Washington Prepares for First-Ever Remote Bar Exam

Young woman taking bar exam on computer at home

For the first time in its history, the WSBA will administer the bar exam remotely.

On Dec. 3, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order authorizing the WSBA “to conduct the February 2021 administration of legal licensing examinations for admission using remote testing software,” citing the “extraordinary barriers” created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Per the order, the WSBA will require exam takers to obtain the program ExamSoft, which has for years been the primary method of taking the bar exam. Unlike previous exams, examinees in February will be able to take the exam at a location of their choosing (that meets certain requirements). Like many other states, this will mark the first time Washington will administer a remote exam rather than the usual in-person exam conducted over two days twice per year. But the February 2021 bar exam will not be the first time it’s been conducted remotely in the country.

In June, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)—which develops and coordinates licensing tests that most states use for admission to the bar—announced it would offer a remote-testing option. However, at the time there was no remote option to take the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), an increasingly popular choice for exam takers who want the ability to transfer their license to other states that have also adopted the UBE. But with the next exam, the NCBE has announced it will also allow the UBE to be taken remotely. With that change, officials in the WSBA’s Regulatory Services Department sought permission from the Supreme Court to conduct the first remote bar exam in the state.

“We have alerted all the applicants that the court has decided to go this route and will provide more detailed information going forward,” said Admissions Manager Gus Quiniones.

According to the NCBE, as of this writing, 32 out of its 55 jurisdictions will be administering a remote exam in February 2021. Previously, 20 jurisdictions and 30,000 examinees opted for a remote exam when it was first conducted in October. Of those, 2 percent of people who downloaded the exam files did not ultimately start the exam: less than 0.3 percent had technical issues (mostly devices that didn’t meet the ExamSoft’s minimum system requirements) and the other 1.7 percent of no-shows had already chosen not to take the exam or were determined to be ineligible, according to an NCBE press release. (It’s worth noting that some media outlets covering the legal profession have raised questions about the success of that initial remote-exam rollout.)

The WSBA will provide location assistance to examinees who do not have access to suitable testing location or reliable internet. Just like for past in-person examinations, examinees may request reasonable accommodations due to a disability for the remote exam or make other special requests in accordance with the Admission Policies.

Switching to a remote exam naturally creates a number of unprecedented logistical challenges for exam administrators. Historically, in-person exams are highly restricted, with a detailed list of prohibited items, such as erasers and hooded sweatshirts, to prevent cheating, and to protect the integrity and security of the exam. To carry over such security considerations to a remote environment, ExamSoft will use facial recognition and other software-level security to proctor the exam. Additionally, it will flag anomalies—like the presence of other people in the room (appearing on audio or video) or the exam taker exiting the camera’s view—for review by staff after the exam.

WSBA officials recommend a few things for exam takers to prepare between now and Feb. 23-24, 2021:

  • Read the remote exam FAQs posted on the WSBA’s Admissions pages for lawyer, Limited License Legal Technician, and Limited Practice Officer applicants.
  • Start looking for a comfortable, quiet environment to take the remote exam that will be free from interruptions.
  • Make sure the device (laptop or desktop computer) meets ExamSoft’s recommended system requirements and has a camera and microphone ExamSoft can access for facial-recognition verification and exam monitoring.
  • As much as possible, make sure to have a reliable internet connection.
  • Study and take full advantage of the mock exams!

Additional important information about the February 2021 remote exam will continue to be posted on the WSBA’s Admission By Lawyer Bar Examination page. The NCBE has published an extensive list of helpful COVID-19 FAQs and other resources related to the remote exam.