Careful what laptop you buy for the 2021 bar exams

In an article entitled "ExamSoft Flags One-Third of California Bar Exam Test Takers for Cheating," the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported: "One of EFF’s chief concerns about exam proctoring software—in addition to the fact that it subjects students to excessive surveillance—is the risk that it will incorrectly flag students for cheating, called “false positives.” This can be due either to the software’s technical failures or to its requirements that students have relatively new computers and access to near-broadband speeds."[1]These flags have triggered concern for hundreds, if not thousands, of test takers, most of whom had no idea that they were flagged until recently. Many only learned about the flag after receiving an official “Chapter 6 Notice” from the California Bar, which is sent when an applicant is observed (supposedly) violating exam conduct rules or seen or heard with prohibited items, like a cell phone, during the exam. As a result, the California Bar has requested that students respond to the notices within 10 days, but it would appear that none of them have been given enough information to file an intelligent response, as Chapter 6 Notices contain only a short summary of the violation. These summaries are decidedly vague such as:

  1. “Facial view of your eyes was not within view of the camera for a prolonged period of time”;
  2. “No audible sound was detected”; and
  3. “Leaving the view of the webcam outside of scheduled breaks during a remote-proctored exam.” 

Examinees do not currently have access to the flagged videos of themselves, and are not expected to receive access to them, or any other evidence against them, before they are required to submit a response. This may be considered a problem because of the due process clause.

It is clear that at least some of these flags are technical issues with ExamSoft. Despite apparent knowledge of the issue months ago, many examinees using Lenovo laptops seem to have been flagged en masse for an issue with the software’s inability to access the internal microphone, though examinees did not have an issue with the practice exam. Lenovo laptops are very commonly purchased because they are affordable, and are one of the more popular PC brands overall.

To be fair, the ExamSoft website itself says: "Some Windows devices utilize a technology called Intel Smart Sound Technology Microphone Array, which is not supported by ExamID and ExamMonitor. This technology is most commonly found in Lenovo devices. Users with these devices will be unable to select their internal microphone and begin their exam."[2]

Still, other flags are likely due to the inability of proctoring software to correctly recognize the enormous variability of examinees’ demeanors and expressions, particularly students and examinees who exhibit behavior such as stimming. An inability to detect eyes during an exam could simply mean a test-taker was closing her eyes to think, or to rest after several hours of focused staring. Being flagged for leaving the view of the webcam could very well be a failure of the software to recognize a student’s face, which is more likely to occur to Black and Brown students.

The Deans also note that appealing a flag currently means an examinee’s score will be withheld pending resolution, during which the examinee cannot re-apply for a future exam. This leaves those who received a Notice at a loss for next steps, and in the dark about whether they should re-apply or not. That the State Bar has created such an impossible process for responding to these algorithmic flags flies in the face of the California Supreme Court’s claim that proctoring software will not be the deciding factor in whether or not an examinee passes.

For the 2021 Bar Examinations, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, through the office of the Bar Chairperson, is instituting major reform on the modality of test administration: from traditional handwritten testing to a computer-based testing system.[3] Examinees will take the test on their own laptops, which they shall bring into the testing centers, following certain requirements from the Supreme Court, among which is having minimum of 4 gigabytes (GB) of available space.

The Supreme Court will be using the Examplify software for the test. Under Bar Bulletin No. 24, S. 2021,[4] Bar examinees will be asked to download and install Examplify, a secure exam delivery program. ExamSoft’s testing software, Examplify, provides students with a secure and stable exam environment for all assessment types. With plenty of in-exam tools such as question highlighting, answer choice cross-out, item flagging, and multiple alarms—Examplify makes assessment navigation a breeze. And since Examplify does not require an internet connection during the exam, students and educators can rest assured that work is safe and secure throughout the entire assessment process.[5] Thus, this software is viewed as the best software to be use in the 2020/21 Bar Exam.

[1] Kelley, Jason. Dec. 22, 2020. Electronic Frontier Foundation. ExamSoft Flags One-Third of California Bar Exam Test Takers for Cheating. Last Accessed: September 3, 2021, 3:00 PM.