General

Why will implementation of the NextGen bar exam take 4–5 years?

NCBE is taking a number of steps to ensure that the NextGen bar exam meets the needs of licensing authorities and that candidates and law schools have sufficient time to prepare for the transition. The implementation process began in early February 2021. Major steps of the implementation will include

    • developing content specifications identifying scope of coverage;
    • drafting new types of questions for integrated testing of knowledge and skills;
    • ensuring accessibility for candidates with disabilities;
    • field-testing new item formats and new exam content;
    • conducting analyses and review to ensure fairness for diverse populations of candidates;
    • evaluating options for in-person computer delivery of the exam;
    • establishing scoring processes and psychometric methods for equating/scaling scores;
    • developing test administration policies and procedures;
    • assisting jurisdictions to prepare and supporting them in activities such as setting passing score requirements and amending rules to align with changes to the exam; and
    • providing study materials and sample test questions to help candidates prepare.

Will all jurisdictions switch to the NextGen bar exam at the same time, or will there be a phased rollout?

NCBE will work with jurisdictions to develop a rollout plan that ensures a smooth transition to the NextGen exam for bar admission offices, candidates, and law schools. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Will the NextGen bar exam cost more?

As a nonprofit organization, NCBE is committed to keeping the cost of the bar exam affordable for all.

Will the NextGen exam be longer, shorter, or about the same length as the current bar exam?

We do not expect the NextGen bar exam to be longer than the current 12-hour, two-day exam. If possible, the length of the NextGen exam will be reduced, but this will be done only if the necessary validity and score reliability can be maintained. We are hopeful that the integrated design and computer-based delivery might create efficiencies in test administration that will support a shorter bar exam.

Why will the MPRE remain a separate standalone exam?

Stakeholders recognize the importance of professional responsibility (it was ranked as the most important knowledge area on the 2019 practice analysis) and value its separate assessment as a core piece of ensuring public protection and trust in the integrity of the legal profession. Because of its importance, professional responsibility may serve as the context for assessing some Foundational Skills (e.g., legal analysis, client counseling and advising) on the NextGen bar exam; in this case, candidates would be provided with the applicable rules or other legal resources so as avoid duplicating the MPRE’s assessment of knowledge and application of the model rules of professional responsibility.

Structure and Format

When will prototypes of NextGen questions be available?

NCBE is excited to start working on the NextGen exam, and we have begun working with question drafters to develop prototypes of new item (exam question) formats and items sets for the integrated assessment of knowledge and skills. Prototypes will be evaluated and refined before we begin several rounds of small-scale pilot testing of items in 2022. As pilot testing is successfully completed, we plan to begin publishing sample exam questions. As test development continues, we will make study aids available as soon as possible, hopefully in 2023.

Will the number of questions from each type of item (e.g., multiple-choice, short answer, constructed response) be consistent from one administration to another for the NextGen exam?

NCBE’s psychometricians anticipate a great deal of item format consistency across administrations of the NextGen bar exam to lend consistency to the measurement of knowledge and skills over time. Information of this nature will be provided in the final Test Content Specifications that will be published well in advance of the first administration of the NextGen exam.

Will the NextGen exam be offered in modules or components for use by jurisdictions that wish to administer jurisdiction-drafted components?

NCBE has concluded that an integrated design for the bar exam will best assess the core competencies needed to enter practice. The integrated exam will be developed to measure in a holistic manner both Foundational Concepts & Principles and Foundational Skills. Most of the new test items will be presented in the context of shared scenarios and materials that apply to sets of items rather than to individual questions. We do not know at this time whether or how an exam that is designed to be used as an integrated assessment could be “disintegrated” to create discrete components. However, we are committed to engaging with jurisdictions to discuss their needs and evaluate options for meeting those needs if feasible.

Frequency, Delivery Mode, and Timing

Will the NextGen bar exam still be administered twice per year?

Yes, the NextGen bar exam will still be administered twice per year.

Why isn’t remote testing being recommended?

Based on the current technology available, the Task Force determined that in-person administration of the bar exam is the best way to ensure uniform testing conditions for all candidates. The bar exam has been offered remotely only as an emergency option during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some jurisdictions could not safely administer the exam in person.

What will be done to help ensure fairness with the move of the NextGen bar exam to computer-based delivery (accessibility issues, required equipment and technology, etc.)?

NCBE will consider and address accessibility issues when determining delivery options to ensure fairness for all candidates. NCBE’s commitment to fairness and accessibility is one of the reasons the Task Force determined that in-person administration of a computer-based exam is recommended, as accessibility issues can be more readily addressed in an in-person administration environment. Moreover, NCBE has always been committed, and will remain committed, to providing nonstandard test materials to ensure accessibility for candidates with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended.

What will be done to help ensure that the NextGen bar exam fairly assesses all candidates regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity?

NCBE has always been committed to producing a bar exam that fairly assesses all candidates regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. We will continue to perform test item review processes and psychometric analyses to ensure fairness. For a detailed description of how we ensure fairness in our exams, see the Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion page of NCBE’s website at https://ncbex.org/about/diversity-fairness-and-inclusion/.

