Here's how the online Bar exams may be held

2020 and 2021 Bar examination candidates are uncomfortable not only because of the upcoming exams (both jammed into a period of less than a year) and the Herculean attempts to study eight (8) fields of law but also, and more importantly, because of the uncertainty caused by the current COVID-19 calamity.

The question is: how will the Bar examinations be conducted online? Under Bar Bulletin No. 12, series of 2020, issued by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the Chairman of the 2020 Bar Examinations, the supposed November 2020 schedule was moved to a schedule NOT earlier than February 2021.

Due to fears regarding the spread of the virus, rumors have it that the 2020 Bar examinations will be held via online facilities. This is a challenge because, as we all know, this is an essay-type exam and online exams are prone to irregularities such as but not limited to opening of notes or books, coaching, leakage of exam questions, etc.

It is also rumored that there is a proposal to conduct online Bar examinations through the assistance of court employees and law school personnel all over the country, without the bar takers leaving their hometown. For example, the Supreme Court may send special (exam-only-function) laptops to existing courts in the locality and bar candidates in that area will take the examination under the supervision of law school professors and judges. Whether they will take the exam inside courts or in law school is not yet clear. However, there is truth in the idea that more government offices involved in the exam mean lower chances of impropriety.

It is also proposed that, when examiness are done with each exam subject (e.g. political law in the morning, labor law in the afternoon, etc.), the computer will automatically submit the entries to the Supreme Court where a system compiles the answers and and prints them under the name of each exam taker at the end of the examination month. These printed "booklets" will then be manually checked by examiners per tradition. This may be a good move in order to remove the bias associated with bad handwriting.

This proposal limits the possibility of leakage because the Committee on Bar Examinations will only have to release electronic copies of the exam a minute or so before the examination starts, unlike the traditional system in which copies of the exam papers have to printed and reproduced a day or so before the first hour of the exam, passing from one hand to another. The possibility of cheating and coaching is also tempered because of the supervision and moral authority of law professors and judicial officers who will see to it that no such fraud or irregularity is committed.

There is no legal objection to lower courts acting as proctors in the 2020 Bar exams because, after all, the Supreme Court has the sole power to administer the same. As to costs, bar candidates may have to pay more registrations fees in order to cover the exam expenses resulting from these extraordinary circumstances and measures.

Another proposal is to limit each item of the exam to a certain number of minutes or seconds but without identifying which items have longer or shorter time limits. For example, there may be three time limits: one (1) minute, two (2) minutes and three (3) minutes. Examinees are not aware which items are under which time limits. This discourages them from opening notes, asking questions from others or getting coached. However, there are those who say that this may derail the exam from being test of understanding to a test of speed.

More proposals have come forward such as oral instead of written exams. Another one is to split the examination into districts. Whatever the method or style of online examinations will be, the reality is that the present pandemic will cause an extreme change to the more-than-century-old tradition of licensure exams for lawyers.

READ NEWS: Lian Buan (2020). Supreme Court to do pilot test for computerized Bar exams.

The Supreme Court will be doing a pilot test to computerize the Bar examinations, according to Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

Leonen is the 2020 Bar chairman, and as such delivered the keynote address during the online oath-taking of 2019 Bar passers on Thursday, June 25. It was not clear whether the pilot test is aimed for implementation for the 2020 Bar.

"I have also been given the go signal to drive a project to examine the various digital platforms for a pilot test in computerizing the Bar, including how applicants answer the exam questions," Leonen said during the oath-taking.

"This would be a relief to those who would come after you, with writing as bad as many as the justices of the Supreme Court," said Leonen.

It was earlier announced that the 2020 Bar examinations would be postponed to "sometime in 2021" because of uncertainties over the pandemic. It is traditionally held Sundays of November ever year.

Leonen also said he wanted to "trigger a conversation on the real nature of the Bar and make its practices more reasonable."

This has been a longtime debate in the legal education, as some experts think law schools turn themselves into Bar schools, aimed mostly at making students pass or top the Bar rather than learning the essence of law and justice.

"The Bar is merely a qualifying examination, not a determinant of how good you will be as a lawyer.  Certainly it will not measure your worth as a person," said Leonen.

Leonen follows the reforms in the 2019 Bar examinations, where Bar chair Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe revised the syllabus, and removed topics that are obsolete or no longer relevant in the practice.

"It is the intention of the current Bar chair to take a hard look at the various rituals that add unnecessary pressure on the applicants, including the utility of midnight and last-minute tips from well-meaning supporters and the way we evaluate the answers in the examinations and present the results," said Leonen.

Leonen earlier said he would pitch a pass-or-fail design for Bar results, a departure from the decades-long practice of scoring examinees to the decimal, and making a spectacle out of the Top 10. 

"Soon enough we will make the proper proposals for the consideration of the Court en banc. Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta has ensured that I could work with the next bar chairpersons in order to have a strategic view of the reforms that would happen," said Leonen. – READ MORE: Lian Buan (2020). Supreme Court to do pilot test for computerized Bar exams.