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Starting with the Pennsylvania bar examination to be administered in July 2001, a successful candidate will no longer be required to meet separate standards on the essay and Multistate Bar Exam portions of the test. The only requirement for passing will be a combined scaled score of at least 272. Under the current standards, a successful candidate must attain a score of at least 135 on the essay portion and 130 on the MBE, while surpassing a total score of at least 270 on the entire exam. The decision to change the requirements reverses scoring modifications made to the bar exam in 1995, when Pennsylvania first instituted separate standards for the two parts of the exam. Previously, only a specific total score was needed, and students could allow a strong performance on one day to cancel out a weaker showing on the other. When these changes were implemented, Pennsylvania saw its passing rate drop from the mid-80 percent range to 48 percent. The recent changes will take effect at the same time as the introduction of Pennsylvania’s new Multistate Performance Test, which will be administered on the same day as the essays, according to Mark Dows, executive director of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners. In order to keep the time of the exam the same, the examiners will reduce the number of essays from eight to six. “The court felt that by adding a performance test, it would more accurately measure the minimum competency required to practice law in Pennsylvania,” Dows said. Various states have added performance components to their bar exams since California first introduced one in 1993. Since the National Conference of Bar Examiners made the MPT available in 1997, 23 jurisdictions have integrated it into their bar exams. States have the option of adding a 90-minute or 180-minute version of the MPT. Pennsylvania has chosen the 90-minute test. The six essays and the MPT, which make up the first day of the exam in Pennsylvania, will count for 55 percent of the total score. The MBE, which consists of 200 multiple choice questions, will account for the remaining 45 percent of the combined score. “We’ve eliminated the cut scores,” Dows said. “That is in line with other states that have added a third portion to the test.” The one MPT question evaluates the applicant’s ability to accomplish tasks that a beginning attorney would be required to complete. The MPT does not test substantive knowledge. Rather, it requires the applicant to use numerous skills that are essential to practicing law, according the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners’ Web site. Each student will be given a “file” and a library of research material, which will contain all of the information needed to answer the question. The file will consist of source documents and a memorandum from a supervising attorney explaining the assignment. Documents in the file may include newspaper articles, lawyer’s notes, contracts, medical records, police reports and transcripts of interviews or trials. In the library, the applicant will find the cases and statutes to answer the legal questions raised by the MPT. For example, the applicant may be asked to prepare a contract provision, a statement of facts, a will, a letter to a client, a proposal for settlement, a closing argument or another document with which a beginning attorney should be familiar, according to the Web site. There has been no impact in the pass/fail rate in states already using the MPT. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court only recently approved the addition of the MPT and the changing of the grading system, plans for these alterations took several years, according to Dows. “A few years ago, the [PABLE] hired a test expert, who did an evaluation of the test,” Dows said. After a seminar in Philadelphia last January, at which 50 experts met to discuss changes to the bar exam, the hired analyst advised the board on how the exam could most accurately measure the minimum competency for admission to the bar, Dows said. The board then made its recommendations to the Supreme Court to adopt the MPT.

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