This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Summer/Fall 2021 (Vol. 90, Nos. 2–3), pp. 49–50.By Kellie Early

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NCBE Publishes High-Level Timeline of the Implementation Process

Development of the next generation of the bar exam is underway and is expected to take five years, with the first administration of the new exam tentatively planned for 2026. NCBE recently published a high-level timeline for the implementation process at nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/about/implementation-timeline/.

Though the timeline identifies the major steps necessary to successfully launch the new exam, there are many details under the hood of each step. At this early stage, we know the issues to be addressed; the answers or resolutions to the issues will be determined by the work ahead and informed by stakeholder input along the way. In ­addition to quarterly updates published in the Bar Examiner, we provide regular updates and deeper dives into our work through the Latest News and Blog sections of the NextGen ­website, nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/, and we recommend reading those as the best way to follow our progress.

Small graphical rendering of overall NextGen implementation timeline, see link to NextGen website for original timeline

Draft Test Content Specifications Underway

In June, NCBE announced the formation of the Content Scope Committee, which is composed of 21 members from a variety of backgrounds, including bar examiners, legal educators, deans, and practitioners. (See nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/announcing-ncbes-content-scope-committee/.) The members of this diverse, cross-disciplinary committee are working through this fall to develop the draft test content specifications for the next generation of the bar exam based on the Testing Task Force’s recommendations. The focus for determining content will be on what knowledge and skills entry-level lawyers need to practice competently.

The Content Scope Committee is tasked with delineating the scope of coverage of the Foundational Concepts and Principles and the Foundational Skills designated for inclusion on the new exam for purposes of producing the test “blueprint” or content specifications, which will be used to write appropriate test items and to inform applicants, law schools, and jurisdictions of the coverage on the exam. The committee is scheduled to meet four times, starting in August 2021, and plans to complete its work before the end of this year. A “working draft” of the content specifications will be published on the NextGen website in early 2022 and will be refined as test question development progresses and pilot testing is conducted. Final content specifications will be published well in advance of the first tentative administration of the new exam in 2026.

Developing Item Format Prototypes and a Test Design

In addition to developing content specifications, NCBE is also working with two small teams of question drafters to develop prototypes of new item formats and item sets to assess legal knowledge and skills in the integrated design of the new exam. Item prototypes will be evaluated and refined internally before items are developed for pilot testing. It is anticipated that multiple rounds of pilot testing will be conducted in 2022. NCBE will look to law schools and the jurisdictions to assist with pilot testing. We’ll have more to share about this later this year.

NCBE’s Assessment and Research staff developed a preliminary or target test design, which specifies the materials and procedures necessary to develop, administer, and score a high-stakes assessment. Test designs include the test content specifications, but also specify other logistic details of a testing program, such as test administration frequency, number of pretest items, and target reliability coefficient. Our September blog post, available at nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/the-ins-and-outs-of-test-design/, provides more information about the target test design for the new bar exam.

Exploring Options for In-Person Computer Delivery

Also underway is exploration of options for in-person computer delivery of the new exam, which will be administered either at computer testing centers managed by appropriate vendors or on examinees’ laptops at jurisdiction-managed testing sites. We hope to reach a decision about these two options by the end of this year and will be consulting with bar administrators about this important decision. Although NCBE offered remote administration of the current bar exam as an emergency option during the COVID-19 pandemic, uniform testing conditions and accessibility for all candidates can be best ensured by in-person administration.

Recent and Upcoming Presentations about Development of the New Exam

Finally, presentations about the development of the new exam have been or will be made to various stakeholder groups, including at the Council of Bar Administrators (CBAA) meetings in August and November, at the AccessLex LexCon conference in November, at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting in January, at the UBE Jurisdictions Forum in January, at the 2022 NCBE Annual Bar Admissions Conference in April, and at the Association of Academic Support Educators conference in May. We appreciate the opportunity to meet with groups or organizations interested in learning more about the new exam. Feel free to contact us by email at nextgenbarexam@ncbex.org to request a meeting or presentation, share your comments about our work, and ask questions.

Portrait photo of Kellie R. EarlyKellie Early is the Chief Strategy Officer for the National ­Conference of Bar Examiners.

Subscribe to the NextGen website at nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org to stay informed as our work progresses and learn of opportunities to participate.

The Next Generation of the Bar Exam

In January 2021, the NCBE Board of Trustees approved the recommendations of NCBE’s Testing Task Force for the redesign of the bar examination to ensure that it continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required for competent entry-level legal practice in a changing profession.

The Board appointed an Implementation Steering Committee (ISC), which is charged with general oversight of the implementation of the findings and recommendations from the Testing Task Force study. The first administration of the new examination is tentatively planned for 2026. Four staff workgroups—Test Development and Psychometrics; Test Delivery and Operations; Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion; and Strategy, Coordination, and Outreach—are working with the ISC to develop the next generation of the bar examination and ensure a smooth transition for candidates, jurisdictions, and law schools.

Contact us to request a pdf file of the original article as it appeared in the print edition.

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