LOS ANGELES – Complaints are beginning to roll in about last week’s earthquake disrupting the first day of the California bar exam after hundreds of test takers in a room close to the epicenter were promised an extra five minutes.
On July 29, a magnitude 5.4 earthquake struck the Los Angeles area at about 20 minutes before noon. No major damage or injuries were reported.
Thousands of people taking the California bar exam were wrapping up essays during the final minutes of the morning session when the earthquake rattled rooms, some of which were close to the epicenter about 30 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Steve Mitchell, an Orange, Calif., resident, was in the smaller half of a ballroom at the Ontario Convention Center with hundreds of other test takers when he began to feel rumbling. The tables shook, people screamed, the lights swayed and some ceiling tiles fell, hitting a guy behind him. He got down on his knees, prepared to get under the table.
Later, during the lunch break, he heard that the people in another part of the ballroom were told they would get an extra five minutes to take the exam.
“Our smaller room didn’t get any kind of announcement,” he said.
“If we lost anywhere from two to five minutes, that’s potentially five to 10 points you could get on the test,” he added. “If I were a person who did not pass, and it was by five points, and I was in a room that got a five-minute disruption from the earthquake, I would definitely protest it. I would definitely make it an issue.”
Cori Jones, a student at the University of La Verne College of Law, was in the half of the ballroom that was promised the five minutes.
“The proctor did announce in our room that we would get an extra five minutes to finish the exam,” Jones wrote in an email to The National Law Journal. “However, promptly at the three hour mark he called time. I asked the two gentlemen sitting next to me if we had gotten any extra time by their watches and they said no.”
But Jones said the exams should not be graded differently, adding that “there has been a lot of hype and complaining about the situation.”
Rick Harris, a claims specialist in Portland, Maine, said he had just finished his exam in a basement room of the Anaheim Convention Center when the earthquake hit. He heard crashing and saw people screaming or jumping under their desks.
He said he had no complaints, since he was finished with his test. But he felt bad for others who were struggling with the exam amid rumbling and lights swaying overhead.
He heard that others in the Ontario Convention Center had been promised an extra five minutes but didn’t get it. “If I was taking the exam in Ontario and needed the extra five minutes, I would be upset,” he said.
Gayle Murphy, senior executive of admissions at the State Bar of California, admitted that “people might not appreciate the fact they didn’t get an extra five minutes.”
She said she had not received letters or complaints so far but anticipated several to arrive after the test results come out in November. “We know what happened obviously, and we’ll take that into account when we do an evaluation of the exam,” she said.