California poised to cut bar exam from three days to two

UPDATE: The bar voted in July 2015 in favor of the proposal, to take effect July 2017. See the update here.

Tomorrow, the Committee of Bar Examiners for the State of California meets to consider whether to cut the bar exam from three days to two days.

The proposal would result in one day of essays and one day of the MBE. The essays would include a morning of three, one-hour essays; and an afternoon of two, one-hour essays and a 90-minute performance test. As a practical matter, its most significant impact would be on the performance test, which has been a three-hour element of the exam. Each day would be weighed equally.

It would not make the exam any easier--that's a question left for the cutline for scores, which presumably would be recallibrated to reflect a comparable difficulty. Instead, it would make it less grueling for test-takers, and less expensive for all parties--one fewer day staying in a hotel, and one fewer day of material to develop and score. Further, it might speed grading, which, given California's glacial pace of scoring that postpones bar admission ceremonies into December after a student graduates in May, would benefit all parties.

The most intriguing component of the agenda item, in my view, describes the mismatch between critiques of proposed changes and the point of the exam itself:

There continues to be some confusion with regard to what the bar examination is intended to do. The examination is not designed to predict success as a lawyer or even that a lawyer is ready for the practice of law. In fact, one of the best predictors of bar examination scores is the grades an applicant received during law school. So, in one sense, the examination is confirmation that the necessary skills and knowledge were learned during the three or four years of law study, through whatever means, which are needed to show minimum competence as a lawyer. The bar examination is an examination to test minimum competence in the law.

The format of the exam, then, whether through essays or multiple choice, whether three days or two days, is not the point.

Implementation would be submitted for review in April 2015 to determine when the two-day bar, if approved, would first take place.