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Indiana applicants can use laptops to take bar exam

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While the state Board of Law Examiners considers making substantive changes to the Indiana Bar Exam, technology has already ushered in a change to how the test is taken.

February 2012 applicants were the first allowed to use their laptops on the first day of the exam. They could type their essays as opposed to handwriting their thoughts in the traditional blue book.

The push for the ability to use computers came from the test-takers themselves, said Brad Skolnik, executive director of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. Over and over as the applicants turned in their essays, they commented this was the first time they had ever written their compositions by hand.

Use of laptops during the test has been growing dramatically. Since the initial introduction of computers when 60 applicants participated in the laptop pilot program, the number of keyboard users jumped to an estimated 60 percent in July 2012 and rose again to nearly 70 percent in February 2013.

Skolnik anticipates 80 percent of test-takers will be using laptops in the near future.

“We’ve been very pleased with the reaction we’ve received and the success of the program,” he said. “Test-takers as a whole have reacted very favorably to having the option to use laptops.”

When Cohen & Malad LLP attorney TaKeena Thompson took the bar exam in 2009, she did not have the option of using a laptop. She admitted she was a little distressed at the beginning because, like many attorneys of her generation, she used computers all through law school to type notes and take tests.

Yet, Thompson discovered she liked handwriting her essays. She believes she understood the material and presented her thoughts better than if she had used her laptop. In fact, she has since advised some test-takers to opt for writing the essays by hand.

Indiana was one of the last states to allow laptops into the bar exam. The state uses software from ExamSoft, a national vendor that provides bar exam programs to a majority of the bar exams across the country.

At present, only the essay portion of the bar exam can be taken on a computer. The Multistate Bar Exam multiple choice questions still must be completed by hand, but Skolnik expects in the near future that part of the test will become automated as well.

Applicants download the program from ExamSoft onto their own computer. They will not be able to access the software until exam day and once they launch the program, they will not be able to access anything else on their computers.

Being able to use a laptop, Skolnik said, ensures applicants have the opportunity to use many of the same exam-taking skills they used in law school.

In addition to using their own computers, applicants must pay an extra $125 for the laptop option. The fee covers the cost of the software as well as helps pay for the extra IT support in the venue where the bar exam is given, Skolnik said.

Stephanie Williams, a clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore, paid the fee and used her laptop during the essay portion of the bar exams in both Indiana and Illinois. Initially, she said having a computer helped her boost her scores.

“If I wrote it, I could not say I would have had the same outcome,” she said.

Then she stopped and reconsidered, noting if she had practiced taking the bar by hand she likely would have passed. Still, she continued, the computer enabled her to neatly insert additional points into her essays whereas if writing by hand she would have had to make a notation up the side of the paper. Moreover, her handwriting can be illegible when she is writing quickly, so the examiners might not have been able to decipher her thoughts.

Skolnik said the BLE does not keep statistics of the passage rate of those who use laptops versus those who take the test by hand.

Williams’ advice to exam-takers is not to make changes on test day. Whatever the applicants did in law school, she said, they should not switch for the bar exam.•
 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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