The Almost Daily Word – Should You Appeal Your Unsuccessful Bar Result

Unsuccessful applicants may seek reconsideration of their grades based on arithmetic or transpositional errors in the compiling of their scores or a departure from established procedures. They may not challenge the evaluation of their answers, although many attempt to do so.” October 26, 2009 Memorandum to California State Bar Board of Governors
When I was the Examinations Director for the State Bar I received hundreds of letters from unsuccessful applicants requesting reconsideration of their grades.
Most struck me as the applicants’ understandable efforts to “cover their bases;” to assure that their answers were properly graded and the results added up correctly. The Examinations Department duly checked the results. Not a single “arithmetic or transpositional” error was discovered while I was Director.
Many were challenges to the grader judgments. Often they enclosed one of more essay or performance test answers, “regraded” by a favorite professor or tutor, in support of their requests. Since these were “challenge[s] to the evaluation of their answers” I did not have authority to consider them. I agreed with this limitation. I believed in the integrity of the bar examination grading system. I believed in the expertise and professional integrity of the graders, many of whom I’d graded with and known for years.
However, I always felt that one very narrow ground for reconsideration was underutilized and not fully understood by applicants. “Departure from established procedures” is applicable most often to a disturbance at the applicant’s test site. Examples are power failures and excessive noise from inside or outside of the test site. When applicants report these incidents and seek reconsideration, the Committee of Bar Examiners’ pays attention. It often requests that its psychometrician conduct a statistical study to determine whether the request has merit. These sorts of studies rarely come down on the applicant’s side. However, one thing that the Committee does not do, is investigate whether, notwithstanding the outcome of the study, the applicant suffered a unique, individual disadvantage. I always thought that a properly documented request on this ground could succeed.
Test site incidents are rare, but they do happen. If you believe that your grades suffered as a result, speak up.