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State Bar of California admits to ‘inadvertently’ providing law schools with exam topics

The release of the information occurred Thursday, according to a statement from the state bar, with the exam taking place July 30 and 31.

The State Bar of California admitted Saturday that it “inadvertently” provided deans of law schools throughout the state with information pertaining to an upcoming bar exam. In an email sent to applicants for the July 2019 California Bar Examination, the state bar says the deans were given a list of the “subject matter topics” that are to be part of the July 2019 exam essay questions and performance test. The release of the information occurred Thursday, according to a statement from the state bar, with the exam taking place July 30 and 31.

Some state bar applicants are outraged over the release. 

“Examinees are reeling over this news,” said applicant Larisa Buchanan. "It creates an environment of uncertainty and questioning and we don't trust the process any more.

You are broadly studying every point of law within 13 subjects, but people given the key to the universe only have to study five." 

The email to applicants (seen below) was signed by the state bar’s Chief of Programs Donna S. Hershkowitz and goes on to say that out of an abundance of caution and fairness they were providing the same information to everyone preparing to take the exam.  

Credit: The State Bar of California

The timeline of what happened according to the bar is this: On Thursday, an email was sent to deans of California law schools, it contained the five topics that will be the focus of this week's exam. The bar says it realized the mistake Saturday and released the topics to everyone ahead of Wednesday's exam. 

Buchanan is an out-of-state applicant and says some in-state student may have received a two-day head start on studying. 

"This is something where we cut out family, friends, kids - you're sequestered studying," she said. "To have it cut from 13 to five is like literally the key to the Cal bar universe." 

The bar explained why the email with topic went out issuing the following statement: 

“On Saturday, July 27, we became aware that the State Bar inadvertently prematurely provided deans of several California law schools a list of the general subject matter topics contained in the July 2019 California Bar Examination essay questions and performance test. This was in a routine invitation to observe a grading session – the invitation typically goes out after the completion of the exam. The release occurred on Thursday, July 25; the exam takes place July 30 and 31. We have no evidence the information was shared with students. However, out of an abundance of caution and fairness, and in an attempt to level the playing field should any applicants have had access to the information contained in the memo, on Saturday evening, we emailed the same information, verbatim, to all those preparing to take the examination. We apologize for the error. We will post answers to frequent questions from applicants in the Admissions section of the website as soon as possible.” 

The California bar exam is regarded as one of the toughest tests in the nation. Last February, less than 28% of applicants passed - a record low. Buchanan said she wonder if some are trying to get the upper hand. 

"I think we need a comprehensive investigation into Cal bar practices," she said. 

The state bar says it sent all applicants verbatim what was sent to the deans and there are no plans to cancel or postpone the exam.

"I don't think you can postpone it. I don't think you can cancel it," said Buchanan. "I think a remedy is to give money back perhaps for taking and registering for the the exam." 

It is $883 to register and take the exam. Prep companies charge between $5,000 - $12,000. Buchanan says she spent $20,000 on a private tutor.

Several entities also spoke out about the leak. Tammi Rice, Vice President of Kaplan Bar Review released the following statement with advice for bar applicants.  

“This leak represents an unprecedented situation for a widely taken bar exam and while there are still questions to be answered about how this happened, right now students’ only concern should be their final days of review. The good news for exam takers is that it eliminates about a dozen possible essay topics, so they know exactly which essay topics to focus on and which to ignore in their last days of preparation. This gives them the opportunity to hone their skills in the lead up to Test Day. We advise students to remain focused on their prep and to not let this throw them off their game. For all the students who have been studying hard for the bar exam: they’ve got this.”