The SAT is ditching paper. So is the bar exam. – Reuters

Anthony Kwan/Pool via REUTERS

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

  • The next version of the bar exam will be taken entirely on computers
  • It joins the LSAT, which went digital in 2019

(Reuters) – The College Board announced Tuesday that the SAT will go digital in 2024, ending its long run as a paper-and-pencil exam.

But it’s not the only high stakes standardized test moving to an all-computer format. The next version of the bar exam, which could debut as early as 2026, will also be taken entirely on a computer — given either on examinees’ laptops or on computers in a testing center. That’s one of the few concrete details officials with the National Conference of Bar Examiners have released about the revamped test, which they’ve dubbed the “Next Gen Bar Exam.” (They have also said it will remain a one-time exam, taken after law school.)

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) made the digital transition in 2019.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Currently, most would-be lawyers opt to take the essay and performance test portions of the bar exam on their laptops rather than handwriting their answers on paper, according to a national conference spokeswoman. But the Multistate Bar Exam, which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, uses paper booklets and Scantron sheets.

Officials say the new exam will do away with those three separate test components in favor of an integrated exam that places more emphasis on testing legal skills, and less on memorizing laws. The revamped exam will test aspiring attorneys in seven skills areas, including client counseling and advising; client relationships and management; legal research; legal writing; and negotiations.

“Computer-based testing is more flexible than paper-based testing, and is more in line with the integrated assessment of knowledge and skills we will use for the new exam,” said national conference president Judith Gundersen.

The LSAT had been a paper-based test since its debut in 1948. In 2019, the Law School Admission Counsel purchased 30,000 Microsoft Surface Go tablets so it could administer the exam at testing centers without stacks of paper. COVID-19 altered those plans, however, and forced the test online with examinees taking it from home. The counsel has said the remote version of the LSAT will remain in place through at least June 2023.

The pandemic also prompted many states to shift the bar exam online and allow examinees to take it from a location of their choosing. But the national conference is only offering an in-person bar exam in February, though it has said it will provide a makeup test in March if local health rules prohibit an in-person exam on Feb. 22 and 23.

It has ruled out a remote administration as the standard for the new bar exam, saying an in-person test is the “best way to ensure uniform testing conditions.”

Read more:

New bar exam is on track for 2026 debut, licensing officials say

Bar exam officials to offer make-up for states that can’t hold Feb. test

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com