Q. 11.
10 See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE, at Q. 4 (“The software allows you to strike through answers you believe to be incorrect as you read over multiple-choice questions. However, please be aware that you must still select a correct answer, and not just strike through incorrect ones… The software also allows you to flag multiple-choice questions that you wish to return to later (within the same exam session time period).”).
11 See, New York FAQS for the October 2020 Remote Exam (PDF), at Q. 2: “Once you complete a session, you will not be able to return to the question(s) given in prior sessions.” (emphasis added).
12 See, California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, FORMAT OF THE EXAM, at Q. 2.
13 See, e.g., California Bar Exam October 2020 FAQs, “FEATURES OF THE EXAM SOFTWARE,” at Q. 7: “Will I be able to choose the order of the essays? No. You will not be able to choose the order of the essays.”
14 For example, “After the conclusion of each session the Remote Proctoring Video Files will be uploaded to ExamSoft. ExamSoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) program will subsequently analyze the recording and flag any unusual behaviors, movements, or sounds. All footage will then be reviewed by at least one human proctor to determine whether further analysis as to potential irregularities is necessary. For example, a barking dog or a siren in the background might be initially flagged by AI but cleared upon that initial review.” See, New York FAQS for the October 2020 Remote Exam (PDF), at Q. 12.
15 See, https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/due-to-technology-concerns-software-provider-pulls-out-of-remotely-proctored-bar-exams). See also, https://www.law.com/2020/07/28/first-online-bar-exam-marred-by-tech-problems/.