California Bar Exam to Switch from Three Days of Misery to Two

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 06, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A note to all the J.D.'s who just sat for the California bar exam: you're chumps. The State Bar Board of Trustees has unanimously approved dropping the bar exam's notorious third day. That brings California in line with pretty much every other state bar exam. Had you waited just two more years, you would have had a third less to do.

But don't worry, the future, shorter exam won't be any easier.

The Cruelest Cut

California's bar exam is hard. It's ranked as the most difficult bar exam in the nation. Last year, less than half of those who took the exam passed. Those of us who made it through the crucible take pride in having survived three miserable days of examination -- in a Marriot in downtown Oakland, no less. The rest head across state lines to practice in Reno, Portland or, worse, New York City.

But, despite our desire to inflict a similar pain on future California lawyers, the three day bar exam simply doesn't make much sense. After all, the exam's purpose is to measure competency, not stamina.

A Shorter, Similarly Difficult Exam

Sadly, future California examinees, the test shouldn't be any easier. A review by several "psychometricians" (that's a thing) found that the exam could be shortened without substantially altering the exams pass/fail standards -- which means, yes, half of those who take the shorter exam will still fail.

Currently, the California bar exam consists of six one-hour essay questions, a day of 200 MBE multiple-choice questions, and two three-hour, "closed world" performance exams. Come 2017, the exam will be one day of MBE and one day consisting of five one-hour essay questions and one 90-minute performance test.

Why change the exam now, after the rest of the world has already suffered through it? To save future lawyers money, of course. Dropping the third day will save over $100,000 in printing fees and almost $500,000 in proctor costs. In total, it's expected to save $1.1 million each year. The Bar claims that will help them put off future increases in the cost of taking the exam, which already sets examinees back around $1000.

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