NextGen Bar Exam of the Future above an empty asphalt highway and blue sea nature landscape at sunsetThe Testing Task Force’s innovative recommendations for the NextGen bar exam were approved by NCBE’s Board of Trustees in January 2021, and we have since been busy mapping out our implementation plan. For starters, we created this website to keep our stakeholders informed of our progress as we develop and launch the new exam—a process that involves many moving parts and will require many policy decisions. The Boardcreated the Implementation Steering Committee (ISC) to provide general oversight of the process. The ISC will recommend decisions on policies that directly affect how the NextGen exam is developed and delivered and will help ensure that the new exam serves the profession and supports the important licensing responsibilities of bar admission authorities. We have a multiyear implementation timeline of four to five years to allow for a smooth transition for candidates, jurisdictions, and law schools.

One of the critical tasks we are tackling right out of the gate is to develop the test content specifications to delineate the scope of coverage of the Foundational Concepts and Principles (FC&P) and the Foundational Skills that will be measured on the new exam. Although the FC&P consist of eight subjects that are tested on the current exam, the depth and breadth of coverage of those subjects will be revised based on the results of our 2019 practice analysis and the experience and judgments of the lawyers and legal educators who will assist us in completing this work. Our adoption of the term foundational to describe the concepts and principles to be assessed was intentional, and the specifications will be carefully aligned with minimum competence for entry-level practice. The test content specifications will not only reflect the content covered on the exam, but will also provide information about how the content will be assessed (item formats), identify sources of law where necessary for clarity, and specify the weighting for what is measured—all with the intent of setting specific parameters for item drafters and being informative to candidates as they prepare for the exam.

To develop the content specifications in a collaborative and transparent manner, our starting point is to gather initial input through a questionnaire based on the current subject matter outlines (SMOs) from stakeholders, including our item drafting committees (which are composed of legal educators, judges, and practitioners), bar examiners, judges and justices, NCBE policy committee members, and volunteers from the legal profession who participated in the Phase 3 work of the Testing Task Force. In a nutshell, they will be asked to provide input regarding current topics that in their view are either too specialized or require a depth of knowledge not consistent with the requirements of entry-level practice, topics that are potentially missing from the current outlines, and general comments regarding how NCBE might improve the SMOs to make them more useful to candidates.

The next step will be for NCBE staff to work with one or more panels composed of newly licensed lawyers, supervisors of entry-level lawyers, and legal educators over the course of this summer and into the fall to further articulate the foundational knowledge and skill areas, formulate the weight to be given to the FC&P and Foundational Skills assessed, and identify viable assessment formats. We will then seek feedback from the stakeholder community on the draft test content specifications that result from this process before presenting them to the ISC and then to NCBE’s Board of Trustees for approval.

While all this is going on, we will also be working on developing prototype test items to see which are most effective in measuring knowledge and skills in an integrated exam design, as well as exploring computer-based test delivery options, either on candidates’ laptops in jurisdiction-managed facilities and/or at computer testing centers managed by a suitable vendor. Did we mention there are a lot of moving parts involved in redesigning the bar exam?

Stay tuned for more information as this exciting process unfolds and we carry out the implementation plan.