Bar Exams, Cheating

I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve taken several bar exams, and am licensed in several states. So I figured I should post a few short stories regarding the bar exams since that is the omega moment of law school. Some of these stories happened at the same exam, but were worth posting separately.

I was sitting across from someone who cheated on the bar exam, and they got caught. In this particular state, everyone taking the bar exam was required to shlep over to the state capital and boost the local economy for a couple days by staying in hotels while taking the test. I don’t remember which day of the exam it was, but I do know it was one of the essay sections. Anyway, everyone (and we are talking well over 1000 people) are stuffed 2 to a small table in a convention center that shares more in common with an airplane hanger than a building meant for people; that includes the air conditioning. Since this was in July, it meant most people were wearing as little as possible and still sweating. There were some freaks who showed up in full suits to the exam… I just don’t get it. I suppose if you enjoy dehydrating over many hours while trying to do mental gymnastics then more power to you. For those unfamiliar with the rules of the exam, you are allowed to go to the restroom at any time, but given the time constraints, you would do better only going if it was a dire emergency. The tables were arranged so that you were diagonal from the other person at your table, which meant you were staring at the back of the person at the next table. I talked a bit before the start with the guy sitting at my table. While talking I told him that I had already passed a couple other bars and I was only taking this one because of what was effectively an expensive clerical error on my part, so I really didn’t care if I passed or not. (I did, he did too as it turned out). He was somewhat envious and said it almost seemed unfair since I was effectively playing with house money.

The bar exam in all jurisdictions have a multitude of test proctors whose responsibility it is to wander around the room looking for any sign of cheating, or of some computer malfunction or the like. To an outsider, it must have looked like a bookwriting gulag with the taskmasters wandering aimlessly up and down the rows of fumiously typing serfs. The proctors wander and if they get really bored sometimes stop and read what you are writing from a few feet behind you. Anyway, during one of the essay portions, I am banging away on my laptop when a proctor walks over and stops right in front of me. At some point shortly before, the girl sitting at the table in front of me had gotten up to go to the restroom. This didn’t really register at all, but then another proctor walks over and stops in front of me too. And another. A moment later there is a cluster of about 6 of them right in front of me talking in a whisper. By this point, everyone within a 5 table radius has stopped writing and are just watching to see what is going on. They seem to realize this, and make a quick decision. 2 of them grab the girl’s laptop and everything else on the table and they all walk away.

During the break, we plied the closest proctor for more information. It seems that the girl had gone to the restroom only a few minutes into the first essay section after they handed out the questions. This was slightly notable since we all had ample time to visit the restroom before it began, but who knows, it is within the realm of possible that it was innocent. The second essay section started, and she did the same thing. Got the questions and went to the restroom a minute later after reading them. There are proctors sitting outside the restrooms… and they noticed. The proctor followed her in a moment later and (in what almost borders on the creepy) looked through the crack in the stall. The girl had brought notecards that she was flipping through in the bathroom to find what she needed for the questions. A bit of a horrible way to waste $100K since she’ll probably never be allowed to take the exam again. Or minimally would be barred from re-applying for the next 5 years, which almost amounts to the same thing if you think about it, because what are you going to do for the next 5 years?

The interesting part of this was actually how some of this worked into the overall curve of the exam. It turns out after talking to the proctor, that if a person signs up for the exam, but doesn’t show, it is counted as a zero score but is included in the overall curve. So technically the odds are already in every test takers favor since there is always a small handful of people who never show up for some unknown reason, or decide to leave the test after day 1. However, if someone cheats and are thrown out, their score is completely stricken as if they had never even applied to take the exam. Good to know.

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