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A scoring error on the multistate portion of the Pennsylvania bar exam will change the results of “less than half a dozen” of the 666 people who took the exam in February, according to Mark Dows, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Board of Bar Examiners. The multistate bar exam section is used in all but two states, so the scoring error for one of the 200 multiple-choice questions has changed results nationally for thousands of aspiring lawyers and could affect whether some pass or fail the bar, said officials of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. American College Testing, which develops and scores the multiple-choice tests, told the conference on May 2 that an office administrator made a mistake that affected results for more than a third of the 20,204 people across the country who took the test during the February examination period. While the mistake will have only a minuscule effect on the number of candidates who pass or fail, it is causing a headache for state bar examiners like Dows, who have already sent letters with test results, said Erica Moeser, the president of the national conference, which assists state bar examiners in testing. Dows said his office was notified by the national conference on May 5 of the clerical error and received a CD-ROM with the adjusted scores Thursday morning. Dows said a preliminary review of the original set of scores showed that fewer than a half-dozen people across the state could be affected. Pennsylvania bar examiners are poring over the updated scores and will inform the individuals of the outcome “within days.” To receive a passing grade, applicants must obtain a score of 272 out of a possible 400. Applicants received their scores last month, so they are aware of their scores. But those on the bubble will not be able to figure out whether their scores will be adjusted because they do not know which question was changed, Dows said. “We just have to take the re-scored MBE results and factor them in with our own results and make sure everything is accurate,” Dows said. “We have three people working on it, and we will notify those who were affected very soon.” While Dows said he had told all nine state supreme court justices and deans at several law schools of the clerical error while also fielding several calls from applicants, the Pennsylvania Board of Bar Examiners has yet to formally tell the 666 applicants of the MBE foul-up. Dows said the error would have been even more of a headache for national and state bar examiners if it had occurred in July, when most people take the exam. For instance, almost 2,000 people took the exam last July in Pennsylvania. Those who took the February exam were sworn in last week — in Philadelphia on Tuesday and in Pittsburgh on Thursday. But Dows said the swearing-in is only a ceremonial event, as any lawyer in good standing within the commonwealth can swear in someone who has passed the bar exam. “The real question is what happens if someone is already licensed but would have received a failing score after calculating the error made on the national level,” Dows said. “The answer to that would fall to the [state] supreme court.” Moeser said that each jurisdiction is making its own decision about what to do with those who were already sworn in only to later learn that they had actually not received a passing score. The pattern, she said, is to let those people remain in the category of passing. But she said Ohio was placed in a precarious situation because it only announced the exam results on May 2 and rushed to call those who were removed from the passing-grade column before the statewide swearing-in. The six-topic, 200-question MBE constitutes 45 percent of the overall score for the Pennsylvania exam. It is taken in conjunction with the analytical questions and essays of the state exam over two days. Every state save for Louisiana and Washington uses the MBE, though each jurisdiction comes up with its own pass-fail formula. Moeser said the error was discovered during a process known as “preliminary item analysis,” at which time test analysts concluded that there was more than one correct answer for one of the questions. But the ACT employee who was transmitting the second correct answer to graders reported it incorrectly. So, Moeser said, almost 7,700 people were either given credit for checking the incorrect answer or not given credit when they answered correctly. The vast majority of candidates passed or failed by a wide enough margin that the one-point difference won’t matter. But a small number who came within a point or two of passing or failing could have their results change if the new score bumps them above or below the pass-fail line, Moeser said.

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