Bar Exam Essentials Part 2: What’s Prohibited, What to Expect, and Post-Exam Tips

A hand using a pencil to fill out answers on the bar exam

Cheating attempts during the bar exam in Washington are rare, but still mean that everyone has to abide by a strict list of prohibited items and rules.

A full list of the prohibited items for the Washington State Bar Exam can be found in the security policy on the WSBA admissions page. One big note to remember: The security policy trumps all else, whether that’s something you heard or maybe even what you read here. Things can change, so check the policy before you sit for the exam.

According to Beth Hill, director of test security and associate general counsel for the National Conference of Bar Examiners—which maintains the base-level list of prohibited items for Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) jurisdictions, although state bars can and do prohibit additional items—things end up on the prohibited list both in response to specific cheating incidents and as a precaution on the assumption that a creative person will find a way to smuggle in notes in the most ordinary of items.

Some of the more notable contraband incidents include an exam taker who drilled out an eraser and carefully folded notes accordion style so it could fit in the cavity, according to WSBA Admissions Manager Gus Quiniones (it should be clarified that this cheating incident was in another jurisdiction). In a separate incident, an exam proctor became concerned when two people were taking suspiciously frequent, alternating bathroom breaks. The proctor investigated and discovered that the pair had been trading hints and answers by writing them in highlighter pen on the wall behind the toilet.

Technological innovation can be even more of a burden for admissions officials looking to stamp out potential cheating. Several state bars recently prohibited newer-model MacBooks that included a touch bar feature, which at the time could be used to cheat even with ExamSoft installed—the issue only affected a few jurisdictions and was resolved quickly. And increasingly sophisticated wireless devices have further resulted in a total prohibition on anything being worn in, on, or near the ears, including earmuffs and earplugs (for the Washington State Bar Exam, earplugs are provided but exam takers cannot bring their own).

Aside from a qualified laptop, no electronic items of any kind are allowed in the exam room, but the security policy specifically calls out items such as digital watches and, notably, fitness trackers. Why would the policy prohibit electronic devices but further specify specific devices within that broad category? Well, you might not be surprised that, with three years of legal education under their belts, people taking the exam have been known to scrutinize every word of the security policy. In response, new wrist-worn screens such as smart watches and fitness trackers had to be specifically added to the list of prohibited items, in addition to the wide-ranging prohibition of electronics. The prohibition on electronics not only prevents cheating, but also prevents anyone from harvesting the exam questions or content—by taking a picture, for example—to pass along to other applicants.

Asked why seemingly innocuous items like lip balm are prohibited, the WSBA’s Quiniones responded succinctly, “As with most prohibited items, to prevent cheating.” On a follow up question about the strangest items people have tried to bring into the exam room, he said “lucky rocks and troll dolls.”

Notably, hooded sweatshirts are not allowed in the exam room because of the possibility that someone might ferret away notes in the hood. (People have been caught doing this in other states.) In most instances, a well-meaning exam taker can easily take off the prohibited clothing before entering the exam room. However, one unlucky person who didn’t pay attention to the security policy and didn’t wear enough layers under their sweatshirt, after declining the option to change, resorted to cutting off their hood. Applicants are warned repeatedly about this before the exam, so be prepared—keep an eye on the security policy and your applicant page—and leave the hoodie at home!

Post-Exam Checklist

When the bar exam comes to a close, the most critical first step for an exam taker is to upload your answers to ExamSoft as soon as possible before the deadline (basically as soon as you can connect to the internet as there is intentionally no Wi-Fi available on site), and don’t delete answer files from your desktop until you have received your exam results. Also, check for an email from Examsoft verifying that your answers were uploaded successfully, and for messages from Admissions staff who may need to reach you for some reason.

After your answers are uploaded, just keep an eye on your email inbox and be sure that your contact information is up to date. Those who take the 2019 summer exam will receive an email notification that their exam results have been posted to their online account on Sept. 13 by 8 a.m. PST (individual exam results are shared privately with exam takers on the Friday before the Monday when the full pass list is made public). For more information about the bar exam schedule, check the WSBA admission page.

The Summer Bar Exam will be held July 30-31 at the The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.