Why will the NextGen exam be a single-event exam taken at or near the point of licensure instead of a multi-event exam taken in “steps” with law students eligible to take the first step while enrolled in law school?

The NextGen exam will be given as a single-event summative assessment at or near the point of licensure. This timing is most consistent with the purpose of the bar exam in that it places measurement of the requisite competence as close in time to the award of a license as possible. Additionally, many stakeholders expressed concerns about the potential impact of a multi-event approach on law school curricula and on internship and summer employment opportunities, among other concerns. One of the primary reasons some favored a multi-event approach was to permit testing of legal doctrine closer in time to when students learn the content in law school. We concluded that the NextGen exam’s increased emphasis on assessing skills and more limited scope of coverage of doctrine, using item sets that better approximate the real-world practice of law, address the underlying reasons some stakeholders favored multi-event testing.

Scoring

Who will score the NextGen bar exam, and will jurisdictions still grade some portions of the exam?

The NextGen exam will include a mix of item formats. Multiple-choice items and other item types that can be machine-scored will be scored by NCBE, while the constructed-response questions will continue to be graded by bar examiners in the jurisdictions.

Will scores on the NextGen bar exam be portable?

The current portability of UBE scores is based not only on the use of the same discrete test components, which are uniformly administered and graded, but on an agreement by UBE jurisdictions to accept scores earned in other jurisdictions. The NextGen bar exam will produce portable scores for any jurisdictions that agree to accept the scores. Although jurisdictions may use the NextGen exam without agreeing to accept scores earned in other jurisdictions, we hope that jurisdictions will value the benefits of score portability for candidates and that scores will be portable across all jurisdictions.

Will the NextGen exam require the setting of new passing scores (cut scores) by jurisdictions, and how will NCBE assist jurisdictions in making cut score decisions?

The changes to the NextGen exam are substantial enough to necessitate adoption of a new score scale. That means jurisdictions will need to set new passing scores. NCBE will support jurisdictions in conducting a standard-setting study to provide a range of scores based on which jurisdictions would make the policy decisions related to setting their passing score requirements.

Content

Will the NextGen bar exam be open book?

The next generation of the bar exam will not be an open-book exam where candidates can bring their own reference materials or notes to the exam. Instead, integrated item sets will incorporate a closed universe of legal resources relevant to the item set. A closed universe of appropriate legal resources (e.g., statutes, cases, rules) will be provided to candidates on the NextGen bar exam for assessing Foundational Skills that are not being measured in the context of the eight Foundational Concepts & Principles, which applicants are expected to know. For example, we anticipate that an MPT-type library, where resources specific to the task candidates are asked to complete, may be provided. The intent is to make the exam more realistic and to reduce the amount of legal knowledge candidates must commit to memory for the exam, while emphasizing skills, such as interpreting and applying law.

What subjects tested in the current exam will no longer be tested in the NextGen bar exam?

  • The subjects of Family Law, Trusts and Estates, Conflict of Laws, and Secured Transactions are not included in the Foundational Concepts & Principles (FC&P) that will be assessed on the NextGen exam.
  • Decisions about what to include were based upon the Practice Analysis results from Phase 2 and the professional judgment and experience of the lawyers who served on the Blueprint Development Committee during Phase 3. While these subjects are important practice areas, we concluded that the Foundational Concepts & Principles assessed on the NextGen exam should be limited to those that are common to numerous practice areas, consistent with assessing competence for a general license to practice law. However, legal subjects that align with practice areas such as Family Law, but which are not included in the FC&P, may still serve as the context for scenarios in which Foundational Skills are assessed, with appropriate legal resources being provided to candidates.

When will the test content specifications identifying scope of coverage for the NextGen bar exam be available?

Developing test content specifications is a priority because they guide test development and inform candidates of what may be assessed. We expect the process of developing test content specifications to take several months and hope to have a working draft to share with stakeholders in early 2022. The working draft will define the scope of content to be assessed, but ongoing research and analysis will likely lead to refinements as we complete rounds of item development and pilot testing. A final set of test content specifications, also known as a test blueprint, will be published as far in advance of the administration of the new exam as possible, and will include additional features to help inform candidates about what may be tested and how.

What type of legal reference materials or library will be included in the NextGen bar exam?

A closed universe of appropriate legal resources (e.g., statutes, cases, rules) will be provided to candidates on the NextGen bar exam for assessing Foundational Skills that are not being measured in the context of the eight Foundational Concepts & Principles, which applicants are expected to know. For example, we anticipate that an MPT-type library, where resources specific to the task candidates are asked to complete, may be provided. The intent is to make the exam more realistic and to reduce the amount of legal knowledge candidates must commit to memory for the exam, while emphasizing skills, such as interpreting and applying law. NCBE will also explore options for testing legal research.

How will skills like client counseling and advising or negotiation and dispute resolution be assessed on the NextGen bar exam?

Skills like Negotiation, Client Counseling, and other performance-type skills will be assessed using uniform text-based scenarios to which candidates will respond in writing or by choosing correct answers from multiple options. The test content specifications for the Foundational Skills to be assessed on the NextGen exam will provide guidance to candidates about the scope of assessment for each skill.